Cambridge Shakespeare, Autumn 2005

Michael Grosvenor Myer

Grosvenor Myer, Michael. "Review of Cambridge Shakespeare, Autumn 2005." Early Modern Literary Studies 11.3 (January, 2006): 20.1-9 <URL:>.

  1. Blank Theatre (or, as they prefer to be known, blank theatre) are a student company who took a production called Macbeth: The Hour to the Edinburgh Fringe and returned with golden enough opinions to open the year at the ADC. The title derives from their having reduced the Scottish Play to one hour (give-or-take ten minutes or so) of running-time. "A battery of music and dance," says the pre-publicity, and Sam Yates' director's note in the programme opens, "Macbeth: The Hour is not Shakespeare's Macbeth (in fact, what is?)". (Good question - not.) All this added up to an impression that it was going to be one of those balletic, intensely symbolic reworkings that now and then afford valuable insights and fresh reflections, but more often don't (I've always been an admirer of writer Theodore Sturgeon's unarguable, eminently quotable, and infinitely adaptable, Theory of Science Fiction: "90% of Science Fiction is crap because 90% of everything is crap"). In the event, however, it turned out just to be a reasonable, not too gimmicky student production of a fast-spoken and much attenuated text (whence the exiguous running time), clearly spoken, for all the haste, by actors who knew what the words meant (by no means an inconsiderable attribute in student theatre). There were some perfectly commendable performances, especially from the leading couple, Benjamin Deery (a name that keeps cropping up in these roundups of mine - last term's Caliban and one-of-the-Antipholuses) and Isabelle Schoelcher. There were also some effective ideas, of which I recall most clearly the Witches' opening scene, in which some mild lesbian S&M (strangulation'n'smacks) accompanied the compilation of their immediate social diary; a collection of planks creatively used as percussion, battle sound-effects, banqueting tables, thrones, Birnam Wood...; and an occasional, subdued but effective wailing chorus of Witches, "Fates" (programme) and whoever else was around which accompanied some of the more emotional or dramatic moments.

  2. There was a play on BBC1 called Much Ado About Nothing which looked interesting and which I thought I would watch because that exquisite little Billie Piper was in the cast list as one Hero. It turned out, to the astonishment of absolutely nobody, to be a reworking of an old story already rejigged by Ariosto and Bandello and Belleforest, combined with one known to Castiglione; just like another, earlier, play of the same name which one had come across somewhere. Anyhow, I watched it with the sort of reasonable enjoyment one brings to an average Monday night comedy on Beeb One, then saw from Radio Times that it was part of a series with the somewhat laboured label of Shakespeare Re-Told, which I suppose explained the whole thing; though, as pretty well the whole of the œuvre thus rubricated consists of a series of So-&-So-Retold, the plots being by a long way the least of it, it's not immediately obvious what the point was supposed to be. Still, not bad, like I say, to pass a harmless evening. There were several more in the series, and I thought I would watch them too as the script-editing and production values seemed tolerable. But when it came to the next few Monday evenings I simply forgot to switch on -- which just about sums up the whole enterprise.

  3. When Piave or Boito in turn reworked one of Will's works for Verdi to make an opera of, the results varied from the early, fun-filled, Macbeth with its chorus of six witches, to the late, wonderfully dramatic if not all that melodic Otello. What English Touring Opera brought us this term was the last of them all, the jolly, if attenuated, Falstaff. The Wives, being for once not a direct reworking, but just a mix of folktale (Hern) and various commedia dell'arte themes about young lovers and deceived parents and naughty assignations and such, is (dare one say?) not therefore all that interesting or significant plotwise. Thus, it suffers less from being cut down to just 10 characters and only a bit of the plot to make happy tunes and cheerful business from. ETO's director Damiano Michieletto filled this production from first note to last with things going on, so that one sometimes longed for a bit of a rest to listen to the music; it was, however, mostly quite enjoyable business, colourfully set and energetically played. The singing, meanwhile, was a delight from all the company, and the acting perfectly acceptable: I was particularly taken with Rebecca Bottone's charming ingenue Nannetta. Andrew Slater overcame all the resolute ambient fussiness to achieve a subtly comic Sir John.

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© 2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).