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: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/11-3/revmyer.htm>.
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.
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.
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
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).