Cambridge Shakespeare, 2012
Michael Grosvenor Myer
Grosvenor Myer, Michael. "Review of Cambridge Shakespeare, 2012". EMLS 16.2 (2012): 12. URL: http://purl.org/emls/16-2/revmyer.htm
The year began with The Movement's Twelfth Night at the Mumford, directed by Rory Attwood. A fine opening: Orsino's musical food of love was a proleptic 'O Mistress Mine', beautifully sung unaccompanied by Bill Parfitt, dressed in a sort of modified motley. It turned out that he wasn't Feste, but a sort of Feste sidekick ('zany', presumably, in the play's own terms?), who stood in for the actual Feste whenever the cue for a song came up. Some oddly distracting bits of symbolism -- Feste with one arm in a sling; Orsino unable to afford a pair of shoes or socks, even when walking out or receiving; an abandoned child's nursery as a permanent stage prop that never got used -- rather passed me by or left me puzzling.
The most noteworthy characterisations were Sarah Winter's charming and personable Viola/Cesario and Ben Blyth's efficiently dignified but ultimately pitiable Malvolio; but making Orsino so perpetually hesitant and tiresomely neurotic and hysterical seemed to me to rob Viola's infatuation of much conviction. Not a bad effort on the whole; but too long breaks between scenes, absolute uniformity of pace, slighly underpowered delivery from some of the company, meant that it never made quite the impact I kept expecting.
CU European Theatre Group's King Lear, back at the ADC Theatre after its tour, made even less. I do get depressed when one of those touring groups with Cambridge University in their name take a sub-standard version all around for daws to peck at. My heart sank at the otiose and incongrous, and not too gracefully executed, opening dance to some blues-sounding record by Cordelia and some masked figures. What on earth was that all about? Once that was over, things got a bit better with the brief first scene, in which Gloucester, Kent, and particularly Edmund, revealed themselves as possessed of both comprehensibility and good body-language. With most of the rest, alas, though the movement was on the acceptable-to-good scale, the diction was the precise contrary. They gabbled or swallowed -- I honestly just couldn't hear that much of it, though Regan and Edgar and Albany were better than most.
In a good scholarly programme note, George Johnston, director of the ADC's Richard II early in the Easter Term, related the play to the Earl of Essex's rebellion against Elizabeth I in 1601 -- a fair historical point indeed; but I was much intrigued to find that this appeared largely intended to justify dressing and setting late-Elizabethan rather than 'contemporary': another example of that perverse convention whereby 'Modern-Dress' has become the norm, and doing it either in the historical costume of the fourteenth century, or in the Tudor dress in which Shakespeare's own men would have played it, is now regarded as some sort of eccentricity which needs to be justified. Odd, that.
Happily, Mr Johnston has come up with a praiseworthy production, clearly spoken by a cast who all understand, and can respond to, Shakespeare's language, to deliver a version of effective dramatic clarity. The key parts of Richard, king at the start, and Bolingbroke, King Henry IV by the end, were safe in the capable hands of Alex Gomar and Quentin Beroud. Of the pretty well faultless remainder, it is Charlie Merriman's devious and sardonic Northumberland, smilingly and sadistically extracting the maximum satisfaction from every occasion for twist and intrigue, which most impressed me. His delighted sarcastic grin on arresting Will Peck's vehement Bishop of Carlisle for his rant against the usurping monarch was one of those moments which will live with me for some time.
BBC1's The Hollow Crown series started with that one, then went through the two Henry IVs. All the critics have been giving 5* raves. Well, I've just watched their Henry V, and I can't say I'm bowled over. Some good performances -- Edward Akrout's Dauphin, Paul Freeman, James Laurenson and Anton Lesser as nobles (though why Paterson Joseph, fine actor as he is, as York? But I won't go on about that: I've had my say here before now about the absurdities of resolute colourblind casting). And some bits were OK -- though Olivier did the volley of humming longbow shafts stopping the cavalry charge better 70 years ago. But far too much cut in the interests of 'atmosphere', like all Fluellen's comic bits: "poys and luggage"; quarrel with Gower (where he?); Pistol and the leek -- how could they bear to lose that? Lots of lines lost from Mistress Quickly's account of Falstaff's death. And that wonderful metonymic image of the change from a peace to a war footing, the half-dozen words, "Silken dalliance in the wardrobe lies", one of Will's most masterly summarising lines: whatever happened to that? They cut it, that's what. How could they! No more than 2* from me, I'm afraid.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2012-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).