RSC hails success of Year-Long Complete Works
Posted 09 April 2007 - 09:16 PM
WOS Headline: RSC hails success of Year-Long Complete Works.
Well, as Mandy Rice-Davies said in another context, 'They would say that, wouldn't they?'
Before this becomes the accepted undiluted version, perhaps a more sober perspective is needed?
Firstly, one must salute the courage, vision and endurance of the RSC and its many visiting companies, in putting on such a marathon. This was a unique project and it had many, many wonderful things in it. But inevitably, it had its downsides. Quantity does not guarantee quality.
It was a long haul and by the beginning of 2007 I felt there was an element of box-ticking about the whole project. The programming was also odd - the Henry VI had so many scheduled performances (and it was a revival) that rumour had it that some had to be called off as there just wasn't a quorum in the house. Can anyone confirm this from experience? Obviously things were kept very quiet officially, if so. On the other hand the most under-rated production of the whole year - Peter Stein's production of Troilus and Cressida, hot foot from the Edinburgh Festival, was in and out in a flash. Blink and one missed it.
I thought the single greatest achievement was the wonderful King John in the Swan. But the season started absolutely disastrously with two of the most appalling productions ever witnessed in recent years in Stratford - Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar. Merry Wives: The Musical was also a major miscalculation. And though some liked it, I thought the Richard III a total disaster. The season ended defensively too with the postponement of the Press Night for King Lear. Like the King John, it too was a wonderfully faithful production and the Goneril understudy is very fine. By the time the logistics of a Press Night have been re-arranged, the run will surely be nearing its end in Stratford. Its merits should be blazoned on the bill boards by now.
But my biggest regret is that of Bradley's 4 great Shakespearean tragedies* only King Lear had a production that appropriately honoured the work. Where was the definitive Hamlet (Ben Wishaw or Ed Stoppard, or the young newcomer Sam Crane?), Othello (Alan Howard, defying political correctness?) and Macbeth (John Shrapnel?)? These should have been centrepieces of the festival. They made little impact.
But to end on a grateful note - Much Ado, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus all made a splendid impression. A pity, as people have said on other threads, that Coriolanus cannot transfer. As T.S. Eliot rightly commented, 'with Antony & Cleopatra, it is Shakespeare's most assured artistic success.' It proved a wonderful finale in the old house, with the ghosts of Olivier and so many other famous predecessors in the role no doubt looking on approvingly from Mount Olympus.
* As the old rhyme has it:
I dreamt last night that Shakespeare's ghost
Sat for a Civil Service post.
Alas, the papers for that year,
Contained a question on 'King Lear',
Which Shakespeare answered rather badly,
Because he hadn't read his Bradley.
Posted 09 April 2007 - 11:55 PM
They have also managed to put on a very good programme of talks and so on to enrich the productions.
But I think the project has been a great success for another reason too. I go to Stratford a lot and never before have I sensed a buzz in the town among the people who live there. The shop assistants and the restaurant people who in the past hardly acknowledged the existence of a theatre in the town were talking about what they had seen and what they were going to see and so on. I expect they had enjoyed all the visiting companies and appreciated the business they brought. And perhaps they also appreciated, as I certainly do, that the RSC was not going to rip down the old theatre and make a terrible mess of the waterfront but had actually built a very nice new theatre to be going on with while the old one is renovated. The Courtyard really came to life with the Lear, difficult to explain how but there you are.
So instead of closing a theatre and having a hiatus in productions or putting on the usual bunch of half a dozen plays, the RSC has built a new theatre and [ with the help of their friends ] put on the lot. Bravo.
Posted 10 April 2007 - 10:56 AM
Wasn't the point of not having a 'big Hamlet' to give more attention to the plays which are less famous and focused on? I mean, there are 'big Hamlets' going on all the time, I thought they wanted to let the plays which are less well-known and praised shine in this festival. For example the Pericles and Winter's Tale...
Posted 10 April 2007 - 02:07 PM
For me, worst by far of the RSC and non-RSC productions, and truly rotten to the core was "Cymbeline" which wasn't even by Shakespeare in the version shown. (Many people lauded this as a "relevant" updating for the youth of today but as one of its masterstrokes was to introduce a pantomime dame into proceedings it was more like something for the youth of 30 years ago). Pathetic.
Overall, an enterprising, ambitious and largely successful event which may have energised the Stratford locals but which has passed almost unnoticed amongst audiences in the RSC's London "base" and so it is of limited long-term value to their reputation.
Posted 11 April 2007 - 09:15 AM
That said, I do wish they'd given Othello a better outing than the mixed up strangeness that was shown at the Complete Works Festival!
Posted 11 April 2007 - 09:31 AM
I disagree totally about white actors being disqualified from playing Othello - would you deny us Frederick Valk, evidently the greatest of them all, Anthony Quayle, Olivier, Brewster Mason (a wonderful Othello), Anthony Hopkins on the BBC Shakespeare, etc, etc?. I feel Alan Howard, whom we have not seen of late, would be a truly great Othello. I would like to have seen Burbage too!
Posted 11 April 2007 - 10:28 AM
Let's start with the home team. In general, the shows have been more consistently good than the away side's performance. Sure there have been some less than wonderful productions - Caesar was inexplicably dull and Richard III didn't work for me either. Merry Wives was average in the extreme. About Romeo and Juliet I have more mixed views. Sure it was odd and didn't really work, but I thought that the metaphor idea that tried to show that this is why shakespeare is still relevant to all sorts of people today was appropriate to start the project with. Did it work? Not really? Did I enjoy it? Not much. But I at least admired the attempt - though I still ponder over the costume the little girl was wearing...... But the rest I thought was of a very high standard. The Henrys were superb and it is a shame that more people didn't make the effort to see this great production which was for the most part (parts 1 and 3) better than when staged in the swan. The Anthony and Cleopatra was terrific - Harriet Walter in particular - the Tempest was innovative, insightful and beautifully directed. The Winter's Tale and Pericles worked well and made great use of the Swan space. Much Ado was great fun. King John was a hidden jewel of a production and it is a shame that both this and the two Swan promenades didn't transfer to London. Coriolanus was solid enough in a Greg Doran reliability sort of way (Merry Wives excepeted of course). I have still to see Lear.
So to the visitors. Firstly, it was good to see so many and one hopes that this will continue in some small way going forward. But the quality was very mixed. The Dream and Titus Andronicus were nothing short of sensational and I will remember both productions for a very long time. In fact, I don't think I ever want to see Titus again because it will pale against the Ninagawa production. AandBC's Henry VIII was also excellent. The Ninja Hamlet was also a stragely moving piece. And the Russian Twelfth Night was superb and very moving.
In the good category we had the stylish TFANA Merchant of Venice, an upbeat Loves Labours Lost and a solid Hamlet (with particularly strong female performances suggesting the advantage of a female director). The Arabic Richard III was also very good (better than the RSC version I thought). Troilus and Cressida had its moments but was over-long and a bit laboured in places. But again, i know there are those who loved it.
Then there is the OKish group: Cymbeline (not up to Kneehigh's ususal standard), the Berliner Ensemble's Richard II and to be fair the Brazilian Two Gents was uplifting if only to see the energy that they brough to it. I didn't hate Othello either - though Shakespeare it wasn't. Measure for Measure was dull, dull, dull and, while it had it's supporters, Propeller's the Shrew was, I thought, weak. The two drama school productions (Comedy of Errors and All's Well were OK - but I cannot help feeling a bit cheated of the Complete Works tag)
And finally, the "what were they thinking" category: The Henry IVs were very poorly done although next to the absurd Henry V they looked epic! The Yellow Earth King Lear was also terrible. Timon of Athens was dull - but so is the play in my view. I pretty much hated Sam West's As you Like it too, but Domic Cooke's excellent production is still very fresh in the memory so it may have suffered from comparisson. But the award for the most jaw droppingly aweful theatrical experience of the project must surely go to the Polish Mcbeth (with special mention in this category to Henry V). Dear God, what was that all about?
So in summary, my view is that while there will always be hits and misses, the RSC provides us with the most consistently good Shakespeare (as you would hope, let's be fair!) but there are some truly outstanding interpreters out there from whom there is much to learn. But it is notable that two (the Dream and Twelfth Night) of the three star visitors (add in Titus) were directed by directors with RSC experience (Supple and Donnelan). But I would travel a very long way (though perhaps not to Japan) to see more Ninagawa productions. And I would travel a very long way to avoid seeing that bonkers Italian bloke from Henry V and the cat wailing antics of the Polish mob. But I am glad to have had the opportunity to see them all and heartily congratulate and thank Michael Boyd and his team.
Posted 11 April 2007 - 02:57 PM
I saw The Tempest, Much Ado, Midsummer Night's Dream, The Winter's Tale, and Merry Wives - yes, I liked Merry Wives, I thought it was really really entertaining! And I'm looking forward to seeing King Lear.
Posted 12 April 2007 - 06:23 AM
I think a non-black actor can play Othello. I think a non-Jewish actor can play Shylock.
Actually I think that Othello's colour is fairly peripheral to the play - I don't think racism is a driving force in Iago's relationship with him which is at the core of the play. The fact that Othello is an "outsider" is of more consequence, but this can be indicated in many ways other than by his colour - by making him a muslim for example (which I have seen).
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