Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Shameful Shakespeare in a Vibrant London

September 5, 2009 · No Comments

In our recent talk about the state of theatre in London, Rick Fisher described the different types of theatre that exist. From small plays run out of pubs to full-blown productions of the Lion King, Fisher claimed that it was in London that the art of theatre is truly living. Although I have only been to three plays so far in London, I would agree with Mr. Fisher’s claim. Although there are places like New York City that house both Broadway shows and those of lesser fame, the difference lies in how it is accessible to people. For ten and five pounds respectively, I was able to see two of Shakespeare’s works, All’s Well That Ends Well and Trolius and Cressida . These plays were not staged in some low capacity theatres as well, but the National Theatre and the re-imagined Globe Theatre. Can anyone even imagine paying so little to see a show at big name theatre in New York City? I didn’t think so. In their infinite wisdom, England subsidizes various theatres in order to encourage the art. While not everyone gets a piece of the pie, enough do to encourage new plays and possibly even innovations in theatre. Whether England and more specifically London does it is a matter of debate. Is it truly interested in helping develop the play as an art form, or is it instead purely a way to attract tourists to spend more of their money into an aspect of London? One option certainly seems to fit in with the pattern that London follows with most aspects of itself (rhymes with door-ism), but we should at least entertain the notion that there could be different intentions behind this, if only for a second.

My personal experience with London theatre is admittedly only limited to the more successful theatres (The National, The Globe, The Duke of York), yet I feel that in terms  of identifying a genuine tourist element, it is ultimately helpful. The answer is it turns out… is mixed. Or rather it tries to do both. Take the two Shakespeare plays for instance: Trolius and Cressida and All’s Well That Ends Well. All’s Well was almost completely true to the actual spoken word of the play, but reinvented the set and the stage arrangements for many of the scenes. Trolius on the other hand took a more traditional approach to the set and costume design, but took slightly more liberties in terms of the script. While this in both cases by itself is no grievous crime, Trolius did something that I’m not so sure I liked: made it too easy for people. Perhaps this is just the English major in me complaining, but in terms of Shakespeare, its difficulty of language is one of the most important parts of it. In the performance of Trolius and Cressida, the acting really left nothing to the imagination. Every piece of complicated acting was overacted to make it simple to understand, Characters were making comments of selling photographs and selling souvenirs in order to get a few cheap laughs, but worst of all, the actors and actresses acted out every single sexual innuendo. If there is one thing the Shakespeare was good at, it’s bending and molding words in order to make the raunchy mind of Shakespeare seemingly appropriate. However, this expert craft of words is lost when an actor points to every part of the body that he is referring to through metaphor. The audience in turn stops listening to what the actors are saying and instead depends on the visual cues from the actor in order to understand what part they should be laughing at. When people stop listening to the literary genius of Shakespeare, you know that something is wrong. I have no problem with helping the audience understand major plot points, but there has to be a line drawn as to what is made obvious. Otherwise the actors are doing the equivalent of explaining the punch line of a joke after you tell it: it makes the joke less funny.

(That all being said, Arcadia at the Duke of York was an excellent play that everyone should see)

Categories: Paul
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