Sunday 11 June 2017

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves

"The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means." - Tom Stoppard

It's time to leave behind British politics - with its stories of powerful though flawed individuals brought low by hubris and vanity; characters stopping at nothing and abandoning all principle as their ambition and selfishness causes careers and lives to end in undignified catastrophe; narratives that inevitably end with everyone involved, both the innocent and the guilty, lying prostrate as a result of revenge and ill will; all interspersed with cruel humour as the common people gather to mock those who presume to rule over them - and turn to the kinder, gentler world of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama.

I have been to see 'Romeo and Juliet' - again. Even I now accept that this has shifted from the harmless cultural pseudery that has been a lifelong diversion and instead become a disturbing monomania. However, fate has punished me in the manner of, well, of one of Shakespeare's tragedies, and this was by some way the worst of the four (count 'em, Jim, four!) productions that I have seen this year so far. This was especially disappointing as it was at the Globe, a theatre where I have never before seen a production that I didn't like. It was a raucous mess, played in whiteface for no discernible reason, and with the poetry overwhelmed by shrieking delivery and inappropriate banging music. Tybalt was the best thing about it, played as a cross between malchick and butcher and, in fairness, Juliet had a good crack at a few teenage tantrums despite being rather long in the tooth for the role. The various methods of death - rapiers, poison etc - were all replaced by handguns. That might have worked, but instead of firing blanks the actors all shouted "bang"; it was risible. As was the climax in which Romeo appeared to kill both his own parents and Juliet's in a mass US style shooting rampage before he visited Juliet's tomb. It was all truly terrible.

Much better was their production of 'Twelfth Night'. Reviews were mixed (which they certainly weren't for Romeo & Juliet), but I loved it. It appeared to be set on a remote Hebridean island, although apart from kilts and some generic Scottish dancing the location didn't intrude too much. The text was heavily chopped up and new bits added, but there was much to enjoy. Malvolio was played by a woman (I should have mentioned above that so was Mercutio), but it was somewhat more complicated. Katy Owen played the part as a man - a Welshman inexplicably living in Illyria/Brigadoon - but also had clearly based her performance on Ruth Madoc's Gladys Pugh. Anyway, whatever the gender bending ramifications it worked a treat, as did the appearance of Le Gateau Chocolat (as seen in the National Theatre's 'Threepenny opera') as Feste. However, the show was stolen for me by Carly Bawden's sexy, sassy and funny Maria. As one reviewer pointed out, it may not be great art, but it's undoubtedly great fun.

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