Othello dir. Iqbal Khan, performed by the RSC at the RST, 26th August 2015, live cinema broadcast at the City Screen, York.
I was shocked by my own complacency toward race when I first saw this trailer for Iqbal Khan’s RSC production of Othello a couple of months ago. Othello is speaking to Desdemona, but as the camera swings from him to her and back again, something has shifted – the tone of voice, the words, the face. Was I really confused who was speaking for a moment? That was a directorial intention, I hope, because there is only room for one minority leading actor in Othello, right? Wrong.
Khan’s production, broadcast live to cinemas around the world on Thursday, ‘made history’ (in the UK and for the RSC at least) by casting Lucian Msamati as Iago opposite Hugh Quarshie’s Othello. Quarshie has long expressed ambivalence about the depiction of ‘the Moor’ not only on stage but by Shakespeare’s representation itself, famously questioning whether black actors should even play the role (although he never definitively concluded that they shouldn’t: see also Kwame Kwei-Armah in his 2004 Guardian piece, ‘My Problem With the Moor’). The subtle ways in which Khan’s casting recalibrated how we perceive Othello as the ‘race play’ has been explored by many reviewers, with Dr Peter Kirwan noting that ‘for Khan, this was not a production about a society against one man, but a society divided against itself’. Both Iago and Othello were visibly outsiders, not because they were black but because they both held rank. As Quarshie notes, in both early modern ‘Venice’ and supposedly ‘post-racial Britain’, the general is one of ‘the only black men […] who isn’t either a cleaner, a soldier or a servant’. Thus Iago’s sense of betrayal at being passed over for promotion for the less experienced, white Cassio makes total sense. The contemporary, 21st century setting allowed for a reading in which this Venetian society, disturbingly familiar, appeared to think that it was ‘colourblind’ – the Duke’s own daughter would be allowed to marry a ‘Moor’ if he was like Othello, apparently. Yet a feckless young white man didn’t think twice about referring to a high-ranking military leader as ‘the thick lips’ to his black friend and everyone was a bystander to casual and institutionalised racism when it came down to it. Even the righteous Desdemona compromised herself from the outset. ‘”I saw Othello’s visage in his mind”? Really??’ repeated Quarshie/Othello incredulously, only half teasing her. Although the casting of Msamati problematised what is now seen as a simplistic interpretation – that the motivation for Iago’s malignity is racism – it is important to remember that as late as the 1980s critics were pointing out that overlooking racism as a motive and a context in the play was itself deeply problematic (see Roger Day ‘Reading Othello‘ in Shakespeare, Aphra Behn and the Canon 1996). And Quarshie made his Othello either vocally challenge or reallocate lines that he argues that no black man, if there had been a black man in Shakespeare’s company, would ever had said. Thus Desdemona’s reputation was as ‘begrimed and black’ as Iago’s face, not his.
Msamati, however, does not believe ‘that what drives Iago is anything racial at all‘. When he improvised on Roderigo’s imagery, moving rapidly from the derogatory ‘thick lips’ to the bestial Barbary horse and ‘old black ram/ […] tupping your white ewe’, he did not seem to be expressing self-loathing; rather, he grasped at an opportunity to exploit the animalistic stereotypes still prevalent in a society where white masculinity sees itself threatened by black male sexuality, and he did this simply in order to ensure that Brabantio would be enraged and disgusted enough to curtail the elopement of his daughter. Msamati sees Iago’s motivation as something ‘deeper, more dangerous, [and] emotional’: he behaves like a ‘jilted jealous boyfriend’ he says in the pre-streaming material. This gives an utterly convincing and confessional edge to Iago’s sudden claim to Othello that ‘I lay with Cassio lately’.
The scene in which this dialogue takes place is central to Khan’s re-visioning of the play, and it was a scene that raised many questions. It is usually performed as a paint by numbers demonstration of how Iago ‘[…]put the Moor/Even into a jealousy so strong/That judgement cannot cure[…]/And practising upon his peace and quiet,/Even to madness’. But, as I have already said, this was a production that sought to disrupt complacencies. The ‘noble Moor’, after all, is as problematic a stereotype as ‘the old black ram’. Quarshie’s Othello was neither. Instead he was a complex man who thrived on power and control: verbal, emotional and physical. The production’s emphasis here is on the culture of militarism: Othello was a mercenary general, a man who fought wars as much for his own personal gain (money, status, reputation). The implication was, he could be relied on to get results for Venice regardless of any rules of engagement or human rights conventions. And so, previously, we have seen a nameless, faceless man dragged on stage, tortured with drills and waterboarded, clearly under the command of Othello. Then, in a shocking and graphic reversal of power roles, Iago was presented not as the auteur of the tragedy but as a victim of his own machinations, a man who had already lost control of the plot by act three. When Othello demanded to ‘Make me to see ’t, or at the least so prove it/That the probation bear no hinge nor loop/To hang a doubt on, or woe upon thy life!’ Iago was strapped to the same chair as the general’s last victim. Again tortured with the contents of the tool box and nearly suffocated with a plastic bag in a scene worthy of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, you couldn’t help thinking, ‘Well, what else was he supposed to say?’ In this production, it was Msamati’s Iago who became human and vulnerable.
On one level, I found this scene extremely effective. Firstly, I like grotesque violence in my early modern stage plays – the tearing out of a heart or a tongue, the plucking out of Gloucester’s eyes on stage. Sanitizing man’s inhumanity to man is a dangerous thing. If it happens off-stage, out of sight, we don’t have to face the fact that we are complicit in it. It also made sense of Othello’s breakdown, in which the routine violence and abuse of his day job inevitably spills over into his personal life. Quarshie’s charismatic but deeply unpleasant Othello critiques the ‘nobility’ that is often unquestioningly bestowed on ‘our’ military personnel, as we turn a blind eye to, or even excuse, their sometimes illegal and murderous actions. What bothers me, however, was the peripheral nature of these allusions to the crimes committed by western forces at places such as Abu Ghraib. They weren’t centralised enough to make the production a political allegory, as in the work of Sulayman al-Bassam. I felt the production needed to have the courage of its convictions and much more overtly address the connections it appeared to suggest between militaristic masculinity/ entitlement/violence (domestic or otherwise), and western foreign policy in the wake of the First Gulf War. This was nearly political theatre, but not quite. We remained too wrapped up in what would happen to our star-crossed lovers (even if one was a violent narcissist) to remember to care what happened to the faceless man once he was hauled off stage. As Kirwan argues, there was a danger that the torture scenes became a device.
Nonetheless, this was thought-provoking, intelligent and compelling theatre. The power play between the central characters and the larger society was nuanced and complex, as was the prejudice around both race and gender. Joanna Vanderham’s Desdemona was particularly strong, rejecting the often infantalised, over-feminised interpretations that still dominate productions, although her fabulous dresses (somewhere between Game of Thrones and Frozen) didn’t quite ring true. Surely this was a woman who wore trousers? Her death also seemed slightly on the traditional, tame side in a production that was not traditional or tame. Yes, she fought back, but I anticipated more disturbing violence after Othello put out the light with his boot. A man killing his wife should not be prettified.
Having said that, although I’m sometimes slightly disappointed by the predictability of the RSC’s work, directors like Khan and Aberg are bringing an engaging and energizing perspective, and although I’ve criticized Greg Doran before about his ‘colourblind’ casting practices, productions commissioned by him like this are beginning to remedy the fact that the RSC itself often presented a world where minority actors were routinely servants, soldiers or five-line dukes. Listen to the Male, Pale and Stale RSC debate 2015 here.
See Andrew Dickson on Othello and race here.
And so the inaugural York International Shakespeare Festival has begun. This first weekend had somewhat of a musical flavour, as I took in a Kabuki Ophelia, a not so silent ‘silent’ Hamlet, a baroque mock opera and a discordant Feste in a garden shed.
Two Shakespeare Heroines performed by Aki Isoda at the de Grey Rooms, Friday 8th May, 2015
To describe Aki Isoda’s performances as a ‘cultural curiosity’ is deeply problematic, but this seems the best way to sum up this extraordinary evening. Mrs Isoda, now 85 years old, has been performing Lady Macbeth and Ophelia for about 50 years, and her performances seem frozen in time, museum pieces capturing the gestures and sounds of a theatre of the past. Indeed, both parts of her production, Lady Macbeth ‘performed in the Western style’ and Ophelia ‘performed in the Japanese style’, brought to life for the researcher the grainy early twentieth century images of Shingeki New Theatre and traditional Kabuki.
From the reviews, it seems that Isoda’s Lady Macbeth was the hardest for European audiences to appreciate, leaving Lily Papworth ‘a little disappointed’. Lady Macbeth, in red wig and ‘whiteface’, her eyes enlarged with bright blue eye-shadow to mimic Western features, evoked the typical representation of Europeans on East Asian stages until as late as the 1970s. This first originated in Japanese Shingeki, or New Theatre, which adopted the plays and the realism of Western drama as part of the educational and cultural reforms of its modernisation movement in the period leading up to the First World War*. Isoda’s stylized realism, with its rigid gestures and melodramatic frozen postures, reminded my friend Elizabeth Sandie of silent film, and me of the traces of traditional theatre forms, and it is likely that these were both factors in the development of this aesthetic. Indeed, in 1904 and 07 there were the first Shingeki Shakespeare productions, featuring for the first time since the age of Shakespeare, actresses in the women’s roles.
Isoda’s performance was largely a solo affair, in a tradition inherited from noh, as she enacted key scenes from Macbeth to an invisible, silent husband: reading his letter, scolding him for not leaving the daggers to incriminate the king’s guards after his regicide, reassuring his guests that he was simply having a funny turn as he saw visions of these daggers and his murdered friends. She also progressed through a series of spectacular costumes, one minute in the bright red gown of a Queen of Hearts, then in the ghostly white of her night gown as she tried to wash away the damned spot. I have tried to find archive footage of this performance in its early days, for I imagine that her speech, now quavering, once contained great power. Or perhaps the quavering was also because she was engaging in onnarashii (女らしい), the traditional behaviours and speech that is gendered as ‘feminine’ or ‘gentle’ in Japanese culture. I am not a Japanese speaker, so that is only conjecture.
I said that this was largely a solo performance, but there were also three young actors performing as the weird sisters, in a not entirely successful incorporation of a contemporary Western aesthetic. The juxtaposition jarred, but perhaps this was intentional, underscoring the difference of the two approaches.
Her second performance, after the interval, was better appreciated by the audience. This is perhaps
because, as noted by academics such as Alexa Huang at the BSA conference on Local/Global Shakespeares in 2009, the ‘cherry blossom exoticism’ is somehow more accessible to Westerners. The irony is that because it is more strange it is less strange, comfortably meeting our expectations of cultural Otherness. As Lily Papworth put it, ‘I realised that this was what I had been hoping for. Performed in typical Kabuki fashion, Isoda’s Ophelia was beautiful’. And she is right, it was oddly beautiful. We have a cult of youth and realism, so it was very strange to see an octogenarian Ophelia with trembling hands sketch out the fan dances of her youth. Perhaps this was what it was like for the audiences who watched the great Victorians perform their Hamlets and Ophelias into old age. Elaborate scene changes, by the ‘invisible’, black clad kuroko stage hands and accompanied byJapanese shamisen music, became part of the performance as the Kabuki actress changed her kimonos and headpieces offstage. By half closing my eyes, I could semi-transform her into a young girl again.
But dare I say it? In concept and delivery, I couldn’t help thinking of Miss Havisham. ‘So new to him,’ she muttered, ‘so old to me; so strange to him, so familiar to me; so melancholy to both of us!’ (Great Expectations)
*This in turn influenced the drama of the Chinese Reform Movement, huaju, or spoken theatre, as Chinese students returned from studying abroad in Japan and Europe.
Hamlet: Drama of Vengeance screened with live musical accompaniment by Robin Harris and Laura Anstee at the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, Saturday 9th May, 2015
I have written before on this wonderfully weird 1921 German Expressionist film version of Hamlet, in which Prince Hamlet is really a princess, a travesti performance by the extraordinarily, androgynously beautiful Danish actress, Asta Nielson. See Girl Interrupted. So in this review I will simply focus on the sound. Judith Buchanan, in her introduction, noted what a misnomer ‘silent film’ is: it is anything but silent if screened in context, with a musical accompaniment. Robin Harris and Laura Anstee provided a stunning score, played live by them, that gave emotional depth and texture to a medium which is, in many ways, as removed from modern understanding as Kabuki is removed from Western realism. Nielsen’s nuanced performance ranged from skittish flirtation with an unsuspecting Horatio, ‘voiced’ through a recorder, to manly swashbuckling, the rhythm percussively beaten out. For her clowning scenes at the expense of the hapless Polonius, we slipped into a jazzy little number that reminded me of the escapades of Harold Lloyd (I watched these regularly on Saturday morning children’s telly in the 70s). The exaggerated gestures and expressions of silent cinema can seem like caricatures in less stunning limbs and faces than Nielsen’s, but Anstee’s cello further anchored our identification with Hamlet’s trauma in its haunting alto. The music at this screening also hinted at other elements in Nielsen’s biography, perhaps :-
Harris and Anstee met whilst working on another silent film, Hungry Hearts, about the Jewish immigrant experience in America. They were both part of the She’koyokh Klezmer Ensemble. There were echoes of traditional Jewish music in their Hamlet score. Ophelia was played by a Sarah Jacobsson. Nielsen herself sent money to assist Jewish refugees in World War II.
Shedspere performed by my daughter’s friend’s mother’s friend’s son of the York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre in a garden shed, King’s Manor lawn, Saturday 9th May, 2015
In this little piece, small audiences of three or four were invited into garden sheds by members of the youth theatre, who then delivered monologues based on a Shakespearean character. I joined a teenaged Feste, who exuded middle aged world weariness in his faded jester’s velvet as he swigged vodka, bemoaned his displacement by Malvolio in Olivia’s house of mourning and discovered he now could neither play his lute (well, banjo) nor sing his songs. It was really rather good.
Pyramus and Thisbe performed by Opera Restor’d at the National Centre for Early Music, Sunday 10th May, 2015
And to end it all was the bonkers baroque mock opera of Pyramus and Thisbe, featuring all the characters of the mechanicals’ play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but instead of the Athenian court, the ‘English’ opera troupe had to prove to the foppish Mr Semibreve and his friends that they could perform as well as any Italian. The full opera (an hour long) was prefaced by a recital of instrumentals and songs from various 18th Century musical adaptations of The Tempest, faithfully reconstructed by Opera Restor’d. I’ve never seen any of these 18th Century afterlives of Shakespeare that I’ve read about and they were hilarious and moving by turns. I’ll leave the pictures to speak for themselves (they are from a previous production, but the costumes, if not the performers, are the same).
Free Popular Shakespeares 1 & 2 events at York St John, Friday 15th May, as part of the York International Shakespeare Festival
8-17th May 2015 sees the First York International Shakespeare Festival and York St John University are proud to be hosting two great events. Leading multi-cultural company Two Gents Productions are bringing their interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew to York, and their founder and director, Arne Pohlmeier, will be working with a small group of primarily YSJU students in front of an audience to demonstrate their unique methods (however, we have a few extra places so contact me via Arts Events if you would like to be involved in the demonstrating: email@example.com). Working with a cast of just two actors of migrant /cross cultural backgrounds, their work was hugely successful as part of the Globe to Globe Festival in the Olympics celebrations in 2012, and Arne is now also working with Shakespeare’s Globe on a regular basis. This is an amazing opportunity for participants and audience alike and is a FREE but TICKETED event.
Friday 15th May 2015, Temple Hall, 10-12, Popular Shakespeares Part 1: book here
In fact, why don’t you make a day of it and attend the discussion panel in the afternoon, featuring among others, the Festival organiser, Philip Parr of Parrabola, Dr Aleksandra Sakowska of British Friends of the Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre, Natalie McCaul of the York Museum Trust on curating the First Folio, Maurice Crichton, York Shakespeare Project, David Richmond on his current student production, They Kill Us For Their Sport, a response to the students’ recent visit to Auschwitz, and Shakespeare: Perspectives lecturers, Saffron Walkling and Julie Raby. Also FREE but TICKETED.
Friday 15th May 2015, Temple Hall, 2-4,Popular Shakespeares Part 2: book here
Both of these events will be suitable for the general public, including young people. You can book tickets for the shows themselves, including The Taming of the Shrew, at the de Grey Rooms or the York International Shakespeare Festival website: http://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/index.php?id=2&category=5
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Event organizer, Saffron J Walkling, Senior Lecturer in English Literature (Part-time)
Faculty of Arts
York St John University
‘Shakespeare: Internationally, Nationally, Locally’ #YorkShakes The first York International Shakespeare Festival (or YorkShakes) was launched on Wednesday 25th February, 2015, at the de Grey Rooms in the city. It brought together many of the principal players (both on the stage and behind the scenes) in this exciting venture, and I am honoured to be a part of it, convening the events Popular Shakespeares 1 and Popular Shakespeares 2 on 15th May at York St John University. Unlike the RSC’s Complete Works Festival in 2006-07 or the RSC, Shakespeare’s Globe, and LIFT’s World Shakespeare Festival for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, YorkShakes is not a one off affair*, but an annual festival modelled on the other major European Shakespeare Festivals such as the ones in Gdansk (Poland) and Craiova (Romania), and YorkShakes is part of the European International Shakespeare Network. The brain child of director Philip Parr, his company Parrabbola partners with York Theatre Royal and Prof Judith Buchanan at the University of York. The Festival is very much local as well as global. The headline performance is Yorkshire’s own Northern Broadsides, a company with an international reputation for re-claiming the classics. Its founder, Barry Rutter, will play the titular role in King Lear at the University of York, directed by Jonathan Miller, one of Britain’s leading directors and thinkers. However, it is many of the other performances, talks and events that run alongside this that make this Festival really special for York. With a focus on multicultural, intercultural or community theatre, it offers 10 days of fare, from productions such as Two Gents’ cross-cultural Taming of the Shrew , Aki Isoda’s solo performance of Two Shakespeare Heroines in which she contrasts Eastern and Western performance styles, Parrabola and Denmark’s Hamletscenen’s Prince H. Universe, Poland’s H(2)O, York Shakespeare Project’s Timon of Athens, and the Theatre Royal’s Youth Theatre’s Shedspere, to name but a few. Silents Now present a live music screening with a specially commissioned score of the silent, 1921 German expressionist film of Hamlet: Drama of Vengeance , which stars Asta Nielsen in a ‘mesmerising’ performance as a female Hamlet (see my blog post here). Both universities contribute performances, with York St John University’s A Response to ‘King Lear’: They Kill Us For Their Sport, which grew out of students recent ‘secular pilgrimage’ to Auschwitz, and the University of York DramaSoc’s Richard III. There are also series of workshops and lectures that reflect on productions and themes that come out of the festival. For Popular Shakespeares 1 and 2, I invite Zimbabwean director Arne Pohlmeier, whose two man production of Two Gentleman of Verona was chosen to be part of the 2012 Globe to Globe (see The Guardian Review), to give a demonstration of how his cross-cultural company works, and I convene a panel talk with festival founder Philip Parr, York Museums Trust, the British Friends of Gdansk Shakespeare Theatre, York Shakespeare Project, York Explore and other guests who are actively involved in popularising Shakespeare at a local and global level. The University of York are also running an exciting lecture series. Most of the workshops, lecture series and panels are free but ticketed. For further information and booking, see here. Book soon to avoid disappointment and we look forward to seeing you, your friends and your family there: there is something for everyone! Watch the official trailer: *Globe to Globe in a more modest form has become embedded into Shakespeare’s Globe’s annual season, however.
For the English version of this interview click here.
P1 Podrias contarnos acerca de tu rol/papel en EL anio de Ricardo? A quien protagonizas/ interpretas?
En la Obra El Año de Ricardo de la autora Española Angelica Liddell ,yo protagonizo a Ricardo , la autora se basa en el personaje de Ricardo III de Shakespeare trasladandolo al mundo contemporaneo, atravezando desde lo siniestro ,oscuro la debilidad de la democracia los valores, la religion ,la politica.el genocidio,la cultura poniendo todo eso en un lugar de fragilidad e invitando a su propuesta perversa.
P2. Que te atrajo a vos o a tu grupo/compania de la obra de Liddell?
Al Director le atrajo la propuesta quer plantea Angelica Lidell , provocative ,reflexive y auto critica de una sociedad establecida con formas de vida resueltas que la autora desestabiliza. A mi como actriz cuando me llego el texto me impacto la riqueza del recorrido que ella plantea de la sociedad …la mirada de lo que nos ocurre ycomo lo pone dentro de una estructura dramatica que me sedujo ….me atrapo , apenas lo lei me apasiono la propuesta y supe que no queria perderme la oportunidad de transitar semejante texto.
P3. Como te preparaste para el rol? Y en que se diferencia de otros roles que hayas interpretado?
Entrar en Ricardo significo un trabajo, un compromiso orgánico donde se juega el intelecto, la emoción y el cuerpo. En este y en todos mis trabajos me entrego, confió en el director y tambien en mi, me escucho, escucho a mi cuerpo. Ricardo exige una entrega corporal que significo mucho entrenamiento ,trabajo de energía para poder dosificar y entrar y salir de situaciones dramáticas muy diversas, lograr que Ricardo me pase por el cuerpo para que después pùeda decir …no solo con la palabra …El habla con todo su cuerpo. Como actriz un desafió inmenso …hace 25 años que hago teatro y este es mi primer unipersonal, de la mano de Raul Notta mi director que me eligio para hacer la obra y con quien trabajamos durante 5 intensos meses creando ,investigando, disfrutando.
P4. Cual es la significacion de genero en esta obra?
Es una obra de texto , su estructura no esta enmarcada como las obras tradicionales y la podriamos ubicar en el genero Dramatico.
P5.Como el Ricardo de Lidell se relaciona con el Ricardo de Shakespeare?
Hay una relacion en entre el ‘Ricardo’ de Shakespeare y el ‘Ricardo’ de Lidell en la esquizofrenia de ambos, en su ambicion de poder desmedida , en su ironia siniestra, su seduccion perversa con el objetivo permanente de dominar al otro.
P6.Las fotos y las imagenes del video de esta produccion son muy llamativas e intrigantes. Podrias contarnos algo de ellas? Por ejemplo cual es el significado de la quema de libros? Y las muniecas rotas? Y el hilo cosido alrededor de la cara de la mujer?
La quema del libro: es un signo muy ligado al texto original de la obra, la destrucción de la poesía, de los poetas y de los escritores que elevan la realidad a otro plano, el plano metaforico, que cuestiona los intereses de poder de Ricardo.
Las muñecas rotas: son el signo de la vida devastada. No sólo en el imaginario de Ricardo, sino en la visión de Angélica Liddell y -confieso- la mía también. Presenta a los cuerpos fragmentados, de los cuerpo enfermos, corrompidos. La carne que se llena de veneno por los deseos inconclusos (“Aquel que desea pero no obra, engendra la peste”, Milton).
El hilo que ata es prisión, como el alambre de púas en el cabello, casi como un campo de concentración. Ricardo está preso de sí mismo, de su propia locura; su psicopatía y el pensar actos atroces no lo liberan, no son catárquicos: sólo lo encarcelan en obsesiones centrífugas, que giran todo el tiempo sobre lo mismo (la génesis de la locura).
P7. Hasta que punto, esta obra cobra una nueva dimension al ser trasladada ( ella usa la palabra transplantada a Argentina?
La dimension es muy conmovedora por la universalidad de los temas que plante la autora y puede representarse en Argentina como en Japon.
P8. Podrias contarnos de esta puesta para el publico/ audiencia que no la ha podido ver/disfrutar?
Para los que no vieron la puesta, ‘El anio de Ricardo’ es una propuesta para la reflexion y el cuestionamiento acerca del bien, del mal, la religion, el racismo, la sin razon, la politica etc.
P9. Que mas es importanteque la gente/audiencia piense/sepa en relacion a tu/vuestra produccion?
Para nosotros es importante que la propuesta que presentamos, los provoque e interpele la dimension humana y a su vez que disfruten de una propuesta teatral que integra distintos lenguajes escenicos.
Pamela Lombari on playing Liddell’s Ricardo/Richard III in Argentina: El Aňo de Ricardo/The Year of Richard
Earlier this year, I blogged on an appropriation of Richard III by Spanish playwright and performer Angélica Liddell called El Aňo de Ricardo (The Year of Richard) which was performed at the Habemus Theatre in Pergamino, Argentina (July 2014). Here, I interview the production’s lead actor, Pamela Lombari, on her experiences with this play. Questions and answers translated by Adriana Lombari Bonefeld.
Interview with Pamela Lombari on El Aňo de Ricardo
Can you tell us about your role in El Aňo de Ricardo? Who do you play?
In The Year of Ricardo by the Spanish author Ricardo Angelica Liddell, I played Ricardo. The author based her character on Shakespeare’s Richard III. The character is transferred into the contemporary world, presenting a sinister and dark view on the weakness of democracy, on religion, on politics, on genocide. It challenges these values from a stand of fragility but also from the stand of the play’s perverse proposition.
What drew you and the company to Liddell’s play?
Raul Notta, the director, was attracted to the proposition put forward by Angelica Liddell: her play is a provocative, and self-reflective critique of established social conventions. The playwright challenges and destabilizes these social conventions. As a perfomer, I felt drawn to the text as it conveys a seductive understanding of contemporary western society … I fell in love with the dramatic structure. As soon as I read it, I felt passionate about performing it. I did not want to miss the opportunity to play such a text.
How did you prepare for such a role? How did it differ from other roles you have played?
To enter into ‘Ricardo’ meant a lot of work and preparation. It entailed an organic commitment where intellect, emotion and body interplayed. In this and all my work I surrender. I trusted both the director’s and my own instincts. I listened to what he had to say but I also listened to my body. ‘Ricardo’ requires the body’s involvement and physical work, but also emotional preparation and energy. All this is necessary to get into and out of a variety of dramatic and diverse situations. I can say that Ricardo goes through my body so that I can express his voice not only with words but with all my body. It has been, indeed a huge challenge … after 25 years this is my first one person show. After Raul Notta chose me to perform this play, we worked intensely for five months creating, researching – and enjoying!
What is the significance of gender in this interpretation?
With regard to gender, Liddell at no time indicates if she thought the text should be interpreted by a man or a woman … she just named the character Ricardo. [Liddell herself did originally play the role, however.] The director thought of me when he read the script. As a performer I did not think about the character as having one specific gender …I work ‘organically’ investing my resources in the character … I guess the character can be played by a man or a woman. I would like to think that both of my masculine and feminine identities were invested in the performance. Moreover, I think I made good use of my irrational aspects – what I can describe as the ‘animal inside me’. All aspects [of the self] are required when ‘entering’ such complex characters. As a performer, I draw on high levels of consciousness to get rid of my prejudices that may limit the creative process. The gender perspective is somehow less central in ‘The Year of Ricardo’.
How does Liddell’s Richard relate to Shakespeare’s Richard?
There is a relationship that lies in his schizophrenia, his ambition for autocratic power, his sinister irony, his wicked seduction used to achieve his lifelong aim to dominate others.
There are many striking images from the production and from the video that was part of the production. Can you elucidate some of these for us? For example, what did the burning books represent? And the broken dolls? And the string wrapped around the woman’s face? (Significantly, this was translated as: And the thread sewn around the face of the woman?)
The burning of the books is closely linked to the original text of the play, it is a sign of the destruction of poetry, the death of poets and writers who challenge the power that Ricardo pursues. [Adriana Lombari Bonefeld glossed this further: ‘Liddell’s play references ‘Nazism and dictatorships current and past. Knowledge has to be burnt and destroyed as it poses a threat to power,’ she explained. So, did she think that the play related to the Argentinean situation, past or present? ‘It relates to all dictatorships, and in Latin America unfortunately there is a sad and long history of that!’]
The broken dolls represent life’s devastation. Not only is life devastated in the imagination of Ricardo, but in Angélica Liddell’s view and – I have to confess – in mine too. The broken dolls led to the idea of fragmented bodies, sick bodies, corrupted bodies. The unfinished desires fill the flesh of venom. (“He who desires but does not act, breeds pestilence” Milton).
The thread that binds is a prison, the barbed wire hair, it is like a concentration camp. Ricardo is a prisoner of himself, of his own folly; psychopathy and his thinking do not set him free. His heinous acts are not cathartic: they only imprison him to his obsessions, which spin all the time about the same (the genesis of his insanity).
To what extent does this production take on new meaning when transplanted to Argentina?
The dimension is very moving for the universality of the themes that the author raises, it can be performed in Argentina just as it can in Japan.
How would you sum this production up for audiences who have not had a chance to see it?
The Year of Ricardo is a proposal for reflection and questioning about moral aspects such as good and evil, about religion, racism, human foolishness, politics etc.
What else do you think it is important for audiences to think about in relation to your production?
For us it is important that our proposition challenges the audience on the human level and, also, that they can enjoy a theatrical approach that integrates different stage languages.
Hamlet, directed by Sarah Frankcom, at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, Saturday 20th April, 2014 (matinee)
In Act 1, Scene 2, Claudius chastises Hamlet for his unmanly grief at the death of his father: “Fie, ’tis a fault to heaven,/A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,/To reason most absurd…” The manly Laertes weeps for a moment when he hears of the watery death of his sister, then “When these are gone/ the woman will be out”(4.7.187). Reason is male, emotion is female in this binary, patriarchal world, with its vestiges of blood revenge and its masculine intellectualism. Sceptic 101, commenting on Michael Billington’s Guardian review of Frankhom’s Hamlet, in which Hamlet, Polonious (Polonia), Rosencrantz and the gravediggers are all played by women, would doubtless agree: “Just don’t see the point of women playing male roles unless it’s panto of course. Nothing is gained and the play is just messed about with. I won’t bother with this one. I’ll check back later for the feminist howls of outrage but really, this is silly tokenism.” S/he is wrong about the tokenism. The RSC have noted that ‘The role[of Hamlet] was regarded in the late 18th and 19th centuries as embodying many feminine characteristics and was frequently played by women, culminating in Sarah Bernhardt in 1899-1901.’ And Asta Nielsen’s bobbed haired 1920s silent Hamlet combined German interwar Expressionist angst with flapper sensuality in her princess disguised as a prince.
Frankhom’s production challenges traditional casting on many levels: a black Laertes enters next to a white Ophelia with no need to create complicated back-stories, a mature black and female player king (Claire Benedict) caresses ‘his’ wife, played by a white teenaged boy from the youth theatre, but the boy isn’t a cross-dressed “boy player”, he’s just a boy, and this isn’t a transgressive affair, they are both just actors playing a role they have the skills to play. As part of Frankcom’s work to enlarge women’s role in classical theatre, five of the other traditionally male roles are played by women. I don’t think this production is simply increasing the ratio of male/female actors in principal roles, however. To me, it seems to be exploring a whole range of approaches to cross-gender casting. Gillian Bevan’s brilliant Polonia, in her heels and power suits, regenders the old courtier into an ambitious woman first minister. The antagonism between her and Gertrude edges towards rivalry; her dressing down of her love-struck daughter (and her silly romantic fantasies) is no longer about patriarchal control of Ophelia’s womb but a from-the-heart warning about the threat of a ruined reputation and career faced by any woman who gets found out. Jodie McNee’s Rosencranz, complaining that “My Lord, you once did love me” probably left the stage to update her relationship status to “it’s complicated”… At the centre of all these is Maxine Peake’s luminous Hamlet. This has had generally rave reviews, with critics noting the androgyny, liking her cropped hair and pale face to David Bowie in his Let’s Dance phase, and repeatedly underscoring that she isn’t “underscoring maleness” but is feminising Hamlet. Neither Susannah Clapp, in her Front Row review (BBC Radio 4, 17 Sept 2014) nor Michael Billington saw this as a falling off of masculinity. The production is taking the character beyond those simplistic gender binaries that Claudius and Laertes, then critics such a Goethe, held so much store by. “[Hamlet] is, […] as Goethe was first to say, part woman. But Goethe was wrong, as Freud was wrong, to assume that woman means weakness. To equate women with weak and tainted bodies, words, and feelings while men possess noble reason and ambitious purpose is to participate in Denmark’s disease dividing mind from body, act from feeling, man from woman” (Leverenz, 1978, in Coyle, 1992, p133) Peake’s Hamlet, as noted by academics Peter Kirwan and Julie Raby at today’s performance, seemed extraordinarily young, almost on the cusp of pubescence, and at times her voice, its shortened Lancashire vowels sitting so much more comfortably with Shakespeare’s verse than our post 19th century received pronunciation, almost seemed to break.
But surely, surely, surely, everything in Peake’s performance and presentation points not to a negation of gender and sexual orientation, but a concentration of it? “To be or not to be? If a woman plays Hamlet, should she pretend to be a man or make the role female? Is she then in a lesbian relationship with Ophelia?” quips Dominic Maxwell in the Times. I’m not sure how much of a relationship there was between Hamlet and Ophelia despite the kissing on the lips, but there was certainly a large contingent of lesbians in the audience, some of whom, like me, could hardly be distinguished from our heterosexual neighbours, but the majority of whom looked, well, rather similar to Maxine Peake’s Hamlet. The lace-ups, the the sports bra that showed through the back of her dress shirt, the loose slacks that had a touch of the Night Watch costume department about them, the cropped locks and the touch of lipstick all suggest a Diva fashion shoot to me. And a conscious courting of the pink pound. Cavendish’s review, also available in full here, is the only review so far in one of the big papers that has begun to address this. “Her Hamlet, [Peake] says, is ‘born a woman and has decided to take on the mantle of a man’. As we talk in her lunch break from rehearsals, she refers to her character interchangeably as ‘he’ or ‘she’. She looks dashing and androgynous, her hair dyed blonde, cropped and quiffed into mid-period Bowie. ‘We’ve reimagined Wittenberg, where Hamlet studied,’ she says, ‘as Eighties Berlin or New York Greenwich Village.'” There is nothing more explicit about why she has taken on a mantle of a man. The Royal Exchange has some interesting materials on its website, however. This is a “Hamlet for now, a Hamlet for Manchester” it says. Its Key Stage 4 and 5 resources for schools linked to this production include a Trans Awareness activity. The critics may be out on whether Peake’s Hamlet is male or female, straight or gay, cis or trans. Either way, this Hamlet is decidedly queer, and it seems queer that nobody has really written about it. (Since posting this, Mark Lawson HAS written about what he sees as ‘the perils of cross-gender casting’ in The Guardian – although I’m not convinced by his ‘perils’ in an otherwise interesting article!) Production photos available here. Leverenz, David (1978) ‘The Woman in Hamlet: An interpersonal View’ in Martin Coyle, ed., (1992) New Casebooks: Hamlet Basingstoke and London: Macmillan
Press Release – The Grand Opening of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre (Gdański Teatr Szekspirowski): 19 September 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On the 19th September 2014 the Grand Opening of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre will take place. It is one of the most unusual venues in the world and the only modern theatre building with an opening roof that allows the staging of plays in daylight, in the tradition of the Renaissance.
This is an exceptional event as the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre is the only dedicated theatre building that has been constructed in Poland for almost forty years. Therefore the Grand Opening ceremony will gather many notable persons from the world of culture and business, as well as government and local authorities.
The idea of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre, a modern reconstruction of the Elizabethan-style Gdańsk playhouse, where English travelling actors performed in the seventeenth century, was born under the patronage of HRH Charles, Prince of Wales. Other notable supporters of the project include renowned Polish film director Andrzej Wajda, celebrated British theatre director Sir Peter Hall and many leading British and Polish actors, among them Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench, Emma Thompson, Allan Rickman, Kenneth Branagh, Krystyna Janda, Jerzy Stuhr, and many others.
Because the building cannot accommodate all the guests we would like to invite, the Grand Opening of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre will take place in two stages: a closed ceremony will take place inside the theatre with VIPs, sponsors, foreign guests and journalists. All other festivities will take place outside the building for other guests wishing to take part in the celebrations.
The Grand Opening of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre will start in the evening, at 8.30 pm. It will begin with a celebratory performance outside the Theatre that will last approximately 30 minutes. It will
include a Spanish fencing show and a performance of aerial acrobatics. The performance will close with a march of all the spectators, led by the fencers and actors, through the Theatre’s Main Hall, where they will be welcomed by Shakespearean characters.
The design of the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre by renowned Italian architect Renato Rizzi has been recognised as one of most interesting architectural projects of the twenty–first century. The outside brick construction, reminiscent of Gdansk’s Gothic churches, contains a wooden, early modern playhouse interior, and is thus an architectural dialogue with the building’s past. Rizzi’s design uses the seventeenth century Fencing School in Gdansk – said to be the first public theatre in Poland – as its inspiration. At the same time the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre provides a real glimpse into the future of theatre
design with its unique architectural and technologically advanced elements – created with daring and ambition – such as the opening roof which provides daylight during performances and a retractable modular stage design providing both an Italian box stage and Elizabethan thrust stage.
The Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre will become a vibrant centre for culture and the arts. Its forthcoming programme of events will include: a series of week-long events celebrating European culture (starting with the British Week from 20 until 26 September), a series of month-long events devoted to Polish theatre, an extensive educational series for primary and secondary schools, and finally the annual International Shakespeare Festival, currently in its eighteenth year, which will take place from 27 September until 5 October 2014.
The distinctive combination of historical tradition and modernity makes the Gdańsk Shakespeare Theatre not only a unique tourist attraction but also a new international cultural platform dedicated to theatre innovation and artistic creativity.
Dr Aleksandra Sakowska
London Shakespeare Centre, King’s College London
Press Office, Poland
tel.: +48 691 08 22 77
The Year of Ricardo by Angelica Liddell at the Habemus Theatrum, Theatrum, Pergamino, Argentina, with Pamela Lombari, directed by Raul Nutta, video directed by Fabian Diaz. Performances on 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27 July 2014
Versión española/Spanish version of Rolandelli's review (without my introduction).
Living in York, I have to be careful how I respond to a question like ‘How do English people think of Richard III?’ After all, this city has a museum dedicated to righting the wrongs of the Tudor propaganda that came out of London… Yet, despite Philippa Gregory’s and the BBC’s recent attempts to repackage Richard sympathetically as a smouldering heartthrob, manipulated and maligned, to most he is still the ‘poisonous bunch-back’d toad’ of Shakespeare’s play. My friend, Adriana, who originates from Argentina, had a specific reason to ask such a question: her sister had been cast as Richard in a production of Angelica Liddell’s free appropriation El Aňo de Ricardo (The Year of Richard). In this monologue, part of Liddell’s ‘trilogía de actos de resistencia contra la muerte’, or ‘trilogy of acts of resistance against death’ , the Spanish playwright and performer re-imagined him as everything that is dark and twisted within the world. The authenticity of a historical Richard is irrelevant here: it is the symbolism that counts. “We identify with him. Ricardo shows us how democratic mechanisms are used to abuse power, cause suffering, and compensate for personal faults,” said Liddell. As the prison of Denmark becomes a parallel for any totalitarian regime in global Hamlets, so the figure of Richard can be seen to stand in for any dictator, from Hitler to Saddam Hussein, but also in Liddell’s work the implication is that he stands in for all that is dark and twisted in the self: we too are complicit, perhaps?
Striking in the images released by Lombari and the Fratacho Company is the burning of books. Liddell’s play references ‘Nazism and dictatorships current and past. Knowledge has to be burnt and destroyed as it poses a threat to power,’ explains Adriana. So, did she think that the play related to the Argentinean situation, past or present? ‘It relates to all dictatorships, and in Latin America unfortunately there is a sad and long history of that!’
Currently running at the Habemus Theatrum in Pergamino this theatre isn’t afraid of putting on challenging productions and its lead actor, Pamela Lombari, is no stranger to challenging roles.
This review of the production by Carmen Rolandelli, translated by Adriana Lombari-Bonefeld, gives a flavour of how Shakespeare’s play transforms across time, place and gender.
The Year of Ricardo
Pamela Lombari’s performance in “The Year of Ricardo” excels. It can be argued that this is her best work but that would detract from the many other important projects that this actress has faced throughout her career. Yet, in this play she has come of age, overcoming her own goals. It is a difficult performance, splitting the action from the word, that Stanislavsky himself considered was so important, when words become alien themselves, displaying the subtext, the cross action of the word. A stark text by Angelica Liddell that is difficult to digest, it is uncomfortable and angry. A ruthless criticism of the social system that goes beyond the disappointments of Liddell, it arrives at a place of absolute disbelief and scepticism, a place that does not give rise to hope.
“Dying is as close to the truth as we get,” says the author and from that position generates anxiety in the audience, from that place challenges power. Who speaks in the voice of Ricardo? The perverse capitalism, which excludes, which preys, which feeds his more egregious greed? It presents a cynical look at the only tool capable of transforming reality, politics. But is it not, that voice that mocks the ideology and power of the masses, is not speech the right of the last man? And after that, what? The author does not tell us what after that. Or maybe this, its revealed truth, is nothing more than a desperate cry. “Uninterrupted pessimism makes me distrust the human being,” says the Spanish author but also adds that the overwhelming desire to side with the loser appears. This is, in my opinion, a reaffirmation of the political. It would be good to open a discussion with the public, and that is who Liddell questions and challenges.
Raul Notta, responsible for an impeccable adaptation of the play, proves once again his ability to translate complex plays into stage language. His work and drive, keeps the spectator in awe from the beginning. Here, I can say that the concept of “spectator” is present because it is impossible not to be swept away by the action. The message confronts us, making it impossible to remain as passive subjects. On the contrary, it is impossible as a subject not to feel thrown to the depth of the swamp, that makes us angry and uneasy. Beautiful and deep is the intervention of Fabian Diaz, with his aesthetics of the margins, the unspoken words and what underlies his images. Could this be the beauty of the unhappiness and the anguish of Liddell? Hence, this is a confrontational text that leads us to the discussion of our own ideas anchored politically and collectively, and shows the excellent level and place of honour that the theatre in our community must occupy . The year of Ricardo achieved this.
By Carmen Rolandelli, translated by Adriana Lombari-Bonefeld
Versión española/Spanish version of Rolandelli's review.
For English translation and introduction click here
‘El año de Ricardo’
Excelente trabajo de Pamela Lombari en “El año de Ricardo”. Podría decir que es su mejor trabajo pero sería como desmerecer tantos proyectos importantes que esta actriz ha encarado a lo largo de su carrera. Pero, indudablemente, en Ricardo ha alcanzado su madurez, la superación de sus propias metas.
Un trabajo arduo, un desdoblamiento desde la acción a la palabra, a la que el propio Stanislavsky daba tanta importancia, cuando las palabras ajenas se convierten en propias, la visualización del subtexto, la acción transversal de la palabra
Un texto descarnado, difícil de digerir, incómodo, rabioso, una crítica impiadosa al sistema que va más allá de la decepción de Liddell , llega al descreimiento absoluto, al escepticismo, que no da lugar a la esperanza. “Morir es lo más cercano a la verdad” dice la autora y de ese lugar genera la angustia, desde ese lugar interpela al Poder. ¿Quién habla en la voz de Ricardo? El capitalismo perverso, el que excluye, el que depreda, el que se retroalimenta con su voracidad más atroz? Una mirada cínica sobre la única herramienta capaz de transformar la realidad, la política. Pero no es acaso, esa voz que burla la ideología y el poder de las masas, la voz se las derechas, del no lugar, del último hombre? ¿Y después de esto, qué? La autora no nos lo dice. O quizás, esta, su verdad revelada, no sea más que un grito desesperado
“Un pesimismo ininterrumpido me hace desconfiar del ser humano” dice la autora pero también agrega que aparece el deseo irrefrenable de ponerse del lado del perdedor y esto es, a mi criterio, una reafirmación de lo político. A ese público que Liddell incomoda sería bueno proponerle el debate.
Impecable dirección de Notta que elige obras complejas y demuestra, una vez más, su capacidad de trabajo y conducción, y una puesta fuerte, que mantiene al espectador en tensión y acá puedo decir que está presente el concepto de “espectactor” porque es imposible evitar ser arrasado . No es un sujeto pasivo quien se enfrente a esta puesta, a la profundidad de esa ciénaga donde parece que caemos permanentemente, que nos enoja y nos confronta.
Profunda y bella la intervención de Fabián Díaz, la estética de los márgenes, de lo no dicho, de lo que subyace. ¿Será esa la belleza de la infelicidad y la angustia de Liddell?
De lo dicho, de un texto confrontativo que nos dispara a la discusión de las ideas, ni más ni menos y a nuestros propios anclajes en lo político y en lo colectivo, se desprende el excelente nivel y el lugar de honor que debe ocupar el teatro en nuestra ciudad. “El año de Ricardo “es prueba fehaciente de esta realidad