Free Popular Shakespeares 1 & 2 events at York St John, Friday 15th May, as part of the York International Shakespeare Festival

May 8, 2015 at 11:31 am (Conferences, Eastern European Shakespeare, Globe to Globe 2012, Intercultural Performances, International Festivals, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare) (, , , , )

YISF8-17th May 2015 sees the First York International Shakespeare Festival and York St JohnYork-St-John-Logo-2-267x116 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: artsevents@yorksj.ac.uk). 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

taming of the shrew

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

folio

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

York

YO31 7EX

s.walkling@yorksj.ac.uk

www.yorksj.ac.uk

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Shakespearean London Theatres (ShaLT)

September 23, 2013 at 12:15 pm (Conferences, Globe to Globe 2012, Shakespeare on film)

(c) Shakespeare's Globe

(c) Shakespeare’s Globe

The project Shakespearean London Theatres (ShaLT)

has released its second batch of films, this time
on the topic of “Outdoor Playing”:
 
(1) A performed excerpt from Shakespeare’s play
Richard III Act I Scene 2, first performed c.1592 (8 minutes)
http://youtu.be/m-2L5in5Q68
 
(2) An examination of the role of James Burbage in early
theatre (10 minutes)
http://youtu.be/_NtgDJxn6aA
 
(3) A research interview with theatre historian
Gabriel Egan on the subject of outdoor playing (30
minutes)
http://youtu.be/-vXnSCjgQoo
 
(4) A research interview with theatre historian
Tiffany Stern on the subject of outdoor playing (24
minutes)
http://youtu.be/92iHcnxQGOk
 
(5) A research interview with theatre historian
Andrew Gurr on the subject of outdoor playing (44 minutes)
http://youtu.be/RXaFBFmQLLc
 
The links to the first batch of films is available via the projects website http://shalt.org.uk.
All are offered under a Creative Commons Attribution
Share-Alike licence (CC-BY-SA). The same licence
covers all the material on the project website at
http://shalt.org.uk.
 
 

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Step by Step Richard III: from Jessner to Jonjo.

November 3, 2012 at 9:37 am (East Asian Shakespeare, Eastern European Shakespeare, Globe to Globe 2012, Intercultural Performances, Literature Review, RSC, Translation, World Shakespeare Festival)

Notes from my presentation on the Study of Shakespeare, YSJU.

Pirchan’s set (c) VRL

Mise, from mettre, to put.  Mise-en-scène, to put into a ‘scene’, or a literal or metaphorical space.  We often equate it with another word, scenography, which refers to the set, costumes, props and even music in a production. How these elements can combine to convey a meaning as powerful as that found in language is evidenced by Emil Pirchan’s iconography for Leopold Jessner’s 1920 Richard III(see Hortmann, 1998, and Kennedy, 1993b).  Jessner and Pirchan were part of the German Expressionist movement, which rejected Realism and decorative art, as they felt these simply upheld the political, social and aesthetic status quo.  Working in the interwar period after the destruction of WWI, and witnessing the rise of facism in Europe,  they instead embraced Abstraction, for as another artist of the era stated:

“I really feel a pressure to create something that is as strong as possible. The war has really swept away everything from the past. Everything seems weak to me and I suddenly see things in their terrible power. I never liked the type of art that was simply appealing to the eye, and I have the fundamental feeling that we need still stronger forms, so strong, that they can withstand the force of the crazed masses.”
(Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, cited in The Art Story)

Or, as Paul Klee would sum up: ‘the more terrible this world, the more abstract our art’ (cited in Kennedy, 1993b: 83). See Dislocation, Dislocation, Dislocation for more on this.

Looking at the set for the second half of Jessner’s Richard III clearly illustrates this.  Steps dominated the stage.  My students were reminded of pyramids and tombs, monumental images connoting power and death. We then looked at Pirchan’s sketches:

Pirchan: set for the second half of ‘Richard III’

The relationship between the scenography and the bodies of the actors on the stage took on added significance when looked at through Pirchan’s coloured sketch, the only colour image that exists of this part of the production, I believe.

In an interpolated scene (prior to 4.2) Richard ascended the steps slowly for his coronation […] At the top ‘the red of the steps was linked to the red of the sky by the crimson of Richard’s gown,’ Paterson explains, ‘as though an electric charge of evil  had leapt the gap between heaven and earth’. A contemporary critic, Alfred Polger, said that ‘it is as though the sky itself provided a bloody reflection for Richard’s atrocities.’  Pirchan’s design for the scene, showing the violence of this strategy of colour, is the best evidence that the scenography carried much of the burden of the production. (Kennedy, 1993b: p 87)

The version described above became the cover image for the first edition of Kennedy’s Looking at Shakespeare (1993)

(c) Cambridge

Yet mise-en-scène extends beyond the visual surface of the play to embrace all aspects of how the play communicates meaning to its audience. Non-verbal communication includes intonation, timing, expression, gesture, spatial relationships between performers and spatial relationships between performers and the audience (see Leiblien in Kennedy, 1993a). My colleague, Julie Raby, had explored some of these ideas in a previous lecture in relation to the RSC’s recent summer production of Richard III, directed by Roxana Silbert. In this clip students had been particularly impressed with how the actor, Jonjo O’Neill, like a latter-day Vice, had seduced the viewer (and on the stage, the audience) into being complicit in his actions through his direct address.  One student noted the way he walked away, and then turned back on the phrase ‘But I‘.  As he confided in her his sense of being a rejected outsider because of his deformity, his seduction, it seemed, was complete.

Richard III, summer 2012 (c) RSC

If it’s not just the words but the relationship between the words and the body that speaks them, however, that makes the meaning, then O’Neill’s Northern Irish accent as Richard was significant because it made a statement about ownership of ‘the Bard’ both on the part of the actor, who is Northern Irish, and the RSC, who produced the play. As a visiting American student said to me last year, after he had been praised for his reading aloud, ‘But I don’t sound like Shakespeare – you sound like Shakespeare.’ What if David Tennant had played a Scottish Hamlet? A small choice has big cultural implications.  However, to people in the audience of my age, there may have been another layer of meaning perceived in O’Neill’s rendition, because to anyone who lived in the United Kingdom in the ’70s and ’80s, a Northern Irish accent was inextricably linked through the media to the Troubles. In fact, under Thatcher, the government literally tried to silence certain Republican and Loyalist figures by outlawing the broadcasting of their voices.  Journalists got around this in a surreal manner, so that I grew up with Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein routinely dubbed by an actor speaking with a strong Belfast accent. Even if there had been no intended link in the minds of anyone involved in the production, the circumstances of history, and the Othering of certain a certain group through their voices, would still echo on the 21st century English stage.

Finally, with the National Theatre of China’s appropriation of this play during the Globe to Globe season, we’ve seen how  mise-en-scène extends to the language of the translation and the language of the theatre codes of whichever tradition a production is appropriated into.

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Globe to Globe on The Space

October 28, 2012 at 2:35 pm (African Shakespeare, Asian Shakespeare (Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi), East Asian Shakespeare, Eastern European Shakespeare, Globe to Globe 2012, Hamlet in Performance, Intercultural Performances, Middle Eastern Shakespeare, Shakespeare on film, World Shakespeare Festival) ()

As the summer of more than usually international Shakespeare came to an end, I revisited some of the Globe to Globe productions which were temporarily available on the Arts Council’s website, The Space.* If anyone from Shakespeare’s Globe is reading this – how about releasing them all as a boxed set? I’d certainly buy them!
 My personal highlights (in no particular order of preference) were:

(c) Yohangza/Globe to Globe

Yohangza’s A Midsummer Night’s DreamFrom South Korea, this is a global, intercultural company (their name means ‘voyager’), who have successfully proved that the language of theatre is more than linguistic and, without attempting to ‘universalise’ or ‘homogenise’, they have nevertheless shown how easy it is for a story well told to criss-cross cultural boundaries.  I was unable to get to London for the two days that it was playing at the Globe, but I saw it online.

I was a Groundling for the first time when I went to see the Palestinian Ashtar Theatre Company’s Richard IIStanding right next to Sami Metwasi when he sat on the edge of the stage as Richard and lamented the death of kings in classical Arabic – well, it was simply one of the most compelling moments in theatre that I have experienced.  I’ve blogged about it here, and I am currently co-authoring a journal paper on it.

(c) Globe to Globe

This was ‘balanced’ by the controversial invitation to Israel’s national theatre Habima, who against everyone’s expectations chose to put on The Merchant of Venice.  By all accounts, the political theatricals that took place around the production were as powerful as the performances on the stage, and raised challenging questions about whether or not artists and artistic ‘products’ should be boycotted.  Some Israeli commentators read it as a critique of internal Jewish racism, explaining that Shylock was represented as a Sephardic (Eastern/Mediterranean) Jew, while Portia and her coterie where Ashkenazi (European).

There were three powerful, cruelly absurd reconfigurings of Shakespeare’s ‘great’ tragedies.

The Belarus Free Theatre outdid any CGI technology by reproducing the storm with a simple blue tarpaulin and a bucket or two of water in  its scathing satire, King Lear.  The result: they left the audience stunned, and those of us at the front of the Groundlings, due to their extraordinary use of the elements, deafened and somewhat wet.  I’ve blogged on it. Kochanowski Theatre’s Polish Macbeth divided British audiences between those who were horrified and disgusted by the sexual violence in its postmodern deconstruction of corrupt contemporary politics, and those of us, myself included, who thought that to not represent the ugliness of this on the stage would be in itself self-censorship and a betrayal of the mise-en- scene.  Meno Fortas put on their famously ‘metaphorical’ Hamlet with aplomb.  Audiences were drawn both by its director’s stature in European theatre circles and also, as noted in my blog, by the fame of its rock star Hamlet.   Amongst all of this darkness, Marjanishvili Theatre from Georgia, put on a delightful and nuanced As You Like ItAs well as my blog post I have an autumn leaf as a reminder.

My interest is not only in Eastern European appropriation, however.  It was fascinating to see the deliberately apolitical Richard III by the National China of Theatre after spending so much time thinking about the more subversive work of Lin Zhaohua.  It wasn’t so much Shakespeare as a secret agent as ‘Let me entertain you’!  We were .

Two Gents (c) Globe to Globe

Others that I did not get a chance to see but wish I had included: Two Gents Shona language Two Gentleman of Verona (both hilariously funny and brilliantly dark, if it is anything like their English language version of the same which I saw on tour in Scarborough in 2009); Hong Kong’s Tang Shu Wing’s Theatre Studio Theatre’s Titus Andronicus;; and all the Indian subcontinent productions (Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest).  I managed to catch up on The Merchant of Venice and Oyun Atölyesi’s Antony and Cleopatra from Turkey through the Performance and Festival section on The Space website.  Unfortunately, many of the plays were taken off a day before its advertised end, so the time I had set aside for marathon Globe to Globe watching was in vain, and a shame for the students who had hoped to watch Hamlet the day before their lecture….

I’d be interested to hear you thoughts on any of these productions and also your views on the politics and economics of these types of festival.  I loved every minute of Globe to Globe, but it does raise important questions about cultural ownership, how festivals package and represent companies as ‘the Other’, and how theatre can reach new audiences.

As an afterthought, I really should get a goody bag after all this promotion for the Arts Council and Globe to Globe, shouldn’t I?!

*All of the 37 plays in 37 languages were hosted in full with the exception of the Afghan Roy-E-Sabs’ exuberantly defiant Comedy of Errors, presumably because it has been unsafe for the actors, particularly the women, to have too high a media profile.  An Afghan actress was murdered this summer just for being an actress.  Shakespeare’s Globe have also not included any pictures of the women in their production photographs, apart from the US exile – the one who left Afghanistan after her husband was killed because he ‘let’ her work in television drama.

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Richard III of where?

September 27, 2012 at 9:33 pm (East Asian Shakespeare, Eastern Performance, Globe to Globe 2012, Intercultural Performances, Middle Eastern Shakespeare, Translation)

Short Presentation Outline: Richard III workshop, YSJU

Watch the National Theatre of China’s Globe to Globe Richard III at The Space (No longer available)

See a clever clip from Sabab’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy at Global Shakespeares (Available)

Watch the London Olympics Opening Ceremony on the BBC (No longer available)

Branagh reads ‘The Tempest’ (c) Entertainment Weekly

Danny Boyle framed his Olympic Opening Ceremony with two bastions of British culture: Mr Bean and William Shakespeare.  In fact, in some circles (China, Palestine) the World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad, has been renamed Shakespeare’s Olympics… This year of sport has also been a year of the arts, in the shape of the London 2012 Festival, and at the heart of this has been ‘our’ National Bard.  Not only did the Olympic and Paralympic Ceremonies use The Tempest to showcase our culture to the world, however; it also assumed that the world would respond to this because Shakespeare is somehow ‘universal’.

There is a very important conversation to be had here about colonial indoctrination, cultural ownership, and Shakespeare as a global brand: however, I cannot do this justice in 15 minutes, and for the time-being at least I want to celebrate the brilliant carnivalesque of this festival, which attempted to recreate – in reverse – the experience of the English Players who took Shakespeare into Europe in the 17th century and performed in English to audiences who, often-times, could not understand a word that was being said!  Yet many of those cultures now claim Shakespeare as their own. Not so much a National Bard as a bard of many nations.

Globe to Globe was part of the larger WSF, and presented all 37 plays – in 37 languages.  Artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, and Globe to Globe director, Tom Bird, set out their understanding of what this festival signified in the festival programme: ‘Shakespeare is the language that brings us together better than any other, and reminds us of our almost infinite difference, and of our strange and humbling commonality’ (Dromgoole and Bird, 2012). Shakespeare is a universal or shared language, they imply – yes, he reminds us of difference but mostly he emphasises our commonality.  However, in an article in the same programme, the academic Dennis Kennedy challenges this idea of universality.  Shakespeare has travelled so far, he argues, because of his ‘flexibility.’  We use a specific word to describe Shakespeare adaptation in this context: appropriation.  Much as Shakespeare did with the European and Classical sources he appropriated for his own plays, theatre practitioners across the world have taken Shakespeare and used him for their own purposes.  Part of this transformation often involves leaving the language behind, challenging the claim that Shakespeare is his language.

Richard III’s coronation (c) Shakespeare’s Globe

First of all, let’s look at the National Theatre of China’s production which wowed audiences at the Globe last April (see my long review here).  This was another extremely rainy month, as some of you will remember, nearly as rainy as now, and as flooded.  I mention this because the company had found itself without costumes and props.  Having sent them ahead by sea 7 weeks earlier, the English weather prevented the container ship from entering Felixstowe harbour, so the actors had to make do with borrowed robes – and a couple of costumes hastily run up, such as this yellow coat.  Not quite the Imperial silk that had been planned, but its colour still  indicated to anyone who knows anything about Chinese history that whoever wore it was the Emperor.

Yet critics unanimously agreed that the performance was so strong and so innovative that the lack of costumes made little difference.  For this Sinocized appropriation relocated late medieval England to ancient China. Nimbly side-stepping some Western commentators’ hopes that the production would critique the power politics of modern China, it instead entranced British audiences with its clever interweaving of Shakespeare’s story with traditional Chinese theatre.  Although largely ‘spoken theatre’, it incorporated Beijing Opera traits: during Richard’s brilliant seduction of Lady Ann (when she spat in his face he rubbed it in as if it was aftershave), she sang a stylized aria in the high-pitched voice of female roles.  Later, the same actress doubled as the young Prince Edward.  Now she danced with a riding crop, indicating that the prince was riding on horseback.  This non-naturalistic technique of Beijing Opera influenced the theory and practice of a certain German dramaturg at the beginning of the 20C – Bertolt Brecht’s defamiliarization/alienation effect, which you’ll recognise in much experimental theatre. Two other characters were borrowed from Chinese Opera. The murderers were chou, or clown figures, engaging in Chinese style cross talk and acrobatics as they debated whether or not to murder Clarence.  This worked well with Shakespeare’s text as there is a grotesque comedy in this scene on the English stage, too. However, they added a twist to the usually sinister Tyrell when they reappeared in this role, one sitting on the other’s shoulders. Again grotesquely comic, this time in tension with a traditional Western interpretation of the character, they acted in conscienceless unity.

Richard and Maragaret (c) National Theatre of China

In Li Ruru’s review on the Shakespeare’s Globe Blog she explores how this production, combining both spoken and sung theatre traditions is not only intercultural, however – it is also intracultural. She also discusses their interpretive choice to present Richard without any physical deformity.

Director Wang Xiaoying spoke of his influences and aims in an interview he gave in China:  “I saw the original Richard III play last year in Beijing starring [Hollywood actor] Kevin Spacey, which was fabulous and remained true to Shakespeare’s original work. However, the WSF is a platform for different countries to showcase their own culture. I believe that other countries will also fuse unique cultural elements into Shakespeare’s plays”( cited in Wang Shutong, Global Times, 2012).

The production had been specially created for Globe to Globe to “bring Chinese culture out to meet with the world’s different races, different languages, and different cultural backgrounds, to interact and communicate with one another under the banner of Shakespeare.”  (Wang Xiaoying cited in Lee Chee Keng, Shakespeare’s Gobe Blog, 2012).

I would like you to stop and think about this idea of being ‘under the banner of Shakespeare’.  What do you think he means?

Square Word Calligraphy: look carefully and you’ll see it’s in English…
(c) National Theatre of China

The second production was introduced by Anglo-Kuwaiti director, Sulayman Al-Bassam, as part of the ‘It is the East’ study sessions.  Al-Bassam was brought up in the UK (his mother is English, his father Kuwaiti) but since the 1st Gulf War he has increasingly felt he should fashion himself as an Arab voice.  Originally adapting Shakespeare’s plays into an Arab setting, but still in English, his RSC commissioned Richard III: An Arab Tragedy was performed in Arabic.

As Kennedy noted of Shakespeare under communism, he can often be an agent under deep cover…. (Foreign Shakespeare, 1993) Because Shakespeare’s texts are classic and foreign they can be a way to sneak messages to audiences without the censors realising. Al-Bassam discussed how in the Arab world there is both political and cultural censorship at times.  Shakespeare is about Britain and the British, right? Or at least, about Westerners? There can’t be any harm in that?

Wrong.

http://theater.nytimes.com/2007/02/20/theater/20rich.html

Fayez Kazak calls for a horse (c) Jonathan Player NYT

Al-Bassam’s Richard III, performed by his company Sabab, was overtly political and Richard looked very like a Saddam figure.  In fact, he loves to announce, he once had Syria’s Bashar al Assad in the audience.  When al Assad heard the name of an imprisoned Syrian dissident mentioned by one of the actors, he had a Claudius moment, almost calling for ‘Lights!’ before he and his entourage stormed out. ‘Hence the utility of our friend, William Shakespeare, you know? It’s William Shakespeare who’s saying this, not us.’ (Al-Bassam in interview with Brown, for PBS, 2009)

This adaptation was much, much darker than the comically entertaining Chinese appropriation – and when the Western funded ‘Tudors’ took over at the end there was no sense of order being restored. This production has been written about by Graham Holderness here and blogged on by Margaret Litvin on her fabulously wide-ranging and up-to-date Shakespeare in the Arab World (put Richard III into her blog’s ‘search’ box and it will take you through to several posts).

At the It is the East Study Day at the Globe, Al-Bassam also talked in great detail about how, if these reconfigurings  were going to work in the new context, the equivalences had to be very carefully thought through. How can you present Clarence drowned in a butt of malmsey wine if you are presenting him as a devout Muslim?  In a chilling clip, he showed us exactly how. As the muezzin called worshippers to prayer, Clarence entered carrying a suitcase.  He paused, knelt down and opened the suitcase, which was full of water.  Then he began his ritual ablutions, cleansing himself for prayer. The murderer had no shifting consciences as he held his victim’s head under the shallow water. As one of our students noted, this parallels the religious significance of wine in western culture: as the blood of Christ, wine creates communion with God through atonement.

So don’t believe it when people say Shakespeare is irrelevant in today’s world… Or that he’s the Bard of Britain…

This is just a taster of some of the productions that are out there, and some of the discussion points around intercultural Shakespeare. My article on WSF Arab Shakespeare is available on the Year of Shakespeare blog, as well as being archived here under Globe to Globe.  Please add comments to this blog post if you have any.

Richard seduces Anne (c) Ellie Kutz, WSJ

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August 29, 2012 at 11:13 am (East Asian Shakespeare, Eastern European Shakespeare, Eastern Performance, Globe to Globe 2012, Intercultural Performances, Middle Eastern Shakespeare, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare, Translation, World Shakespeare Festival)

Here is an extremely interesting summing up of the Globe to Globe Festival by my friend Duncan (known in the Twitter world as @shaksper) – we met at a Globe to Globe event, It is the East! My comment is added below.

Margate Sands

The Globe to Globe festival lasted six weeks and comprised thirty-seven Shakespeare productions, each in a different language. Theatre companies from around the world presented a wide variety of interpretations of Shakespeare in a range of theatrical styles.

The individual characteristics of these productions proved endlessly fascinating. But some common features emerged from this disparate collection of drama.

1. Women

Productions from a wide variety of cultures took characters written as male outsiders and recast them as female tricksters.

The Māori Troilus and Cressida had a female Thersites. Her tied-back hair and thin angular features were complemented by a shrill nasal voice that she used aggressively to mock everyone around her.

In the Hindi Twelfth Night the often dour figure of Feste became a sprightly young female whose mockery had none of the sad emptiness that comes to a peak in Feste’s concluding song.

The clownish Bottom became an old…

View original post 1,238 more words

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Globe to Globe Lithuanian ‘Hamlet’: The Prince of Rock and Ice

July 11, 2012 at 9:41 pm (Eastern European Shakespeare, Globe to Globe 2012, Hamlet in Performance, Intercultural Performances, World Shakespeare Festival) (, , , , , )

Hamlet directed by Eimuntas Nekrosius and performed by Meno Fortas, Globe to Globe Festival, 2nd June 2012: Matinee 

Horatio and Hamlet (c) John Haynes

This was a cold, wet production, and not only because it was performed on an open stage in an English June…    A man came on in heavy, enormous furs, like a huge lumbering bear emerging from a wintry Northern forest. He threw back his head and revealed that he was actually two men.  Freezing drops of water dripped from a chandelier made of ice attached to a round, rusting saw blade, heavy with chains. Ice turned to water, and water filled goblets as big as fish bowls.  Ophelia played at fishes with her father and brother, her praying hands darting like minnows instead of remembering their orisons. In a dark production of blacks, greys, browns, blood reds and deep, deep purples, her emerald green dress stood out like pond weed in murky waters.  Ophelia, the green girl.

Ophelia was fun, playful, and a little bit goofy.  In fact, everyone was a little bit goofy, especially her father.  I think they might all have been mad. Had the lunatics taken over the asylum?

Ultra-cool Hamlet dominated the stage like an aging rock star.  But he was an aging rock-star, Lithuania’s answer to Bono!  When he was first asked to play Hamlet fifteen years ago he was a young rebel.  Now, perhaps, he’ll continue that tradition, with Kemble and Booth, of playing him past middle age into his twilight years…

(C) Meno Fortas

Claudius did not have a share in the glory, nor in the audience’s empathy, as he often does in Western productions now, and his new wife was a nobody, peripheral.  Gertrude never held the stage like Ophelia. I doubt if anyone ever intended her to.  When Ophelia drowned, however, she showed real agency, diving into the water and swimming to her death.

The ice, smashed, melted, and dripped, staining the Globe stage like blood. A giant bird – formed from two black screens that belonged in a black box, not an open air, reconstructed Renaissance theatre – flew across the stage on a man’s back like a prehistoric harbinger of death. The Old Ghost was Young Fortinbras.  The hand of anyone who touched him turned black. That ‘stain’ was passed from character to character during the play-within-the-play.  When Claudius asked Hamlet how they should understand ‘The Mousetrap’, Hamlet answered ‘Metaphorically!’

It was a strange, visual stream of consciousness: images and references that I could not understand, but that I did not need to.

The actors never once looked out at the audience, or if they did, they failed to see us.  It was not that they were acting to an invisible fourth wall; they were enclosed in a strange imaginary fishbowl world where they would live and die, perhaps senselessly.

Britain’s contribution to the Globe to Globe Festival was Henry V, which opened the Globe’s own summer season.  However, as there was a gap of nearly a week between this performance and the two-companies-daily pattern of the previous six weeks, and because, for me at least, there was a sense that Shakespeare in English did not really count, Nekrosius’ Hamlet felt like the last play in the Globe to Globe Festival. This monumental production from Lithuania managed to both give weight to the centrality of this play in the European canon, yet to also illustrate how Shakespeare as a cultural product emigrated across the channel many years ago and took on global citizenship.  Hamlet in particular seems to be most at home anywhere but here.  As repeatedly illustrated in Dennis Kennedy’s pioneering edited collection of essays, Foreign Shakespeare, which was first published shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, this play speaks to societies in transition and trauma in a language we in England can no longer fully understand. Hamlet was banned by Stalin, and Kozintzev’s 1964 film was a savage critique of his personality cult, as well as a brave testing of the post-Stalin thaw.

But all of that was a very long time ago.  Even the initial post-communist years of this production’s genesis belongs to many people’s childhood memories.  For example, I was sitting next to two young Lithuanian women in the Globe.  They had travelled from Manchester and Leeds, where they were living, just to see this production.

(c) John Haynes

‘We’ve never been to the Globe before, but we had to see this.  Hamlet performed in Lithuanian in Shakespeare’s theatre! And the director is very, very famous in our home country, you know.  We think that’s him, sitting over there.’  They point to a bearded man in late middle age sitting next to a tall blonde woman. ‘I expect that’s his wife,’ one of them said, the older one.  Then she paused. ‘But that’s not the only reason we came… The actor who plays Hamlet, Andrius Mamontovas, he is a huge rock-star in Lithuania.’

‘He was very big back in the early 90s,’ said the other. ‘My older sister was really into him.’

‘Not just the 90s,’ the other said. ‘He’s still famous now, and not only my age group like him.  He’s like Bono!  Well, he’s like Bono in Lithuania, anyway!  But we came here for the Shakespeare, too, and to visit the Globe. But why did you come? And what did you think?’

See my comment (no 3, below) to see how my thoughts were confirmed, developed – and in one case (Ophelia’s death) completely changed when I watched this again on The Space.

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Globe to Globe ‘Comedy of Errors’ from Afghanistan: Carry On Kabul

July 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm (Conferences, Eastern Performance, Globe to Globe 2012, Intercultural Performances, Middle Eastern Shakespeare, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare, World Shakespeare Festival)

Comedy of Errors in Dari Persian, directed by Corinne Jabber and performed by Roy-E-Sabs, Globe to Globe Festival, Thursday 31st May: Evening

حالا دست در

دست برویم نه

پشت به پشت

‘Let’s go hand in hand, not one before another.’
 
*Comments are reconstructed from memory and not recorded verbatim.

*’One of the paradoxes of doing a festival like this is that you end up asking people to tell their own story, and then have to tell them that they can’t do the play of their choice as somebody else is already doing it,’ said Tom Bird, the Globe to Globe festival director, at his talk at their Intercultural Shakespeare Symposium.   ‘Another thing is, that you can’t second guess what play a particular company will feel allows them to tell the story that they want to tell.  For example, we offered the Afghans a choice of history plays.  We thought that they would find that a play about civil war really spoke to the Afghan experience… But they wouldn’t have it. “No, we want to do The Comedy of Errors”, they insisted!’

This until recently little-performed play thus became the Afghan offering, and the director of Roy-e-Sabs had certainly caught the Shakespeare zeitgeist as there have also been two or three high-profile British productions this year, including the National Theatre’s starring comedian-turned-Shakespearian actor, Lenny Henry, and Lucian Msamati, Propeller’s touring production, and the RSC.

From the India Times

I could see why the Afghan company wanted to do this farcical comedy, as it simultaneously flew in the face of preconceptions about ‘The Afghan experience’ whilst, in its darker moments (all three of them!) it still remained true to the realities of contemporary Afghan life .  For example, singing, dancing, drinking and sexual innuendo (lots of seaside postcard innuendo) were all foregrounded and celebrated.  The production opened in music, which is judged un-Islamic by certain, more Puritan schools of thought, and was banned by the Taliban.  The women showed their hair, ironically only covering it as they headed offstage into the play’s ‘outdoors’.  As for the kitchen maid, she was played by a bearded man in drag…   All the characters had been renamed and the action was relocated to contemporary post-war Kabul.  Yet the father Eshan (Egeon in the English) faced a very real death threat for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the two-sets of long-lost brothers had added significance in a  nation where families are torn apart by war. As Andrew Dickson has noted in his Guardian review, even some of the funniest comic moments are ‘uncomfortable’.  For instance, Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio, renamed as Arsalan of Samaqand and his servant Boston, arrived from Uzbekistan in western outfits and panama hats.  Arsalan had expensive leather shoes and Boston sported designer trainers.  They stopped to take photos of themselves on their digital cameras, posing with the ‘locals’: lying down on the stage, Boston put an arm around Groundling Laura.  Then a shopkeeper helpfully suggested that they change their clothes into local garb if they didn’t want to get found out by the authorities.  He handed them  traditional ‘Perahan Tunban’, or baggy trousers and loose, long tunics, which men had to wear by law after the Taliban outlawed western clothes in the 1990s.  However, instead of fearfully changing clothes, the two émigré sophisticates mocked the clothing first – could they both fit into one pair of trousers, for instance?!  The shoes also became a motif throughout, hinting to the various players that all was not as it seemed. Suggested by looks alone, Sordoba was surprised that her husband, Arsalan of Kabul, should suddenly have such good taste in footwear, and Arsalan of Samaqand wondered why his servant would have swapped his trainers for a pair of battered old sandals. (You notice feet when you’re a Groundling).

Thus, mostly, this production was a hoot, in true Carry On style.  Sordoba (Adrianna) pursued the bemused Arsalan of Samaqand with great energy: a younger and slimmer Hattie Jacques, she rubbed her calf up and down his leg whilst he tried to extricate himself.  He was not quite Kenneth Williams, however, as he himself lustily pursued the prudish but ultimately willing Rodaba (Luciana).

Meanwhile, the real Arsalan of Kabul could bluster and rage as much as he liked, but he could not gain entry to his own house, the doors barred and bolted against him.

I say Carry On, but as the director was French, perhaps the flavour was equally that of Gallic farce.  Several productions in this festival involved intercultural exchanges in the creative processes as well as in the audience reception of the shows.

Image of the Courtesan temporarily removed.
 

The highlight for some young Afghans behind me was clearly the appearance of the Courtesan.  Played by the same actress as Rodoba, she had swapped her shalwar kamiz for tight, tight jeans and a red leather jacket, and shimmied across the stage in her high-heeled boots.  Whatever song she was singing (something about zum-zum-zum), the audience clearly knew it and joined in. As she left to uproarious applause, the young people shouted out ‘zum-zum-zum’ again, willing her to come back.  She looked a little surprised, and then obligued.

Much of the comedy, as I have said, was farce and slapstick.  Luce the kitchen maid was a pantomime dame rather than an original practices boy-player.  Yet there were moments of extraordinary emotion as well.  At the very end, in the chaos of the denouement, as all the identities are revealed and all the confusions are cleared up, one recognition stood out.  The Abbess, who had been giving sanctuary to the Samaqands (it’s a long story – you’ll have to watch the play for yourself!) was standing centre stage in her long white robes.  Eshan faced death, because he was rejected by his Kabul son, who he believed was his Samaqand son, and who didn’t recognise him.  He looked up in despair, then met the Abbess’ eyes.  Slowly, slowly they moved towards each other, reached out their arms to each other, then sat quietly on the floor amidst all the commotion as the audience realised that Eshan had found his wife and she realised that she had found her children, and every one realised that all would be well.

The blurb on the performance flyer announced that it wanted to show daily life as it is in the back streets of Kabul, and if this performance is to be believed, it is not so different from the goings-on in many back streets all over the world – early modern Italy, or post-modern London…

Yet that is only partly true.  Roy-E-Sabs rehearsal premises in Kabul came under attack, the company had to rehearse in India, and on BBC Woman’s Hour, one of the actresses revealed how some in her community saw her as no better than a prostitute.

But to that, Roy-E-Sab say zum-zum-zum…

See more on this context in Stephen Purcell’s review on the Shakespeare’s Globe blog.

(c) Shakespeare’s Globe

Interview with cast members.

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Globe to Globe Georgian ‘As You Like It’: Dancing with Umbrellas under an English Sky

June 26, 2012 at 2:54 pm (Eastern European Shakespeare, Globe to Globe 2012, Intercultural Performances, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare, World Shakespeare Festival)

Globe to Globe Festival  As You Like It in Georgian directed by Levan Tsuladze and performed by Marjanishvili Theatre, Saturday 19th May 2012: Evening

‘What did you think of As You Like It last night?’ my friend Aneta Mancewicz asked.

‘I thought it was really…pretty,’ I said, after a moment’s consideration.

‘Oh,’ she said, sounding a little disappointed with my response. ‘I thought it was really good.  They did some very interesting things around the idea of metatheatre, for example.’

‘Oh no, that’s not what I meant at all – I meant pretty in a good way…’

So what did I mean, and why was my gut reaction to this intelligent production of As You Like It by the Marjanishvili Theatre of Georgia apparently based on something so trivial? I think it was because, after the difficult, dark tragedies coming out of Eastern Europe as part of the Globe to Globe Festival, with the Polish Macbeth’s onstage rape of Lady Macduff and the Belarusian onstage hanging of King Lear‘s daughter, Cordelia, it was such a relief to watch a performance that literally fluttered between spring pastels and autumnal russets (I still have a leaf from the Forest of Arden enclosed in my programme).

(c) Jack Vettriano

The pretty young girls danced with their beaus under umbrellas and parasols, referencing perhaps the English weather or Merchant Ivory, and in their perfect choreography conjuring up those famous images of Jack Vettriano’s dancers on the beach.  In fact this production was a masterpiece of timing in every way.  The usual comic shenanigans took place among the shepherds, shepherdesses and clowns in the woodland glen in a translation that structurally and visually seemed to follow Shakespeare’s text closely, so that I felt a constant sense of recognition even though I couldn’t speak a word of Georgian.

However, Aneta was right.  This was a sophisticated take on the nature of theatre as well as a delightful evening’s entertainment.  Ignoring the Globe’s precept to perform with minimal set, the company brought along its own stage, which they erected in the middle of the Globe stage. Surrounded by upended travel chests, doubling as changing booths and lovers’ hidey-holes, this transformed As You Like It into a play-within-a-play, so that when Jacques made the equivalent of his ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech, the men and women he referred to really were ‘merely players’.  As they stepped on and off their stage, they slipped in and out of roles, of genders, of love, of costumes, of time and place. Sometimes it seemed as if the actors in the play-world were rehearsing their production, as they forgot lines or missed cues, yet at other times they fully inhabited the Forest of Arden. This liminality was at the heart of the interpretation.

rehearsal image (c) Teona Kvezereli

And underneath all its prettiness there was also a suggestion of melancholy.  This is in Shakespeare, of course, but as another Groundling, Laura, noted at the interval, all this Edwardiana I saw was actually Chekhovian.  A tall, sad, lonely actress separated herself from the rest of the ensemble as they first entered the stage and looked around the auditorium, cowered by what she saw.  Later, she would reveal her cropped hair and swap her skirts and lady’s hat for a man’s suit.  This Jacques reminded Shaksper of KD Lang, an observation that didn’t find its way into his detailed review.  However, it was not such a strange connection, as this mannish woman’s outsider status was palpable.  It was only in character that s/he seemed to have any identity at all.

The cross-dressing was clever.  Unlike Julia Tamor who turned Prospero into Prospera through the casting of Helen Mirren, Jacques did not become Jacqueline.  Likewise, Adam was also played by a woman, who, like Jacques, instead of turning herself into an  old nurse, simply dressed as a man.  Whether we were supposed to register these wo/men as drag kings or whether we were simply to see a democratic division of roles between the genders, I don’t know.  I suspect that it was the latter.  After all, in this play, nobody is really as they seem, from Rosalind playing Ganymede, to Actress playing Rosalind, to the real actress playing the Actress who plays Rosalind who plays Ganymede…  In the world of the play-within-the-play, I think we were supposed to see Jacques and Adam as men from the moment that they stepped onto their makeshift stage, just as an early modern audience would have seen Celia and Rosalind as young women.  I certainly forgot Jacques’ gender after awhile.

(c) John Haynes

Jacques was not the only sad note.  The rumbustious old Adam transformed into a broken old man from the moment that his and Orlando’s home was torched by the evil Oliver; this was represented by a tissue paper model and ‘The brief incandescent flame vividly demonstrated the intensity of Oliver’s hatred’ (Shaksper). I am perhaps reading too much into it, but Georgia’s recent history has been less then smooth.  Mass expulsions of Georgians, Ossetians and Azhbakians  took place in the early 1990s as the emerging nations and regions attempted to reassert themselves after the dissolution of the USSR, and it is less than a half a decade since the South Ossetia war. Even the autumn leaves that blew about the stage as the characters entered and left Arden were potentially as redolent of the end of things as they were of mellow fruitfulness.

(c) John Haynes, Globe to Globe blog

Yet only potentially, for this was a production in which light outshone the dark.  Orlando released his poems on balloons over Southwark, Touchstone and Audrey’s courtship was a larger than life celebration of healthy lustiness, Corin got his Phebe, the evil Charles and his brother the Duke were permanently reconciled by dint of the fact that they were played by the same actor, and my abiding memory is of swirling leaves, and dancing umbrellas.

(c) John Haynes

One final thing to note: at the Globe to Globe Intercultural Shakespeare Conference earlier that day, Sonia Massai had talked of how we should no longer use the word ‘international’ as artists no longer traded in or across national consciousnesses but in a global, digitized world. Tom Bird expressed reservations about this, and noted how many national flags had been planted on the globe stage during the past weeks.  Marjanishvili didn’t bring a flag with them.  They didn’t need to.  A mother and grandmother pushed forward to the front of the stage during the ‘curtain’ call.  They thrust a bunch of flowers onstage and then a small boy, about two years old, in full Georgian national dress, to tumultuous cheers. The little boy, of course, looked completely bemused.

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Globe to Globe’s Polish ‘Macbeth’: no sex please, we’re British.

June 17, 2012 at 11:03 am (Conferences, Eastern European Shakespeare, Globe to Globe 2012, Intercultural Performances, World Shakespeare Festival)

(My review of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (directed by Monika Pęcikiewicz) for the Polski Theatre (Wroclaw) is published in the journal Shakespeare, Volume 8, Issue 4, 2012, available by clicking here)

Shakespeare’s Makbet directed by Maja Kleczewska and performed by Kochanowski Theatre, Globe to Globe, Tuesday 8th May 2012: Matinee

Co się stało, to już się nie odstanie

‘What’s done is done.’

Dingy bedsits, run-down nightclubs, Macbeth as a hoody, the witches as transvestite prostitutes: this was the world of Maja Kleczewska’s appropriation of the Scottish Play, or maybe it would be more appropriate to call it the Contemporary Polish Underworld Play.  And the Poles do contemporary-underworld-meets-Shakespeare extremely well.  If it was in English, it would doubtless have been dubbed the Chav Macbeth. In fact, a friend of mine, David Hurley, is reminded of the 1997 project in Birmingham, Macbeth on the Estate, which he had recently watched on Youtube from his home in Japan…

I will survive (c) Konachowski Theatre

Before the performance began, Macbeth and Banquo slouched, exhausted, in two beat-up armchairs.  I was sitting in the middle gallery so I also had an excellent view of the witches, if that’s what they really were, in  flamboyant wigs, skin-tight leggings or transparent negligees,  ‘working’ the groundlings in a clever interpretation of original practices, offering their wares… Meanwhile, Lady Macbeth in a grubby t-shirt and knickers, clearly depressed, crawled onto the large bed downstage and pulled a blanket over her head, ignoring the men.  The rest of the show would follow this pattern: high kitsch and outrageous humour alongside a dark, disturbing soullessness. When the prophecies were given, it was as if they were sexual favours (one witch in particular was taken with Banquo) and it was clear that anything that came true would be down to mere chance: these witch/wo/men had no real agency for all their feather boa panache.

There were notices all over the entrances to the theatre warning us that the production would contain strong adult content, and the people who had bought an Olympian ticket for all 37 Globe to Globe performances had been sent letters reiterating this.  School groups were, apparently, asked to stay away (Macbeth is frequently studied at secondary school) and when I had booked my own ticket over the phone I had to assure the box office several times that, yes, I really did want to see it.  ‘It’s ok,’ I eventually said, ‘I have seen Polish theatre before – I know what to expect!’

Duncan comes to stay (c) John Haynes

It wasn’t long before Duncan, some sort of Gangster King in silver sparkly shoes, turned up with his entourage of petty criminals and sex-workers, and took over the Macbeths’ bedsit.  The two school teachers in the lower gallery who had defied the warnings and brought along a bunch of teenagers, blushed deep crimson as a drag queen mooned the audience – much to their charges’ delight. There were many other comic touches that I knew wouldn’t stay comic for long.  A witch mimed to Gloria Gaynor’s gay anthem, ‘I will survive’.  Macduff (the cartel’s accountant, perhaps?) brought along his briefcase and family: his peroxide blonde trophy wife downed vodkas as she pushed a pram to the beat of the music, whilst his two little daughters (not sons) peeked out from under the drinks tables and laughed at the adults along with the audience.  At one point Macbeth mocked the Globe pigeons and a pigeon obligingly flew across the auditorium.  And after Duncan’s murder, Macbeth slipped on those sparkly shoes like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. There was also fine acting and clever references, most of which I didn’t entirely understand, but the Polish audience around me did  – and that was sort of the point.  I met a friend after the performance. Aneta Mancewitz, a Polish researcher into Shakespeare appropriation, who is currently based at the Central School of Speech and Drama.  Whilst many British observers still remained slightly puzzled at this stage by the Globe to Globe Festival, worrying in online newspaper review comments sections that if it ‘could be Shakespeare without Shakespeare’s language’, Aneta  summed up what it was really about for the majority non-Anglo audiences:  ‘This is amazing!’ she said. ‘I don’t know what I feel about it.  I mean, on the one hand, there are all these English people here, and I’m thinking, oh no, this is what they’ll think we’re like in Poland, with bad hair and ugly clothes and drinking vodka all the time! But then, on the other hand… you don’t know what it is to hear Shakespeare spoken in Polish, here, in this space, on the Globe stage.  It’s just so amazing!’

Macbeth is King (c) John Haynes

As for me, I didn’t need to know the cultural references to get that the production was a bitter satire on contemporary Polish society, but Tony Howard of the University of Warwick has helpfully put it in context anyway: ‘ this production dates originally from 2004 and was a very precise reaction to the cultural condition of Poland in the post-communist age. Duncan became the head of a mafia network which is very close to the empire of the country’s most notorious criminal , Adrzej Kolikowski (nicknamed Pershing). He was murdered by his enemies in 1999 while on holiday (in Zakopane, not Dunsinane) after a violent career that involved ‘investments’ in drugs and nightclubs.’ (Guardian Comments). His colleague, Paul Prescott has written a vibrant review of this production in the context of New EuroShakespeare on the Year of Shakespeare blog.

Yet by the interval I still hadn’t been too shocked.  The warnings seemed over the top, and if I’m completely honest, I felt a little disappointed on this front.  Where was the promised adult content that so threatened to corrupt the nation’s schoolchildren?  As I said, I’d seen Polish theatre before, and in the interval I bumped into somebody else I knew who had. Retired English teacher, Joan, who I had met at the Worldwide Hamlet conference in Romania two years ago, said enthusiastically:  ‘Is this the same play we saw in Craiova?  You know which one I mean – the one with all the blood?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘That was Monika Pęcikiewicz ’s Hamlet.’

‘Oh, yes, I remember  now: Ophelia murdered in a bathtub  full of blood, wasn’t it? Well, I’m looking forward to see what they’re going to do with the second half of this one.’

Child Macduff (c) John Haynes

We settled back into our seats and, while everyone waited for the end of interval bell to toll, the little Macduff girls ran back onto the stage with bubble guns.  The rainbow bubbles blew out across the audience, glistening in the weak springtime sun, and I thought, no, please, not this.

Two little girls ran about the stage laughing. Lady Macduff followed them on in a short, see-through nightie, still pushing that pram and now nervously chain-smoking, too. ‘Lady Macduff worries while her husband is in England’ read the surtitle, in ironic understatement. For the longest time, the audience could see Macbeth’s henchmen, Lennox and Ross, watching this little family group from backstage through the beaded curtain, biding their time.  Then they ran on, donning Mickey Mouse masks, and dragged the children offstage screaming. Ross came back on, unmasked, and engaged Lady Macduff in a slow dance.  And then he raped her.  Face down on the floor. It went on and on and on and on, centre stage. Lennox strangled the baby in the pram. Hardly a drop of blood was spilled in the Macduff Family Murder. I glanced over at the school party and saw two of the boys in the front row look as if they had been crying.  The girls had retreated a few rows further back.  The teachers looked sick. There was no more giggling as Lady Macbeth committed suicide after what appeared to be a miscarriage or her broken husband dragged her body around the floor.  He made no attempt to fight off his enemies and his shiny shoes came off easily.

Well, it wasn’t quite that bleak.  When Birnham wood came to Dunsinane, the soldiers were jokily dressed in leafy camouflage. Ripping off their jackets to reveal ‘The Birnhamskis’ t-shirts, the show ended in a rave.  In the performance I saw, Macduff was among them, but so was his wife.  She danced downstage and flicked her peroxide locks victoriously. The transvestite prostitute led everyone in ‘I will survive’, although now the song wasn’t quite so pop culture kitsch… See Shekspir’s blog for an alternative reading of this ending, however.

It was a powerful production, so I was surprised at some of the negativity of the Anglophone response.  Michael Billington’s review in the Guardian was just a little lazy.  He wasn’t moved by the pop culture references, he wrote.  He’d seen other Polish theatre and didn’t like this one as much, but he didn’t seem to think he needed to expand on this for his readers in any significant way.  He had also not tried to find out anything about the mise-en-scene, and in a reaction that mirrored that of the conservatives in the Polish Catholic Church, dismissed the sexual abuse of one of the witches when new king pimp Macbeth forced her to go down on him in front of his wife as: a ‘transvestite whore […] assiduously fellates the new monarch as Lady Macbeth looks on’.

“And then he rapes her”
(c) John Haynes

But why was this adaptation, well-respected in its native Poland, and hugely appreciated by its Polish speaking audiences here, problematic for some of the non-Polish speaking audiences at the Globe?  For example, in a statement from the usually tactful and open-minded Christy Carson during her keynote talk at the Globe to Globe Intercultural Shakespeare Symposium  the next week, she burst out with ‘well, maybe that’s what they do in Poland!’ much to the horror of the afore-mentioned Polish theatre academic who was sitting next to me.  What was interesting was that Christy assumed that the room would share her sentiment; after all, Shakespearean actor Harriet Walters did, who according to Christy ‘didn’t want to criticize Polish theatre, but…’.  It appeared that both women were shocked, disgusted and offended by the sex in this production.  Neither are Mary Whitehouse figures, and I doubt if they minded the transvestite prostitutes, so I imagine that their objections were based on feminist grounds rather than moral.  Like Diana Owen commenting on Prescott’s review it was the ‘gratuitous and graphic’ rape of Lady Macduff that upset them. Strangely, Owen felt this ‘betrayed a deeply misogynistic undercurrent to this whole production.’ I say strangely for two reasons.  The first is because Maja Kleczewska is one of Poland’s up-and-coming female directors, whose work, like Pęcikiewicz’s, appears to return repeatedly to the violent abuse of women as a metaphor for the contemporary Polish condition.  Both women are drawn in their productions to the figure of Electra and the world of Sarah Kane, but extend this vision beyond the personal.  (Kleczewska’s other works include Electra, the Oresteia and Kane’s Blasted.) The second reason that I take issue with Owen, Carson and Walter’s opinion is  because I think the onstage rape was necessary.  Distasteful, ugly, sick and troubling, perhaps, but to pretend that Lady Macduff wouldn’t have been raped in this context is to be naively hopeful. In fact, Nancy Meckler’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the RSC last year made me angry for this very reason.  She, too, opened with a Kray-like gangster mise-en-scene foregrounding the abuse of Hyppolyta and the other women, yet after Hyppolyta became Titania in the woods, Athens became a place of wedding bliss, Hyppolyta a smiling bride with flowers in her hair, and all vestiges of sex trafficking inexplicably magicked away.  The mise-en-scene was only there titillate, and the RSC didn’t have the courage to shock.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (c) John Haynes

Michael Billington used the word xenophobia in a follow-up review, so I will use it here.  I certainly don’t think Carson et alia are xenophobic – in fact, they are the opposite – but are our ways of seeing conditioned by our preconceived stereotypes of gender relations in particular cultures? If we think Eastern European society is misogynistic does that (mis)inform our reading? Does knowing that a director is female not male and that she has an artistic and political agenda in her depiction of male/female, straight/Queer dynamics make a difference? I would argue that Kleczewsta interrogates misogynism and homophobia rather than propogates them.

Paradoxically, when Christy Carson made her comments, the Globe to Globe blog was open behind her: ‘Murder. Rape. Mutilation. Cannibalism.’ screamed the tagline for Titus Andronicus…

On a final note, as I left Shakespeare’s Globe after Kochanowski Theatre’s Makbet, I passed the school party in the foyer.  They seemed to have survived the ordeal and were now talking animatedly in what sounded like Polish.

Tom Bird, the festival director, had a brilliant and daring vision in this Globe to Globe festival, not only to invite Shakespeare in other linguistic languages, but to let many companies speak in their own cultural language, too, even if that meant the minority Anglophone audience might not get it.


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