First Weekend of the First York International Shakespeare Festival: A Musical Interlude

May 11, 2015 at 1:30 am (East Asian Shakespeare, Eastern Performance, Hamlet in Performance, Intercultural Performances, International Festivals, Shakespeare on film, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare) (, , , , )

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.

Aki Isoda as Lady Macbeth (c) Aki Isoda

Aki Isoda as Lady Macbeth (c) Aki Isoda

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

The drowning of Ophelia (c) York Theatre Royal/Aki Isoda

The drowning of Ophelia (c) York Theatre Royal/Aki Isoda

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)

Lady Macbeth (c) Aki Isoda

Lady Macbeth (c) Aki Isoda

*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

(c) York International Shakespeare Festival

(c) York International Shakespeare Festival

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 :-

(c) Silents Now

(c) Silents Now

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).

(c) Opera Restor'd

(c) Opera Restor’d

(c) Opera Restor'd

(c) Opera Restor’d

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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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Pamela Lombari on playing Liddell’s Ricardo/Richard III in Argentina: El Aňo de Ricardo/The Year of Richard

November 29, 2014 at 11:54 am (Intercultural Performances, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare, Translation) (, , , , , )

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?

Argentinian actor Pamela Lombari

Argentinian actor Pamela Lombari

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?)

(c) Grupo Fratacho

(c) Grupo Fratacho

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!’]

(c) Grupo Fratacho

(c) Grupo Fratacho

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).

(c) Grupo Fratacho

(c) Grupo Fratacho

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.

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Hamlet the ‘Dyke’ (?) and other gender bends at the Royal Exchange, Manchester

September 20, 2014 at 11:58 pm (Hamlet in Performance, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare)

Hamlet, directed by Sarah Frankcom, at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, Saturday 20th April, 2014 (matinee)

(c) Royal Exchange, Manchester

Maxine Peake as Hamlet (c) Royal Exchange, Manchester

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.

Asta Nielsen. Picture from MIT education

Asta Nielsen. Picture from MIT education

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.

In rehearsal (c) Royal Exchange

In rehearsal (c) Royal Exchange

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. flyer Leverenz, David (1978) ‘The Woman in Hamlet: An interpersonal View’ in Martin Coyle, ed., (1992) New Casebooks: Hamlet Basingstoke and London: Macmillan

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The Year of Ricardo: Richard III in Argentina

July 20, 2014 at 10:05 pm (Intercultural Performances, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare, Translation)

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

Ricardo publicity

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?

(c) Grupo Fratacho

(c) Grupo Fratacho

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.

(c) Grupa Fratacho

(c) Grupa Fratacho

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.

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Carmen Rolandelli: ‘El año de Ricardo’, Habemus Theatrum

July 20, 2014 at 10:04 pm (Intercultural Performances, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare, Translation)

For English translation and introduction click here

(c) Grupo Fratacho

(c) Grupo Fratacho

‘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

Carmen Rolandelli

 

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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…

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Hamlet in Krakow

August 16, 2012 at 6:00 am (Eastern European Shakespeare, Hamlet in Performance, Intercultural Performances, Shakespeare on film, Trans/Gendered Shakespeare)

(This short post will be updated at a later date)

My friend Sonia Front, of the University of Silesia, and I will visit Krakow today, to go to the Teatre Stary, where Andrej Wajde put on a production of Hamlet in 1989.  Aneta Glowacka tells me that this is an important production in thinking about Klata’s H.  I’ve just been looking on-line and found this interview with Wajde, which among other things, explains why European theatre seems so comfortable with reassigning gender roles :

http://www.webofstories.com/play/13759

Wadje’s official website translates into English

http://www.wajda.pl/en/teatr/teatr34.html

Otherwise, it’s Google Translate to get the gist… Online Polish resources include:

http://www.hamlet.edu.pl/uczen/?id=ol0910te7

http://www.polskieradio.pl/24/291/Artykul/582286,Wajda-postawi-40-Hamletow-na-jednej-scenie

http://www.e-teatr.pl/pl/realizacje/10146,szczegoly.html

http://portalwiedzy.onet.pl/28152,,,,wajda_andrzej,haslo.html

http://www.culture.pl/baza-film-pelna-tresc/-/eo_event_asset_publisher/eAN5/content/teresa-budzisz-krzyzanowska

http://www.tvp.pl/kultura/teatr/teatr-telewizji/archiwum/hamlet-iii

http://www.tvp.pl/kultura/teatr/teatr-telewizji/archiwum/hamlet-iii

We went to the Stary Teatr (Old Theatre) but got there too late – it has an amazing looking interactive museum (which houses Wajde’s Old Hamlet’s helmut).  The theatre appeared to be putting on works by Klata (I believe he is to be the new artistic director) and later this week, by another director, Heiner Muller’s Titus Andronicus.

The reason we were so late, by the way, was because we went to Schindler’s Factory first. Now a museum about Schindler’s list, including exhibits about some of the survivors, about the ghetto and the concentration camp, and about the Jewish and the Polish Resistance, it also recorded how important a role theatre played during this period. The Stary Teatr was appropriated by the Germans as part of their propoganda machine, but underground theatres also flourished. A young man called Karol had acting aspirations but later went to seminary instead.  He became Pope John Paul II. Young Jews such as Joseph Bau, whose concentration camp wedding features in Spielberg’s film, survived in part because of their creative talents.

Krakow is only an hour away from where I’m staying in Katowice, so I will pop back early next week – when the museum is open.

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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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