Cambridge, Spring 2008

Michael Grosvenor Myer.

Michael Grosvenor Myer. "Cambridge, Spring 2008." Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1 (May , 2008) 13.1-4 <URL:>.

  1. ... and here comes the Lent Term kicked off as ever by the European Theatre Group, back from their tour and occupying the ADC. A note in the programme says that there is, “in many cases, a language barrier, but more often than not dazzling visual inventiveness pays off”. Well, we could have done with a bit more of such in this year’s Julius Caesar. The conspirators’ very ordinary lounge suits were boring to look at, and Uriel Adiv had directed too many scenes, like the main conspiracy chez Brutus, far too static. There was a good assassination, though; an ingenious twist on the “tearing” of (the female) Cinna the Poet brought the first half to an effective close; and the battle scenes, when they’d changed into uniforms (not all that interesting ones, mind, but uniforms nevertheless, complete with jackboots), were quite lively.
  2. The standout performance was Josh Higgott’s assertive and beautifully articulated Cassius; and Ed Rice’s Brutus was a clear, well-spoken characterisation also. I was not surprised to read that they both had National Youth Theatre experience, and that Mr Higgott had done a year’s training at LAMDA and Mr Rice had appeared on BBC Radio. Experience usually tells in terms of quality. However, it must be added that another who is stated to be a member of the NYT has a long way to go in the way of diction: I could hardly make out a word he spoke, and what French or Flemish or German speakers less familiar with the play will have made out from him I cannot imagine. Not to end on a negative note though: this was a good enough production, to put it no higher, to avoid the cringe-factor one sometimes gets (as with a dire US-tour R&J a few years ago) at the thought of such a production representing Cambridge University in foreign parts. No need to feel ashamed of this quite creditable effort.
  3. Webster’s back. It’s only six years since the last White Devil at the ADC: see my column for May 2002. No time at all to us oldies, but two whole student generations to the young people concerned, who probably thought they were enterprisingly breaking new ground. Yes, here we are: “rarely performed”, it says sure enough in the Director’s Note. An ambitious, painstaking production — good original string music performed onstage, handsome borrowed furniture and chandelier, symbolic chessboard-pattern raked stage floor — but all oddly uninvolving. The speech was too one-note-declaimed to carry conviction or much of an air of menace; and if it had, it would have been entirely dispersed by a gross preponderance of transgender casting. Why, oh why, will they do it? All those tight breeches gamely clinging to female bottoms made me think more of Shakespearean Comedy as parodied by Beyond The Fringe or The Reduced Shax Co than of the Pities and Terrors of Jacobean Blood-Tragedy: more The-Tush-Beneath-The-Twill than The-Skull-Beneath-The-Skin. Dr Bradbrook’s seminal Themes and Conventions all those years ago made the point that disguise was always imprenetrable. To the groundlings, maybe, but not to us. In particular, a female Flamineo, however hard she tries, is just never going to work for me.
  4. I’ve written favourably in the past of Robert Icke’s Swan Theatre Company, especially an attractive Much Ado [emls Sep 2006] . His Romeo and Juliet at the ADC left me with that familiar reviewer’s quandary of admiring the consistency of the execution, the power of the overall directorial control, while failing to warm to the interpretation offered. A noisy, busy, scruffy-casual-clad, perpetually yelling, flicknife-wielding and phallic-gesturing Yobbish Tendency among the Veronese youth doesn’t do anything for me. I don’t ever remember having been quite so irritated by a Mercutio or to have rejoiced so heartily in his none-too-premature removal. Lady Capulet snogging the guests behind her pompous husband’s back struck the wrong note for me too. And, for a director of such obvious potential, it was none of it all that original anyhow. But all was most competently played in a consistent style to an enthusiastic sellout house, so obviously the youth of Cambridge welcomed this version — though I suspect that even they must occasionally have got a bit frustrated by the unhelpfully low light levels, and the overuse, especially by Juliet, of the dropping-the-voice shtick to the point of almost complete inaudibility.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at

© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).