Cambridge Shakespeare

Michael Grosvenor Myer

Michael Grosvenor Myer. “Review ofCambridge Shakespeare." Early Modern Literary Studies 15.2 (2010-11): 22.1-11 <URL:>


       Spring 2009

  1. I have no idea what French and Swiss and Italian audiences will have made of the European Theatre Group's version of Hamlet. For that matter, I am not altogether too sure what I made of it myself. Let me say at the outset, mind you, that it added up to a stimulating and inventive production which left me glad I went, which is by no means always the case. And yet - and yet - one of those odd, wilful efforts, full of discrete and heterogeneous elements which ought not to add up but somehow do.

  2. Take the obvious example of the fishtank. It dominates the stage, set dead central. You just know from the start that the characters are going to immerse themselves in it at the drop of a bonnet: and don't they just! Only feet at first, then up to waist; until they are lying down in it, exchanging lunacies with Polonius by note or not listening to what father is saying to brother (although the i-pod has been removed by then and just as well), for many seconds at a time till you can feel the audience getting worried though no doubt the Health&Safety boys will have ensured the presence of secret snorkels and such. This is all very well and adds spice to the occasion; but unfortunately, when the device, as we had all been anticipating, actually came into its own to serve some actual purpose as we got to Ophelia, we were all so punchy with it by then that much of the impact was lost.
  3. Take the Ghost too (voiced by Sir Derek Jacobi, quite a coup indeed): a huge skull-plus-rope-vertebrae sort of contraption, pulleyed up by masked devils. Effective, I suppose but scarcely to convince as anyone's Father In His Habit As He Lived.

  4. And so it went on. Some of the cuts (no "vicious mole of nature" for instance) seemed unfortunate. But still, all-in-all, it added up. Some fine playing and verse-speaking helped. King and Chancellor dominated. Patrick Warner's guilty hair-trigger Claudius filled the stage at every appearance. And the creator of all this often perverse but never less than interesting and involving mish-mash, director David Brown, found time also to give a Polonius of dignity and gravitas who made his mockers and naggers (Catriona Cahill's very good Gertrude and Jack Monaghan's twitchy, troubled Prince) seem to degrade themselves rather than him by getting at him. Kate O"Connor was well up to the distresses and lunacies of a young and attractive Ophelia; Katy Bulmer and Helen Parker made a nice pair of feather-brained blondes for Rose'n'Guild (another bright idea which had no right to work but somehow did). All adding up, as I say, to a puzzling, often annoying, but in the upshot worthwhile and stimulating experience. No need to worry about this one going forth to foreign parts to represent Our University.

  5. The Combined Actors of Cambridge are a group, as the name implies, formed of the best of the city's and surrounding villages' top talent.  I have myself over the years done several Shax parts for them Oswald, Amiens/musical-director, Lucio.  And indeed they were back to Measure for Measure at the ADC this Easter.

  6. With, let me say first off, a good comic Lucio from Michael Flintoff.  And, more importantly it must I suppose be admitted, a Duke, Colin McLean, who grew in stature, after a somewhat hestitant start on the first night, until one had a dignity verging well on the requisite "power divine".  But I must confess to having failed to spot that necessary hysteria, that unbearable torture of irresistible temptation and self-abandonment to evil, in a much too casual and matter-of-fact Angelo, which didn't give Helen Holgate's strong, clear Isabella, in many ways the stand-out characterisation especially early on, enough to react to.  All-in-all I found the female performances (Meg Dixon's charming Mariana, Carol Gerza's nicely naughty Overdone, Dillan Cintract making the most of her opportunity in a most poignant cameo Juliet) strongest in a serviceable, but somewhat lacking in variety of pace and mood, version by Clive Young. 

  7. And, oh dear, that now near-mandatory ending of Isabella's not welcoming the Duke's proposal has surely by now served its turn just like that other OK-for-our-more-enlightened-times twist, the Jessica-who-wishes-she-hadn't, against which I have animadverted in this column more than once before.  Both of these perverse PC flyings-in-the-face of Will's obvious intentions were original variations from the norm once;  but now they threaten completely to take over contemporary interpretations of MoV and MfM.  I suspect they must get regularly taught as the only way to do it.  Time to give them both a rest?
    Michaelmas Term 2010
  8. The academic year here started as usual,  so far as Theatre is concerned, with the American Stage Tour Company bringing the Shakespeare that has been touring 14 USA venues throughout September back for its final week to the ADC.  It was The Tempest this year.  The second week belonged to the Marlowe Society: Ben Jonson's The Alchemist, with The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare Abridged as a late-niter.  So ~~ a fine feast of the Early Modern for me to get my critic's teeth into; even if I avoided that "Abridged" farrago this time around, having sat unsmilingly through it more times than I have wished.  For those that like that sort of thing, as Disraeli (was it?) observed..., and all that.  But it just leaves me stone cold.
  9. A perfectly intelligent Tempest, if not particularly exciting.  Director Mark Maughan had, rightly I think, gone for clarity rather than gimmick.  Prospero (Oliver Soden) dominated his scenes with fine articulacy, and there were several other lively performances.  Emma Sidi in particular appeared to be enjoying her Drunken Butler bit enormously, and brought a delightful singing voice to the "None of us cared for Kate" song.  So did Anna Maguire's Ariel to her songs. Her projection-technique, though, was not always spot-on;  as was the occasional case also with Celeste Dring's otherwise charming and personable, and expressively body-languaged, Miranda; I can't help observing that they should by now have been that bit better played-in, perhaps?  Of the other assorted lords and such, Alexander Lass was a dignified Alonso, touching in his grief for his supposedly dead son, and Adam Hollingworth doubled well as the worthy Gonzalo and the inebriated Trinculo.
  10. I've seen some memorable student Alchemists over the years:  Tilda Swinton as Dol almost upstaged by a remarkable cameo in the unpromising part of Widow by Morwenna Banks; Simon Russell Beale as Mammon.  This one, though, was more in the "That is the sort of thing they like" mould.  From which it will be gathered that I didn't but many seemed to.  "Complete and utter manic farce," my wife commented; "but it made me laugh."  It made most of the audience laugh.  But not me.  Too much of what can be described by such terms beloved of publicity people as "wacky" or "zany":     supposed come-ons which for me are always turn-offs. This was far too much for my taste of a sort of Monty Python's Flying Alchemist, with echoes of Mr Bean in the Abel Drugger and of the Rev Ian Paisley in Ananias. Then there was a black-clad white-faced chorus of spirits who constantly intervened in the action.  Where were they supposed to have come from?  I mean, isnt the whole point that Subtle wasn't really an alchemist capable of raising spirits?  And, technique-wise, isn't it always hard to establish any sort of climax when everything is played to max decibel count?

  11. This was, the programme told me, the directorial debut of John Haidar.  It had many positive ideas going for it:  I was glad to find the entire Prologue for once in a way, delivered by the whole cast; though it could have been more clearly enunciated ~ another example of how ambition tended to outrun technique.  It will be clear that I felt Mr Haidar was too intent on making an impact ~ any impact ~ to have entirely thought the rationale through. But then again, my wife loved it; and it would appear from the curtain cheers that most of the audience did too. And it's fair to add that there was a standout characterisation of Epicure Mammon from Will Seaward.  So: back to lone voice crying in wilderness time for Michael.  Not the first time; probably won't be the last.  But, only right to stress yet again, it was the sort of thing that most of them seemed to like.   Who can fight that?


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