East Anglia Shakespeare, Summer/Autumn 2011

Michael Grosvenor Myer

Michael Grosvenor Myer, "Review of East Anglia Shakespeare, Summer/Autumn 2011." EMLS 16.1 (2012): 15. http://purl.org/emls/16-1/revmyer.htm

  1. The exquisite little Theatre Royal at Bury St Edmunds has claims, sometimes disputed with one in Richmond, Yorkshire, and another in Bristol, to be the oldest working theatre in the country, dating from the Regency and designed by William Wilkins, whose other work included the National Gallery and Downing College Cambridge.  An interesting bit of trivia: Charley's Aunt had its world première there in 1892. 

  2. The theatre runs a worthy Summer School for school pupils  every year, culminating in a full-stage production devised by the directors and created by the students during the course.  This year's, The Apothecary, was one of those Shakespearean spinoffs, in the manner of Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which foreground minor characters as a means to throw new insights on the play concerned;  in this case, clearly, R&J.  As often happens with young people's theatre, where everyone has to be given a contributory hearing and a role of some sort, narrative lines were not always consistent and ambition often outran technique —  body-language was in general praiseworthy;  articulation and projection  were not:  inaudibility was a near-ubiquitous grievous fault which the directors should resolutely have stamped on in rehearsal. But it added up, as such projects do, to an occasion more worthwhile and important than can be calculated merely as the sum of its parts.  There was some good instrumental musicianship and folksinging, and one or two performances gave promise of future dramatic achievement in a more coherent environment. 

  3. The same theatre hosted a Shakespeare's Globe As You Like It a few weeks later.  Director James Dacre brought  this small-cast (only eight actors) version to sparkling life.  Setting was more or less Edwardian, with lightning costume changes (at one point Audrey's flowing gown & red wig were pulled off onstage to reveal in a split-second a top-booted tweed-coated slouch-hatted Duke Senior, grey beard and all).  Both Dukes, excellently contrasted, were John O'Mahony.  Other effective contrasts came from Ben Lamb's terrifying Charles the Wrestler and sensitive, lovelorn Silvius, and Emma Pallant's hyper-cruel Phebe and most melancholy Madame Jaques (who had a hint of a thing going with the exiled Duke ~ an unpromising concept which actually worked surprisingly well).  William Oxborrow's Amiens sang beautifully, and his villainous elder brother Oliver and wise old Corin were fine also; as was Gregory Gudgeon's sententious Touchstone, whose odd encounter with, of all things, a camera tripod afforded a moment of somewhat gross but undeniably entertaining slapstick.

  4. Of those who played only one part (though mucking in as needed for spare forest-courtiers), Jo Herbert's Rosalind was needfully masterful as Ganymede and nicely hoydenish as Rosalind, Beth Park was a fine foil as a sardonic Celia, and the slight but entirely attractive Orlando of Gunnar Cauthery wrestled, courted and sighed to perfection.

  5. Actors need to be musicians these days too: we had expert onstage ensembles of violin, clarinet, guitar, harmonica, accordion, ukulele from the above; all contributing to an admirably lively and life-enhancing  occasion.

  6. The ADC flier said,
    Returning from the USA this weekend are the cast and crew of Macbeth. They've raced straight back from Heathrow to the ADC to prepare for the opening of their home run on Tuesday. Presenting Macbeth in a minimalistic staging, CAST's [Cambridge American Stage Tour, an annual tradition] production places Macbeth in a barren post-apocalyptic world, a nightmarish future. In a world of isolation, Macbeth is king of nothing.
    Well, one knows from experience that the aims rubricated in the pre-publicity are not always what one sees on the stage. There was a dead tree with lanterns set to various levels hanging on it, and the lights went up and down, with bright torches and air-raid sirens going on and off intermittently; but it wasn't all that 'post-apocalyptic' that I could see; though the Director's Note in the programme does well emphasise the play's negative aspects, and there was something of the Samuel Beckett ambience mentioned as an aim. In the main, though, we had quite a straightforward, if somewhat attenuated version (just on two hours including interval), with an able company of nine under the ubiquitous John Haidar, fast emerging as the default director of choice for major student Shakespeare productions.  Nick Ricketts and Victoria Ball led well:  as I remarked last year of his Romeo, Mr Ricketts is notable in moments of anger or heightened emotion: his "full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife" one of the most effective I remember. The excellent Abi Tedder shone in a number of roles, from Ross to Witch to Porter. 

  7. It was a clever touch to have the interval in the middle of the Banquo's Ghost scene, and repeat some of the dialogue at the beginning of Part II, with the previously highly visible, half-naked and thoroughly blood-boltered and well over six-feet ghost not there at all the second time; but too much striving after whisper-effect rendered the witches' prophecies, especially "none of woman born", almost incomprehensible.  

  8. A shame that the otherwise good programme should have misled the Americans as to the order of the foundation of Cambridge's colleges: it was Clare, not King's, that came second.

  9. I was puzzled by finding that same gimmick re Banquo's ghost, of interval in middle of scene,  some recap of lines, with "now you see him, now you don't" before and after, cropping up three weeks later in another Macbeth, by Icarus Collective, that toured to the Mumford Theatre at Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge's 'other' university.   Both directors copying some influential recent production, perhaps? ~  that's often the explanation for such phenomena.  
    The murder of Banquo was most horrifically  choreographed; but the effect somewhat diluted by his ghost not being nearly blood-boultered enough.  Macduff made a good job of the pretty-well actor-proof receipt of the news of his wife's death ~ but why should this scene have been so peculiarly conflated with the one at the edge of Birnam Wood, so that he got the news surounded by an audience of Siwards and others? ~ not the only somewhat perplexing running-together of scenes. 

  10. Not a lot more I feel like writing about this one, whose odd delivery, which I would sum up as trying to be both declamatory and matter-of-fact simultaneously and turning out as neither, together with a knack of emphasising the wrong word at practically every opportunity ("there WOULD have been a time for such a word" instead of "THERE would have been...") till you began to think they were doing it for the purpose, rendered the piece oddly uninvolving.  Even the serried ranks of schoolchildren could only manage what they call a 'smattering' of applause at the end.

  11. Told You So Department.  My first-ever review in this journal, for the issue of January 2001, entitled Shakespeare Spinoffs in Cambridge, contained the paragraph:  "Hamlet! the Musical was the work of Ed Jaspers and Alex Silverman, who, I would venture on this evidence, might well reappear shortly to a much wider audience in either a comedy or a musical or a Shakespearean context, or any combination thereof." Just over ten years later, in The Times of 11 May 2011, what should I find but a review of Hamlet! The Musical  by Alex Silverman, Timothy Knapman and Ed Jaspers, at the Theatre Royal, Northampton.  What's that they say about mills of god or something?


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editors at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2012-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).