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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: August ::
A Bard for Eminem Fans
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1755  Monday, 5 August 2002

From:           Takashi Kozuka <
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 >
Date:           Sunday, 4 Aug 2002 13:33:46 +0100 (BST)
Subject:        'A Bard for Eminem Fans'

 [The Observer (Sunday 4 August 2002)]

'A Bard for Eminem fans: Shakespeare set in Mussolini's Italy? Who
cares? It's a great production'
by Toby Young

For the past nine months, I've been working as a theatre critic for the
Spectator and one of my biggest disappointments has been the Royal
Shakespeare Company. With the exception of Hamlet, every single RSC
production I've seen has been, at best, mediocre.  This isn't the fault
of the actors, who are consistently above average, but Adrian Noble, the
outgoing artistic director. In particular, his decision to abandon the
RSC's London home at the Barbican and scatter the company to the four
winds has been a disaster. It was, therefore, with very low expectations
that I went along to see the RSC's production of Much Ado About Nothing
at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on Thursday. I groaned with resignation
when I realised that the director, Gregory Doran, had decided to set the
play in Mussolini's Italy. Typical, I thought. When is the RSC going to
stage a Shakespearean drama in Elizabethan costume? I don't know which
canny shopkeeper has the mothball concession in Stratford, but he must
have a 120ft yacht in St Tropez by now. Slowly but surely, however, this
production began to win me over. For one thing, Kirsten Parker, the
actress playing Hero, is exceedingly pretty, which is a real rarity on
the West End stage (she looks like a young Kate Beckinsale), but more
importantly, the two leads - Harriet Walter and Nicholas Le Prevost as
Beatrice and Benedick - are superb. During the scene in which they first
declare their love for one another, I was so overcome by emotion I
thought I might pass out. When directors are asked why they bother with
Shakespeare, they often reply that they can't resist the opportunity to
bring the Bard alive for contemporary audiences. They want to reach that
disaffected fifth-former in the back of the stalls who's only there
because his English teacher has dragged him along. Until now, I've
always thought that explanation was so much cant, but seeing Much Ado
About Nothing has changed my mind. If anything can wean a teenager off a
diet of Eminem and Big Brother , this is it. Bangor anger I've spent the
past week doing the rounds of Britain's regional radio stations,
frantically promoting the paperback edition of my book. I've been
bending over backwards to avoid sounding like a condescending Londoner
after rather an unfortunate incident earlier this year on BBC Radio
Wales. The programme was due to start at 8.30am and when I still hadn't
found the studio at 8.25am I decided to call the producer.

'I'm not even sure I'm in Bangor,' I told her. 'I'm looking at a road
sign that says "Gorsaf Station". I think I must be in a town called
Gorsaf.' 'Oh no, Mr Young,' she said, laughing. '"Gorsaf" is the Welsh
word for station. You're in the right place all right.  Stay where you
are and I'll fetch you.' During the broadcast, I decided to tell this
story, pointing out how ridiculous it was that all road signs in Wales
had to be in Welsh and English when the percentage of the population
that actually speaks Welsh is pretty small.

In retrospect, this wasn't wise. After I'd finished, the producer came
into the studio with a very grave expression on her face. 'I'm afraid
I've got some bad news, Mr Young,' she said. 'One of our listeners has
taken rather an exception to your remarks about the Welsh language and
he's come down to the studio to have it out with you, like. He's waiting
in reception right now.' 'Jeepers creepers,' I replied. 'You'd better
show me out the back way.' 'There is no back way,' she said, a smile
beginning to play about her lips. 'It looks as though you'll have to
face the music.' I crept out into reception where I was immediately set
upon by a red-faced troll. 'How dare you?' he screamed. 'How bloody dare
you? You come to our country and you have the audacity to tell us we
shouldn't be speaking in our own language. Our own bloody language, mind
you. You arrogant, southern bastard.' It took me 45 minutes to get out
of there, by which time I knew more about the Welsh language than I did
about my own. Sorely Morley You'll be relieved to hear that there's no
danger of me taking over this column from Richard Ingrams. I'm not sure
I'd want to in any case. In my experience, established columnists don't
take too kindly to being replaced by whippersnappers. They badmouth you
to their colleagues, plant stories about you in gossip columns or, if
you get a fact wrong, they fire off a letter to your editor before the
ink is dry on the page. Last week, for instance, Sheridan Morley, my
predecessor as the Spectator 's theatre critic, wrote a letter
correcting what he claimed was a factual mistake in my most recent
review. Next time I spot the old duffer dozing in the stalls - he still
works as a critic for the International Herald Tribute - I'm going to
whip out a pair of scissors and cut off his long, white beard.
www.tobyyoung.co.uk

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