The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 25.340 Thursday, 7 August 2014
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Thursday, August 7, 2014
Subject: My First Four Shows in London
My First Four Shows in London
July 31st: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, The Globe Theatre, Bankside.
August 1st: JULIUS CAESAR, The Globe Theatre, Bankside.
August 1st: SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, the play, Nöel Coward Theatre, West End
August 2nd: THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, Gielgud Theatre, West End
Before I begin, I should express a big prejudice: I particularly do not like gratuitous audience manipulation, especially at the end of a show, designed to get the audience clapping to an extended rhythmic beat so that upon leaving the theater participants feel as thought they have gotten their money’s worth, whether it be £5 or £90. And clapping that is called a jig as was done on Shakespeare’s stage is probably more offensive to me when it is clearly not a jig but a primal hypnotic stomping dance replete with suggestive ass-wiggling. Let’s also get it straight I am not a prude; erotic ass-wiggling is not offensive in itself but only as to the purpose it is put, eliciting applause that may or may not be deserved.
Both of the shows at the Globe employed this manipulative technique, seemingly as part of the house-style. Other elements of the house-style, particularly playing to the groundlings, also to my taste seemed overused and, therefore, detracted from the effectiveness of the productions. Ironically, the two worst instances of the latter were both in the Antony and Cleopatra, the show I preferred. At one point I think when Antony was in Rome, Cleopatra (Eve Best) went to a young, handsome groundling standing by the stage and planted a long kiss upon his lips. I can easily set my jealousy aside since I was in the upper balcony so was not even eligible for the kiss that was followed by Best waving her hand up and down as if saying “He was hot”. In the other instance, Antony (Clive Wood) with Eros dead by his side botches his own suicide. After a seppuku-like attempt at disembowelment, Antony soon realizes that he has failed, looks directly out at the audience, moves his head up and down as if saying, “Yes, I know I blew it,” and then raises the index finger on his left hand upwards as if sharing the irony with the audience and perhaps higher powers.
This Antony and Cleopatra displayed performance choices meant to distinguish it from productions that have preceded it, including the excellent one I saw eight years ago with Francis Barber as a Cleopatra who dominated that production. Best’s Cleopatra was peevish, childish, ill-tempered, self-willed, capricious, flighty, flirtatious, riggish, and very sexy, often jumping into Antony’s arms and wrapping her legs around his body. “Not know me yet?”: as another example, Cleopatra prepares to meet Thidias by adjusting her clothing to expose more cleavage and making sure her hair shows her to her best advantage. Antony is portrayed as a grizzled, battled-seasoned, general tired of the demands of war and utterly captivated by Cleopatra. In the scene in which he feels as though Cleopatra has betrayed him, he strikes her but moments later they, of course, kiss and make up. There will always be quibbles about what is cut for performance. The business in which Cleopatra lies about the value of her money, plate, and jewels, giving the impression that she is holding back because she wants to live and thereby fooling Caesar into letting his guard down so she can indeed commit suicide, was one such cut. I love Antony and Cleopatra, who but Shakespeare could make middle-age lust so appealing.
I found the Globe’s Julius Caesar less satisfying. Lois Potter in her TLS review wrote, “Dominic Dromgoole’s production turns out to be a thoughtful reading of one of Shakespeare’s most thoughtful plays.” I am not one to argue with Lois Potter so I will simply register some observations that reflect my point of view. The actors playing Cassius, Brutus, and Mark Antony were all young, but then just about everyone seems young to me now. I thought that Antony Howell
as Cassius spoke in a register that was so loud that it was distracting. Tom McKay
’s Brutus was not as intrusive but like Howell not as effective as I would prefer. I found Luke Thompson’s
the strongest of these three. I did not think George Irving’s
Julius Caesar as magisterial as he should be, but Irving made a terrific bloody corpse for Antony to orate over at the funeral scene and a “Great Caesar’s Ghost” later. To the company’s credit, there were no attempts, especially at the opening scene and the funeral oration to include the groundlings as a part of the crowd cheering and jeering at the events unfolding before them as with the early Henry V in which nationalistic fervor was incited by have the groundling join the chorus of taunts against the French.
The evening after I saw the 2:00 performance of Julius Caesar, I travelled to the West End to see the newly opened Shakespeare in Love, The Play. Directed by inventive Cheek By Jowl’s Declan Donnellan, the production was disarmingly charming. The film’s marvelous script by Tom Stoppard and Marc Norman was more than successfully adapted to the stage by Lee Hall. Nick Ormerod, also of Cheek By Jowl, designed a stage that enabled some amazing effects. The Independent’s Paul Taylor observed, “The action unfolds on a set that resembles a wooden three-tier Shakespearean playhouse. The middle section is mobile allowing for magical kinaesthetic gliding between backstage and onstage.” The adorable Lucy Briggs-Owen was a lively, sexy Viola De Lesseps captivated by the poetry of William Shakespeare and stage-struck with a desire to become an actress, despite the prohibitions against women on the stage. The show opens and closes with the large cast of 28 actors/musicians (and the music was stunning) crowding around handsome Tom Bateman’s Shakespeare as he composes “Shall I Compare Thee” in the beginning and Twelfth Night in the end. Reviewers claim that 90% of the dialogue of the film makes it to the stage production, which seems about right to me. As for the action, even the ride up the Thames for the party at the De Lesseps was convincingly staged. Two adjustments are a somewhat larger mentoring role for the appealing Marlowe (David Oakes) and a crowd-pleasing expansion of the part for the Labradoodle “Spot” as in “Out, damned Spot.” Since Disney was one of the producers, it seems reasonable to assume that after a long West End run the play will be staged on Broadway before touring companies start to work their circuits.
However, of these first four plays, the one I enjoyed the most was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s novel. The play opened at the Royal National Theatre on August 2, 2012, with Luke Treadaway as Christopher John Francis Boone, presumably an autistic savant. In the 2013 Awards Ceremony, it won seven Oliver Awards, including Best New Play, tying the record for number of awards won. In March 12, 2013, it transferred to the Apollo Theatre in the West End. Unfortunately, on December 19, 2013, the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsed during the performances with all others being cancelled until repairs were completed. However, because the damage was so extensive, the play did not reopen until July 9, 2014, at the Nöel Coward Theatre with Graham Butler taking over the role of the 15-year-old Christopher. Over the run of the play in three theaters, many changes in the casts have occurred, but the play has been directed all three times by Marianne Elliott who won one of the Olivier Awards for Best Director. The set at the Nöel Coward Theatre is an enormous one but used to great effect, often reflecting the emotional turmoil that Christopher is experiencing. I found the play an excellent adaptation of the novel with some of the scenes being enacted even more effectively conveying Christopher’s intense difficulties with navigating in the world the most of use take for granted, especially during his journey to London. I am loath to say too much about the plot because it is tangentially a mystery story, but to call it such is to minimize the conflicting emotions of the characters and especially of Christopher himself. I will say that should you get the opportunity to see Curious as it is called, go without a second thought—you will not be disappointed. And if you don’t get a chance to see the play, at least, read this engaging novel.