Well, let’s get the organization out of the way first. They couldn’t find my seat. I mean, this is basically a town hall / gymnasium sort of set up, sectioned off and folding chairs set up. Maybe 200 or so capacity, about 4 rows of seats? I’ve got a ticket that says “Right section, D 5.” Usher gets all confused when he realizes that the fourth row, which is logically D, is full. “They told us that row was general admission,” he tells me. “Let me go find out.”
I sit around for awhile waiting, hanging out with a dude who has brought a hardcover “Invention of the Human” by Harold Bloom. The usher comes back and keeps trying to hand me back my ticket and tell me that yes, that is my seat. I keep telling him that if he put somebody else in my seat to go tell that person to move, I ain’t doing it. Turns out that the woman who is sitting in my seat has also come down to argue about something, so they basically tell her to move.
That was my only problem with the event itself. Once that was resolved I had a grand time. The cast members (in character) came out and mingled. Costuming was wonderful, as was the stage. Musicians wandered around, eventually signalling the start of the show by all coming together in a single tune. A fascinating deer puppet wandered through the stage, and interacted with the audience. Costard and Jaquenetta had a bit of a fling in one corner.
I don’t particularly want to go through the details of the play, both because a) I’m not familiar enough with the material to comment in detail, and b) because of circumstances beyond my control I left at intermission anyway.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting, having never been to London to see the real deal. This was … small. Intimate. As I mentioned, only a few hundred seats. Characters roamed around and greeted people. That was cool.
Their comic timing was impeccable. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of people do Shakespeare, and do comedy, and there’s a bunch of relatively standard ways to get a laugh. But when you’re made aware that their *timing* is better than you’ve ever heard, I think that says something about the quality. After all they’re delivering the same words as everybody else, so much of the difference has to be in how they do it.
Two things surprised me, relatively quickly. The first is how often they broke – and by that I mean, cracked themselves up so badly that they had to stop to keep from laughing out loud. Ferdinand was particularly guilty of this. So, somebody tell me – was I watching a rare, bad thing? Or is it more acceptable than I realized? Is their approach more of a “Hey, we’re having fun up here, and the audience is laughing with us, not at us” style of Shakespeare? I quite liked it, I’m just not sure if it was supposed to be happening. Perhaps it’s that these folks are so confident in the material that they don’t mind as much, whereas an American cast might be a bit too much in awe of the material to let themselves have that much fun.
The second was interaction with the music. I’ve seen this plenty of times, and it bugs me. There’s an upper balcony to the stage, where the musicians are handling the background music between scenes. Several times characters would enter, pretend like they were going to wait for the music to die down as if that was a cue, and then when it doesn’t, they’d go wave at the musicians and make the “Cut it!” gesture, upon which the music would stop abruptly. Again, not something I haven’t seen before – but is that cool? Is that how Shakespeare’s people would have interacted with the music?
Something that fascinated me was the dancing. I’m not sure the appropriate theatre terminology, but at a couple of points (most notably when the ladies go off hunting for deer), the cast onstage break into a silence dance number, as if they were miming “Ok, we’re hunting now.” Perhaps that’s exactly what it was supposed to be.
The staging was well was very well handled. Characters came in through the audience when it would get a reaction, but for the most part they came through the large double doors, stage center, which served to separate the forest and the palace. To the side were two backdrops done up to look like trees, with balcony above. Want another good example of that attention to detail I was talking about? At one point, just before all the gentlemen are to discover that they’ve all broken the pact, Biron is first on stage and has hidden in the balcony (“climbed a tree”, as it were). After he announces himself, rather than beginning his lines up there, he descends the stair case behind the scenery (climbing down out of the tree)…and emerges with a mouthful of leaves, which he promptly spits out before continuing his line. It’s the little things.
I didn’t love it all. Though the accents, timing and delivery were wonderful, some stuck out. Biron (Berowne? I think I’ve seen it both ways?), for instance, was delivered in a fairly heavy Scottish accent which made me think Craig Ferguson could have stood in at the drop of a hat. Had the actor broken our some Sean Connery I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised. Many that’s just my American, tv-watching self talking. We hear Scottish, we map it back onto the handful of Scottish actors we know.
Also, I have no idea what Don Adriano was supposed to be. He’s a Spaniard, yes? I thought he was doing Russian for most of it. At some points he seemed more Borat than anything else.
As mentioned, I had to leave at intermission because of the chaos at my house (see previous posts). So I can’t really say much about the second half. If I were living a different life, a bachelor whose full time job was to be a Shakespeare Geek? I’d have been there early and stayed late. For every show. In reality, what I did was laugh. Frequently. Sometimes at the words, sometimes at their delivery, sometimes at the slapstick clowning that went on between them. What more can you really ask?