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All posts for the day December 16th, 2010

A story of woe: Review of Romeo and Juliet

Published 16/12/2010 by damselwithadulcimer

Michael Billington points out in his review of Romeo and Juliet (which has now transferred from Stratford to London’s Roundhouse) that ‘the eternal difficulty with this play is making us believe that the tragedy is inherent rather than a tacked-on product of a faulty postal service’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2010/dec/03/romeo-and-juliet-review.  Rupert Goold manages to overcome this problem by presenting the prologue as an audio guide that is listened to by Sam Troughton’s Romeo as he visits Verona.  Both he and Juliet (Mariah Gale) wear modern dress as they fall hopelessly and fatefully in love against a background of Renaissance Italy and feuding families.

 

This production is heavy with Catholic imagery and prompts us to imagine ourselves as an Elizabethan audience that has endured fifteenth-century England’s religious upheavals; we are Protestants and sceptical of anything to do with popery.   Italians are Catholics, hence the misguided interference of Friar Laurence, the necessity of attending Confession and the imagery of saints shared by the two lovers at their first meeting.   Early modern society also viewed Mediterranean races as hotter than those from northern Europe.  The anger and rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues is all there in the language of the play, but Goold also introduces fire as a recurrent motif throughout this production.  The opening fight scenes are interspersed by flashes of fire, Benvolio is narrowly saved from death by burning and a back projection of flames accompanies many of the scene changes.  Religious martyrs were frequently burned at the stake, and fire and flame are metaphors for love and passion.

 

Against this fast moving background of imagery and poetry two young people meet and fall in love despite parental opposition and familial enmity.  We all know the ‘story … of Juliet and her Romeo’ but what is often missed in the staging of a play that moves at such speed, is the fact that the tragic tale, from beginning to end, is laid down within the prologue (‘A pair of star-crosssed lovers take their life’).  We are also regularly reminded of the outcome throughout the drama: from their first meeting the lovers are aware that their relationship could end in death, they both suffer from dreams and premonitions where each sees the other dead, and they both make references to knives, daggers and poison during the course of the play.  None of this is missed in Goold’s production, making the poignancy of the ending even stronger and more inevitable.

 

However before the fateful ending is reached we are privileged to share an amazing theatrical experience.  This RSC ensemble piece, which has been in the current repertoire since the spring, is a tightly acted play.  The lovers share a tension and electricity, the sensuality of which is underpinned by the rhythmic pounding of the music at their first meeting.  They convey an awareness that this is a new experience for both of them, particularly for Juliet, who first appears petulantly playing with a child’s whip.   Romeo’s asides, during Juliet’s balcony scene, are directed at the audience from the edge of the stage; the effect is to make us even more complicit in their relationship.

 

The all-excluding romantic love of Romeo and Juliet is balanced by the bawdiness of both the Nurse and Mercutio.  The latter is brilliantly and comically portrayed by Jonjo O’Neill, resplendent in a blonde wig and black eye liner.  He may look like a New Romantic, but his hip-thrusting bawdiness verges on pornography and even begins to disgust Benvolio.  Tybalt (played by Joseph Arkley) is as hot-headed as his uncle, Lord Capulet (Richard Katz).  The nephew’s desire to fight with Romeo is equally matched by the older man’s anger and paternalistic control over his daughter, particularly in the confrontation over his wish to marry her to Paris when he appears to be about to assault her.

 

This production also uses a mix of regional accents: Lady Capulet (Christine Entwisle) is a Northerner; Peter Peversley (understudying the Scottish Forbes Masson in the version I saw) is a Geordie

Friar Laurence; Tybalt is a Scotsman; Peter is Welsh and Jonjo O’Neill speaks with his native Belfast accent.  This miscellany of voices suggests that we all suffer the same experiences wherever we hail from, but this is further underpinned by the RSC’s colour blind casting.  We are all the same under the skin, especially when attending a masked ball.

‘The play’s the thing’: Hamlet at the National TheatreIn the programme that accompanies the current production of Hamlet, Peter Holland informs us that ‘Stalin did not like Hamlet’ adding, by way of an explanation that ‘Plays about assassinating the ruler were not recommended under a dictatorship’. A few years ago Rupert Goold directed Macbeth (Patrick Stewart) as a tyrannical despot, a man who delegated the murder of his enemies to his henchmen. In this current Hamlet Patrick Malahide’s Claudius, although a consummate, slick statesman on the surface, is a similar kind of usurping king, who rules Denmark like as a police state. Whether or not it is intentional, he even resembles Vladimir Putin (who once controlled the USSR’s KGB) with his slim build and balding head. Clare Higgins, as Gertrude and the widow of the late king, is a woman used to playing the role of queen. But whether life, or just her bereavement and recent ‘o’erhasty marriage’, have now taken their toll, she is rather fond of unwinding with a glass of whisky in her hand. This Queen of Denmark is a mature woman, who gradually becomes suspicious of her new husband; before Hamlet visits her in her closet she has already thrown a few distrustful glances at Claudius. Despite her protestations to the contrary, this Gertrude most definitely sees her late husband when he appears in her closet after the murder of Polonius: her eyes are wide open to both brothers. Given the surveillance society that is presented at the palace of Elsinore, Gertrude’s misgivings are justified. Men wearing dark suits, with earpieces clearly visible, lurk in all corners of the stage, often talking into contraptions on their wrists. A young prince, recently and suddenly bereaved, could easily suffer delusions of paranoia in such a household. You could certainly offer Hamlet forgiveness for his callous instructions to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bumped off in such a dog-eat-dog suspicious society. Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet is a mature student through and through; his bedroom is a tip and he hides under his duvet (with no cover on it) fully clothed and wearing his trainers. He is miserable and depressed over his father’s sudden death and his mother’s remarriage to her brother-in-law and this psychological state of mind gives impetus to his ‘madness’. His mood changes frequently from unhappiness to anger and aggression and his soliloquies reveal a great amount of introspection and self-analysis. He is rough with Ophelia, disrespectful to his mother and insolent towards Claudius. In a surveillance culture where even Ophelia’s book is bugged and Polonius and Claudius appear wearing headphones, as they listen in to the lovers’ conversation, he appears to trust nobody. There is most definitely something rotten in Nicholas Hytner’s Denmark, and this corruption infects all those whom it touches. Russell Jackson also contributes to the programme notes and discusses various past productions of Hamlet that have tried to locate the play in their own times. Although this staging was formulated before the current WikiLeaks revelations it collides with them by portraying a country run by a corrupt, murderous regime, just as Putin’s Russia has recently been equated with a ‘mafia state’. Claudius orders Hamlet’s murder in the play, and Hytner’s direction for the National Theatre also shows a pair of suspicious dark-suited men abducting Ophelia prior to the report of her death by drowning. (Perhaps this could explain why Gertrude seems so knowledgeable about Ophelia’s gathering of ‘her weedy trophies’.) Although post Cold War Russia is considered to be a democracy, we still view it with suspicion in the West, especially when we recall the mysterious deaths of Georgi Markov and Alexander Litvinenkof. I found this current production of Hamlet gripping and thought provoking and highly recommend it as the best I have seen. I wonder what Putin would make of it?

Published 16/12/2010 by damselwithadulcimer

In the programme that accompanies the current production of Hamlet, Peter Holland informs us that ‘Stalin did not like Hamlet’ adding, by way of an explanation that ‘Plays about assassinating the ruler were not recommended under a dictatorship’.  A few years ago Rupert Goold directed Macbeth (Patrick Stewart) as a tyrannical despot, a man who delegated the murder of his enemies to his henchmen.  In this current Hamlet Patrick Malahide’s Claudius, although a consummate, slick statesman on the surface, is a similar kind of usurping king, who rules Denmark like as a police state.  Whether or not it is intentional, he even resembles Vladimir Putin (who once controlled the USSR’s KGB) with his slim build and balding head.

 

Clare Higgins, as Gertrude and the widow of the late king, is a woman used to playing the role of queen.  But whether life, or just her bereavement and recent ‘o’erhasty marriage’, have now taken their toll, she is rather fond of unwinding with a glass of whisky in her hand.  This Queen of Denmark is a mature woman, who gradually becomes suspicious of her new husband; before Hamlet visits her in her closet she has already thrown a few distrustful glances at Claudius.  Despite her protestations to the contrary, this Gertrude most definitely sees her late husband when he appears in her closet after the murder of Polonius: her eyes are wide open to both brothers.  Given the surveillance society that is presented at the palace of Elsinore, Gertrude’s misgivings are justified.  Men wearing dark suits, with earpieces clearly visible, lurk in all corners of the stage, often talking into contraptions on their wrists.  A young prince, recently and suddenly bereaved, could easily suffer delusions of paranoia in such a household.  You could certainly offer Hamlet forgiveness for his callous instructions to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bumped off in such a dog-eat-dog suspicious society.

Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet is a mature student through and through; his bedroom is a tip and he hides under his duvet (with no cover on it) fully clothed and wearing his trainers.  He is miserable and depressed over his father’s sudden death and his mother’s remarriage to her brother-in-law and this psychological state of mind gives impetus to his ‘madness’.  His mood changes frequently from unhappiness to anger and aggression and his soliloquies reveal a great amount of introspection and self-analysis.  He is rough with Ophelia, disrespectful to his mother and insolent towards Claudius.  In a surveillance culture where even Ophelia’s book is bugged and Polonius and Claudius appear wearing headphones, as they listen in to the lovers’ conversation, he appears to trust nobody.  There is most definitely something rotten in Nicholas Hytner’s Denmark, and this corruption infects all those whom it touches.

Russell Jackson also contributes to the programme notes and discusses various past productions of Hamlet that have tried to locate the play in their own times.  Although this staging was formulated before the current WikiLeaks revelations it collides with them by portraying a country run by a corrupt, murderous regime, just as Putin’s Russia has recently been equated with a ‘mafia state’.  Claudius orders Hamlet’s murder in the play, and Hytner’s direction for the National Theatre also shows a pair of suspicious dark-suited men abducting Ophelia prior to the report of her death by drowning.  (Perhaps this could explain why Gertrude seems so knowledgeable about Ophelia’s gathering of ‘her weedy trophies’.)  Although post Cold War Russia is considered to be a democracy, we still view it with suspicion in the West, especially when we recall the mysterious deaths of Georgi Markov and Alexander Litvinenkof.

I found this current production of Hamlet gripping and thought provoking and highly recommend it as the best I have seen.  I wonder what Putin would make of it?