by William Shakespeare
12th April 2012 (retrospect)
Fast and pacey with moments of brilliance, this production, under the direction of Amir Nuar Zuabi, ultimately remains as a collection of disparities that fail to appeal to a modern audience.
To see a Shakespeare play that you haven’t seen or read before, particularly as an English student, is a rare treasure. The storytelling elements of the production become vital; character introduction becomes more important and the visual clues that keep the tightly woven plot on track take on a higher level of significance. It still remains that Renaissance drama can be an alienating “genre” and that allowances need to be made.
An example of how this production failed to wholly fulfil this intention – for it seemed that in parts that the ideas behind the direction were indeed to appeal to a wider audience – is in its unfortunate casting. The Dromio twins were practically identical, a lucky coincidence in rep, and Bruce Mackinnon and Felix Hayes dazzled us with a tasty mixure of slapstick and comic timing. That said, this threw into unfortunate relief that the Antipholus twins were about a foot apart in height and their only similarity their name and their matching silk shirts. It seemed that no work had been done trying to visually indicate their brotherhood, in mannerism or attitude; indeed, it took me about half an hour for me to realise that they were supposed to be twins. When it was revealed in the final scene that Nell, played by Cecilia Noble, was supposed to be their mother, the situation became laughable. Even in rep, it is such an ask of the audience to suspend disbelief to such an extent: in a play that is so focused on appearance and mistaken identity, throwing in an instance of colour-blind casting in the final scene was perhaps a step too far.
There were moments of brilliance, however; a wonderfully manipulatory dock-like set (Jon Bausor) that is to be used for the rest of the Shipwreck Trilogy (“Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest”) allowed for scenes to literally be flown in, men to be tortured in fish tanks and barrels containing various people to be rolled across the stage. Slapstick sketches were effective – Antipholus of Epheseus was able to deliver a monologue whilst standing on a rolling barrel – but sporadic and surprising; it seemed that too much of the fairly short running time was used up by people running on and off-stage.
Perhaps these faults are all due to a rep cast. Having spoken to others about the twins in “Twelfth Night”, there seems to have been a similar problem with Viola and Sebastian. How far can we push the audience to accept twinship? What allowances should be made if the actors are strikingly different? Both questions that appear not to have been asked, or rather answered, by the creatives behind this production.
Also of interest:
I went to see this production with Dan, who wrote his review here.