Thursday, August 29, 2013

Theatre, In Brief: In the Open, Come from Verona, Twice

Just by way of a diary note for my personal records, really...

We finally got our dose of Cambridge open-air Shakespeare for the year recently, twice. On the 17th of this month, we saw the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona in Robinson College gardens. I honestly don't think I've seen a live performance of this one before, and while it was fun, I guess that I can see why not. I can quite believe that this was Shakespeare's first play (as seems to be the current academic best guess); it felt like a sketch towards his later comedy career, or somebody trying to emulate a Shakespeare comedy and not getting it quite right. The production pushed for some broad comedy with the outlaws (all female in this production, presumably purely for practical casting reasons), which didn't quite come off for me. Still, even in early, weak Shakespeare, you can suddenly get a jewel like "Who is Silvia? What is she/That all our swains commend her?" dropping in.

The prototypical nature of Two Gentlemen extends to its having a character action towards the end that probably looked a bit off even when it was written, and is likely to annihilate modern audience sympathies for the character involved entirely. Talking of which... The second part of this accidental duo was The Taming of the Shrew, courtesy of the Globe Theatre company on tour, in the Master's Garden at Corpus Christi (a bit of Cambridge architecture I'd not got into before, come to think of it), on the 23rd of the month. I'd not looked at any reviews of this beforehand, so I didn't know it was going to be an all-female cast in vaguely 1920s costume. Which actually worked rather well, especially for Petruchio, who ended up as a rather dashing roaring girl type in a pilot's coat.

But the casting and costumes didn't really address the modern problem of Kate's last speech. That was handled by having her deliver it 100% straight, but then looking at the male characters' reactions, especially Petruchio's. This turned the end of that scene into a big oops, damn moment, as it seemed to dawn on him and that others that he might have gone too far there. He'd really rather liked the untamed Kate, one felt, and now he'd lost that. From then on, everyone delivered their lines hesitantly, going through the motions and giving the play a complete downer ending. Which is probably as good a solution to that issue as any.

Good music, too, by the way.

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