Archive for June, 2011

I went to see Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate. It was the second or third performance.  The recent reviews have been glowing, so perhaps I saw it before things had settled down. The audience was full of Dr Who fans, and they were very vocal and very interactive.  I found that strange, annoying, but S said, rightly, that these days we revere Shakespeare far too much, and the original Globe would have been full of shouts, clapping and audience participation. 

The production was a romp, set on Gibraltar during the 80s.  It was funny, lewd, fast.  I enjoyed the spectacle of it.  The cast made the language come alive, the intonation and rhythm felt modern, conversational, accessible.  But I felt as if I could have been watching anything, not specifically Shakespeare.  For me, even in the comedies, there is a darkness, or a poignancy, or an emotional resonance.  I felt like this was played only for laughs, it was too broad.  It’s a difficult play for modern audiences, Claudio’s rejection of Hero is almost impossible to stomach, and can only be balanced by Beatrice and Benedick’s conversation afterwards.  Beatrice’s instruction to ‘Kill Claudio’, should send a shiver down the spine, and one of my favourite lines,  ‘O God that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market place’, should leave the audience in no doubt of Beatrice’s fury, impotence, and also her power.  Instead these lines seemed without depth, context, force.  For me, Tate didn’t have the dignity or the gravitas to make a great Beatrice, and whilst Tennant fared better, he still seemed a little too in love with the audience’s reactions.

But… I am a snob, and perhaps a narrow-minded one at that.  I feel strongly that people are turned off Shakespeare by lacklustre teaching, and a dull choice of GCSE set texts.  It doesn’t seem relevant, important.  So if a production featuring TV stars means that people who might not have watched much classical theatre can love Shakespeare, that’s a good thing.  I just feel that with a bit more subtlety this production could have been an investigation of human experience, rather than much ado about not very much.

In contrast, I saw ‘Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde!’ last week.  Dave St Pierre is a French-Canadian choreographer, whose biography (living with chronic ill-health) is quietly inspiring.  His production (A little bit of tenderness for God’s sake!) is hardly quiet.  When S and I took our seats, the stage lights were up, as well as the house lights.  A naked man in a blonde wig was sitting on a chair, squealing at the audience like an overgrown child.  It was discomforting and a bit embarrassing, not the nudity but the infantile noises.  The stage gradually filled with these baby-men in blonde wigs, and they were joined by fully-clothed women.  The very sexy compere, a performer known as Sabrina, gave a commentary on proceedings, on life, on dance theatre in general.   

The performance was all about breaking the fourth wall, very post-modern in all its innovation and all its annoying self-referential smugness.  The naked men climbed into the audience, even up into the second circle where S and I were sitting.  They squealed at audience members, flinging their own members in front of people.  It was funny, shocking, and very unsettling.  Audiences feel uncomfortable being singled out, given attention.  The role of the audience is to sit in darkness and appreciate the performance, not to become part of it.  So this was a clever way to discombobulate and disorientate.  Meanwhile the women on stage were attacking each other, ripping each others’ clothes off and simulating sex. 

The rest of the performance was a Freudian, post-modern assault on taste, delicacy and composure.  It was sometimes funny, sometimes boring, sometimes sexy, sometimes embarrassing. The dancers were not otherwordly creatures, they were professionals with dancers’ bodies, but they looked more liked real people than classical dancers.  The movement was more subtle than first appeared, but it wasn’t the focal point of the experience. It was quite the strangest thing I’d ever seen on stage,  I was enjoying it, but I also wondered what the point of it was.  Towards the end, the dancers stood on stage with bottles of water.  Sabrina teased the audience, asking us if we knew what was going to happen next.  I’m sure the first few rows of the stalls were bracing themselves for a soaking.  Instead, the dancers poured the water over themselves, and on to the stage.  They all moved to the back the stage, into darkness.  In the spotlight, Sabrina took off her clothes (she’d been fully clothed throughout) and started to roll around in the water.  She was then joined by the other dancers, emerging from the darkness, also naked.  The lighting changed to a soft orange, so the dancers’ bodies were in relief against the black stage.  To strains of Arvo Pärt, the naked dancers slid across the wet stage on their tummies, on their backs, on their sides, gliding alone and together.  It was adults finding their childlike innocence, it was joy in the beauty of movement, after all that had come before it was a scene of serene tenderness.  I’ve cried at films and plays before, if something is sad I’m crying in empathy.  I’ve been moved by visual art as well.  But I’ve never experienced a complete cathartic release (not a euphemism) at a peice of theatre before.  Tears were pouring down my face, although I wasn’t sad.  As the dancers slowly slid towards each other, forming couples, wrapped around each other, what they were demonstrating, and I was experiencing, was that despite the alienation we can feel, despite the cynicism and discomfort and overstimulation of modern life, what we all seek and move towards, is beauty, serenity, a little tenderness.



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