Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 4. 1962.
A Modern Shakespeare
A Modern Shakespeare
Shakespeare was such a master of stage-craft that any adaptation of his work makes me a little suspicious. I even have a few qualms over orthodox cuts, suspecting that they are an admission of defeat. Modern dress versions of Hamlet give me little twinges of fear, although I acknowledge the validity of the argument that such productions make the play more immediate. You can imagine the reactions of such an incorrigible conservative to rumours that the New Theatre Company was producing The Taming Of The Shrew in wild-west costumes. It sounds too much like the recent American University production of The Tempest set on the planet Uranus
In the event I would probably have been as disturbed as I anticipated, had I not remembered that this was a production for school-children. Wild-west costumes can hardly said to bring the play close to the daily life of the child, but they do bring it closer to his imaginative life. More important still, I had feared that wild-west costumes meant a wild-west setting, but in fact the induction made it plain that the costumes had been accidentally brought by a drunken props manager and the action still took place in Padua. The costumes were merely one part of a zany and very amusing production.
Charles Marowitz (author of The Method as Means) has been arguing in English journals for some years that modern Shakespearean productions are too "operatic." People go to see the balcony scene as they go to hear "Celeste Aida," forgetting its relationship to the whole. Judging by this production. Nola Millar agrees, for emphasis is on farce and action, while the sound of the words is largely neglected. This is successful as an experiment and, in particular, with the most farcical of Shakespeare's plays in a production aimed at schoolchildren, but its danger in general practice need hardly be mentioned.
The use of the auditorium for some of the action reminds one of experiments like Carmino Real, The Connection, and Joseph Musaphia's free. This appears to be one of the theatre's answers to the cinema and T.V., and certainly gives an exhilarating sense of audience participation. Although it is so successful in the intimacy of the University's new theatre, one wonders how well it worked in the school halls and gymnasiums where the company has been playing.
On its self-chosen level of sheer entertainment this was an excellent production. Its faults were many and obvious, but the producer cunningly made them unimportant and it sounds like carping to mention them. Muffed lines, and even weak characterisation matter little, compared with pace and plenty of action in this sort of performance. The analysis of individual performances would also be irrelevant since this was a team effort, but Russell Duncan, Hilary Grimshaw, Anton Low, and Peter Vere-Jones all acted well.
In short, what the company lacked in professional polish it amply compensated in gaiety and amateur enthusiasm. As I left the hall I heard somebody say, "I enjoyed It more than the Old Vic." So did I.