Monday, June 27, 2011

All's Well That Ends Well

I've been meaning to see a play at The Globe for years, so I was looking forward to it, and the weather yesterday was perfect. But, to be honest, I'd been expecting a museum-type experience; interesting, but not of the here and now. It turns out I was wrong: what I saw on Sunday was a vibrant piece of theatre; with the high level of audience interaction making it seem like a participation event. I have a problem with theatre when it re-creates movies or novels; when it tries to be real in the way that a movie does. But the audience at The Globe can't ignore the fact that the actors are people like them, pretending to be someone else; and that adds a whole dimension to the experience. The audience is part of the play. It strikes me that The Globe has more in common with theatres of the last fifty years or so than it does to the proscenium-arch theatre of Victorian days and earlier. In his book "1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare", James Shapiro writes, "Shakespeare didn’t write ‘as if from another planet,’ as Coleridge put it: he wrote for the Globe; it wasn’t in his mind’s eye, or even on the page, but in the aptly named theater where his plays came to life and mattered". Seems about right to me.

...but then again, Bertram in "All' Well That Ends Well" is a self-centred young man, inconsiderate, impulsive and exasperated by the demands made on him. He's not good, but he's not especially bad; just ordinary, which is the hardest character for any dramatist to create. Whatever type of theatre - proscenium arch, in-the-round, promenade, or with contemporary or period settings and dress, Bertram is a character audiences will recognise and identify with. And that's to do with the ability of the dramatist to create, or re-create a character in the minds of his / her audience, independent of any specific staging.

Of course, it's not possible to completely recreate the Elizabethan experience. Their world was in many ways, strange and remote from ours: that Juliet, Cleopatra and Rosalind were all played by boys, seems very weird. It was a time when church attendance was compulsory, and catholicism illegal. No-one questioned the notion that it was fun to see live animals torn to pieces, or that it was right that those convicted of certain crimes be tortured to death in public. We don't know how the plays were acted, but, as the acting styles of Gielgud and Olivier already seem dated, it's possible that Elizabethan acting would have seemed very strange to a 21st century observer. But I enjoyed getting as close as I could to the experience of an Elizabethan playgoer, and I'm convinced now - if I wasn't totally before - that The Globe is much more than a museum-piece.

POSTSCRIPT: These lines from "All's Well..." -
on the transience of poltical power - really struck me. Spoken by the King of France :

"For we are old, and on our quick'st decrees
The inaudible and noiseless foot of time
Steals ere we can effect them."


Ed Baker said...

the reader... the audience participating

throwing cabbages and turnips and BOOS
at the .... event... THAT is what IT is
all about!

Stratford Upon Avon ? I was there in i1967!

the entire town was not much more than a
continuous used car lot!

so much for LitRishHer, EH !

Alan Baker said...

Ed, Stratford must be a real let-down for visitors from around the world. It's good to visit the birthplace house though, which has survived pretty well - I got a buzz from being there.