The enormous energy which pulsates through the entire company is truly an awe-inspiring force of nature; sitting in the Northcott waiting for the touring players to emerge, the whole audience seemed aware of the space, almost trembling in anticipation of the riotous performance about to ensue. The company’s choice of mellow 60’s soft rock to knead viewers into a malleable, receptive body prepared for a non-traditional approach to Shakespeare did little to quell the fizzling atmosphere which preludes any Shakespeare’s Globe performance. The dressing of the Northcott’s proscenium stage with a tawdry, bare, neon set – picture loose wires, instruments, standing microphones. speakers, ladders, spotlights, all things you expect to be neatly tucked away in a theatre but here sprawled visibly across the playing space – lewdly defied the concept of the fourth wall, promising a performance which would spill over into the auditorium.
And from the very offset this promise was fulfilled as the first actor stumbled, drink in hand, from the middle of the steeply-tiered auditorium down to the stage. A slow start proceeded from here; a strange scene revolving around a record player saw the introduction of all of the players with no scripted dialogue or costumes worn throughout the play to help characterise them. Identities thus destabilised, the play properly began. Despite following the script – one of Shakespeare’s earliest works – the entire performance was so disjointed, inconstantly paced and difficult to follow that it left the audience spinning, uncertain of what exactly they had seen. One of the audience members turned to his companion at the beginning of the interval and murmured that it “certainly is an experience”.
a performance which would spill over into the auditorium
The raucous live music incessantly woven in with dialogue by the multi-talented players shook the house, and the piggish indulgence of the lead men in their chauvinistic objectification of and bartering over their respective ladies revolted all those of a modern ethical disposition. The constant infidelity of Proteus, Valentine, Thurio and the Duke in not only their relationships to Silvia and Julia but the dynamics betwixt the four themselves continuously baffled those watching, whilst the misogynistic dynamic of this upper class was reinforced during a painfully drawn out scene in which Launce (servant to Proteus) lasciviously debates the myriad of virtues and vices personified by his mistress love.
THE ENTIRE PERFORMANCE WAS SO DISJOINTED, INCONSTANTLY PACED AND DIFFICULT TO FOLLOW THAT IT LEFT THE AUDIENCE SPINNING
The company undercut the heavily sexist script with a few instances of gender-blind casting, making sure its audience understands that the ownership of women and the inescapably lewd nature of men are the antiquated intellectual property of the playwright; a performance of society as it once was, not how it should be. The criticism of these ideas is only present in the original script’s satirical and comic manipulation of its characters and is not adamant in its text, so it does make sense – however inelegant and disjointed the effect may be – that the cast and performance create a cacophonous world of chaos around Silvia and Julia, who are played in a much more naturalistic style. It is the producer’s way of exposing the inherent madness of the patriarchy which the two are trapped in and victimised by. The end motif of the play is particularly heart-wrenching and should haunt everyone who attends this touring production; Silvia and Julia, lied to, threatened with rape and handed from man to man, collapsed in a tearful heap together beneath the elevated platform on which Proteus and Valentine embrace each other, celebrating their victory in “love”. Although they stand up to perform an impassioned and dark duet to close the play, washed over in eerie blue light, the audience cannot help but feel that the two women have had their energy and identity shredded and traumatised until nothing remains but a conquered body. Etta James’ “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” with its chilling, bitter jazz tones acts as end music to the play, settling coldly on a shaken and bewildered audience.
Although the lack of cohesion in the performance does have its intended unsettling effect, its execution does leave a little to be desired. It is difficult to believe that this pacing was the best way to reinforce the between-the-lines criticism of misogynistic culture in Shakespeare’s original text. Although “certainly an experience” and a very unique approach to the text, there is no final satisfaction of the blazing energy which carries the performance, leaving the ending fizzled out in an unprofessional manner and an audience drained, rather than satisfied, by their viewing.