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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Big Will is The Boss

I like to pontificate on the subject of theatre and claim that when theatre 'gets it right' it is the most exciting medium of them all. The problem is that I don't often have a chance to back my claim up as most theatre is pants.

A bit of a sweeping generalisation I know but it seems to me that theatre, except as practised by a few enlightened Directors or Companies, has lost the ability to connect with its audience through it own medium. The French-Canadian director Robert le Page is someone who I believe to bea master of the art form of theatre – I try not miss any of his productions.

We live in an era when video games, film and tv practitioners understand much better how audiences relate to their art form – they fine-tune the grammar and syntax of their work to achieve maximum impact. By and large theatre doesn't do this. By and large it takes a group of show-offs and puts them on stage largely for their own squalid self gratification.

Well that's my view obviously and I understand that not many people will agree.

Then something like The Globe Theatre's Travelling Company comes along and stages ' AMidsummer Night's Dream' in the grounds of Ashton Court just outside Bristol. We (wife, first born and I) had seen their 'Romeo and Juliet' in Queen's Square, Bristol a couple of years ago and been blown away by it. Actually almost literally as the wind howled and the rain lashed down during much of the performance – without spoiling any of the pleasure.

This really is how I like to experience Shakespeare – open air production, in the round, a reduced cast (usually 8 or so actors playing all the parts), the play adapted to work in the informal setting, incredibly clearly spoken and staged to appeal to the widest possible audience (but without dumbing down); a production that relies upon and respects the power of the audiences imagination to fill in the gaps in scenery, props, costumes and staging that the constraints of this kind of production enforce.

This production of 'Dream' is stunningly brilliant. Hilariously funny, very accessible, modern without being gimmicky and gorgeous to look at; it's the most glorious 3 hours of entertainment I have had in a while.

The setting is a simple travelling stage, not too dissimilar to the type of stage that might have been used in Elizabethan times (see this video here)

but the triumph of the production was the way in which it adapted to the setting. Very early on the players were speaking to the audience, drawing us into the action and story, making eye-contact, ad-libbing, sitting with us and watching with us as the play progressed.

The effect was electric. As the daylight faded and lights around the stage began to glow in the evening gloom I found myself sitting open mouthed at the sheer magic of the occasion. I realised I had 'crossed over' and given myself up with abandon to the world of the play, I had been transported into its magical world of sprites and Athenian Dukes and laughter and language so exquisite it brought tears to the eyes.

A tear actually came early on when I looked across nervously to see if first born (12) was as captivated as I was or bored out of her pre-teen mind. To see her mouthing the words of the first scene along with the cast made me want to stand up and shout for joy.

You want your children to be happy and to have a sense of humour. It's a big bonus if they can fall in love with Shakespeare too. God bless Bristol Cathedral Choir School for introducing her to the text and god bless the Globe Touring Company for bringing it to life for her.

Do not, under any circumstances miss this production if it is on anywhere near you. And take your children, they will love it. Forget Bruce Springsteen, Big Will Shakespeare is the boss and its never to early to sneak that message in.