Thursday, October 27, 2005

William Shakespeare

Male acting female roles ...

Edward Hall's production of William Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" Posted by Picasa

An invitation to dinner from the Crusader is something one does not refuse unless there's a very solid previous engagement, a Minister in town or an unpostponable rendez-vous. I had tickets for "The Winter's Tale" at Centro Dramático Nacional - Teatro María Guerrero, but since it was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and MDT (Madrid Dining Time) in Winter is 9.30 p.m. I though I had a fighting chance to see if not all at least most of the play.

In fact I just managed to see the Acts I to III, which is mostly grim and grey .(After the interval, the last three acts, which take place sixteen years later have a redeeming tone and there's a near holywoodesque happy end).

To refresh the memory of the Honourabble Reader those run-for-your-Prozac first three Acts can be synopsized like this:

When Leontes' (King of Sicily) old friend Polixenes (King of Bohemia) wishes to leave after a court visit, Leontes asks his wife, Hermione, to try persuading him to stay longer. Hermione succeeds, but Leontes then suspects her of having an affair with Polixenes. His jealousy getting the better of him, Leontes plots to poison Polixenes. Hermione is thrown in jail and brought to trial for adultery despite the words of the Delphic oracle (who has proclaimed Hermione innocent). While imprisoned, Hermione gives birth to a daughter, which Leontes promptly disowns. He also commands A. to abandon the baby in the desert.
Tragedy soon besets Leontes as the trial progresses. His only son dies from grief over his mother's predicament. Hermione too is reported dead. This is enough to make even Leontes realize what his jealousy has cost him (...)

Depressing stuff, no?

To add pain to injury the Propeller Company, directed by Edward Hall, sticks to a as- close-as-possible-to-how-it-was-done-in-Shakespeare's-time concept , and so we had an all-male distribution. It's a bit like transposing to Theater the fashionable playing of Ancient Music in original XVII century instruments. We all remember recent films where the action is set in Shakespearian times and where this gender-crossing thing is put to good dramatic use ( a man-actor and a woman-actor (needing to disguise as a man) both competing for the same female role; a woman-actor who has to disguise as a man to perform a male role.. O dear!, we've been there lots of times). As long as the director sticks to 1610's clothes and Elizabethan theatre codes the all-male cast can be swallowed ( although it's politicallyyoffensive to the hard-fought for rights of women to be on stage). But when, as it was the case yesterday, the action is set in a contemporary set with actors dressing in modern clothes, including suits and ties, the akwardness of men performing the roles of Hermione, Perdita, Pauline or Emilia becomes, to my taste, unbearable. I didn't get in what sense are we close to Shakespeare's original spirit. Was Uncle Willie writing with certain male actors in mind when creating the lines for his female characters, or was he not hoping that one day the lifting of the ban on female acting would enable the full potential of Juliets, or Hermiones or Rosalinds to shine through?

If it's to enact modern day versions of Shakespeare's plays does not an all male company incur the risk of being a gayish thing? Or is it homophobic to wanting a lovely innocent non-adulterous loving wife to be performed by a lovely innocent loving non-adulterous looking actress? At least, thank Goodness, we were spared falsetto voices, or it would have been a very camp thing indeed. The actors playing Hermione or Pauline were very good, not doubt about it, and, I'll give you that too, they were not trying to be "girls" but men-actors performing female roles. In the end, even if I don't doubt the artistic integrity of Company Director Edward Hall, it all sort of becomes a gimmick to flag up these particular productions of Shakespeare's work among the hundreds that leave the UK production line every year.

When one goes to see "The Winter's Tale" one wants to refresh one's ideas about how to deal with jealousy, both in oneself and in a third party . The BootsGirl pretends my blog makes her jealous and I was hoping for something in the Leontes-Hermione relationship that would have allowed me to be clever by half and enlightened her on the traps and punishments of jealousy. Most of the time I was instead frantically arguing, in mute mode, with the play's director about the incongruity of using men to perform as women.

Don't get me wrong: the mise-en-scène was first rate, the acting was good to very good to periods of brilliance (specially Adam Levy as Pauline and Simon Scardifield as Hermione!) and it was a memorable half-night.

And the Honourable Reader will excuse my outburst but it's bliss indeed to attend English-spoken theatre...

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