Monday, July 22, 2013

The Text

Blogging Challenge: Day 1

At our house the past few months have been dubbed the Summer of Shakespeare.  My husband is working on three different productions of Shakespeare's work - simultaneously - which means we've been absurdly busy but enjoyably steeped in some of the greatest plays ever written.

Forbes Masson as Feste in Michael Boyd’s 2005 
production at the Royal Shakespeare Company
I've seen more live Shakespeare over the years than most people my age, and have always been most affected by productions where the power and beauty of the text itself was given pride of place.

I don't have a problem per se with high production values or even some well-placed spectacle.  The problem is when these things pre-empt, distract from or even mask the power of the text.

Same goes for any given concept or interpretative lens - it has to work within the text rather than fighting against it.   If you're going to set A Midsummer Night's Dream on a lunar colony, you sure better have a textual justification for it.

One of the most powerful productions of Shakespeare I ever saw was in London in 2005 - an RSC production of Twelfth Night (maybe my favorite of the comedies).  There were a lot of things that made the show especially moving, not least the exquisite music played on period instruments.  But one of the things I remember most about it was the way the director chose to highlight the character of Feste, the fool.  It became really his story, almost more than Viola's.  Somehow this was accomplished not by trampling on the text but by drawing out certain things that slip under the radar in a lot of more conventional productions, particularly in Feste's songs.

If done right, productions like that one can honor a centuries-old play and its playwright not by deconstructing but by shedding light on previously hidden facets of the work.

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