Review of RSC’s Feb/March 2020 season at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham ‘Measure for Measure’ ‘As You Like It’ ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
I came to these productions rather late. I’d read the reviews and listened to the feedback from those who’d either seen them in Stratford or in the cinema as part of the RSC’s last season. In the first meetings of our 2019-20 season we had discussed and generally worried about some of the interpretative and casting decisions they were promulgating.
In the Theatre Royal’s programme Greg Doran (Artistic Director) and Catherine Mallyon (Executive Director) write: This electrifying season explores themes of morality, love, power and gender and sparks with striking resonance.
Sadly, on the three nights I went, the theatre was two-thirds full at best; the audience was made up of the usual provincial suspects (except perhaps at ‘The Shrew’ which drew a younger, wider demographic). I was disappointed. Morality, love, power and gender can and do strike chords (perhaps rather than sparks) in all age-groups. Viz the Greta Thunberg phenomenon.
A double pity I thought because, at their best, the productions – their sets, some of the music, song and dance sequences were slick, lively and entertaining. When the players are confident in their assigned parts and fully engaged themselves, so is the audience. The #MeToo overtones in ‘Measure for Measure’ certainly struck sparks – all those women abused to bring about a ‘happy’ ending. And the audience roared with laughter at the antics in ‘The Shrew’ – the men too – which I found as unfunny as ever.
Elephants in the room for me included the clumsily inappropriate ‘green man’ deus ex machina in ‘As You Like It’ and Touchstone’s tedious reappearances in the same play. (I found the actor much more impressive as Antonio.) Jacques was played by a rather weak actor – some discrepancy in my programme between the person on the cast list and the one in the actors’ biographical notes. A pregnant woman in a wheelchair – how very 1950s! However, a cheeky servant, doing wheelies in her wheelchair round the stage was perfect!
Being a fan of Fletcher’s ‘The Tamer Tam’d’, I felt most strongly about the choices made in the ‘Shrew’ where Padua is shown as a matriarchal society. I disliked Claire Price’s lazy ‘pantomime prince’ portrayal of Petruchia, rendered even less impressive by the director’s failure to pursue what I thought I saw at the first meeting of the central couple. A dynamic sexual attraction such as Burton and Taylor’s can make the play ‘work’ in either a patriarchal or a matriarchal society. However it didn’t make sense that Katherine, so physical and rumbustious with her sister (oh, the tossing of the head and the flicking of the hair – is that really what women do?) and others at the beginning of the play, never once tried to bring Petruchia down physically. Why wasn’t he called Cato? And as for the nonsense of his final capitulation speech – was anyone out there listening to what he was saying? If so, why wasn’t the house tittering at the absurdity of it all? There was a post-show discussion that evening which, sadly, I couldn’t attend. These are some of the questions I would have asked.
Might it not have been braver to re-write the Shakespeare and give a speech from a 21st century male Woke point of view? I wish I were still teaching; that would be my class’s weekend homework!
Review by Julia Pirie