OMG Shakespeare takes the original plays and retells them using text speak, emoticons and slang. I can’t see how one could translate the beautiful and moving “to be or not to be” speech in Hamlet and translate it into modern language or (worse) into slang or text speech. For the article please see, (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3121419/Yolo-Juliet-Macbeth-s-killingit-Academics-horrified-dumbing-Shakespeare-Bard-s-greatest-works-retold-EMOJI.html).
Last night I attended a production of Uncle Vanya performed by the Richmond Shakespeare Society, at the Mary Walace theatre in Twickenham. The Richmond Shakespeare Society introduces Chekhov’s play in the following manner,
“I always used to think cranks were ill or abnormal, until I realised that to be a crank was man’s normal condition”
Uncle Vanya is arguably the first great modernist drama, full of ambiguities and contradictions, delicately balancing the tragic and the absurd, the farcical
and the hauntingly poetic. Maxim Gorky wrote that “its ideas are huge, symbolic and its form original, incomparable”. Certainly its themes, particularly
the passing of time and the process of ageing, are universal. Trapped in the claustrophobic depths of rural Russia, Chekhov’s assortment of all-too-human
characters drive each other mad, as the arrival of two outsiders forces the incumbents to re-examine the choices they have made. Old wounds are reopened,
passions awakened, thwarted ambitions bubble to the surface and lives are turned upside down. Our adaptation is by Oscar-winning playwright Christopher
Hampton, who has said, “Uncle Vanya doesn’t have a suicide, like The Seagull, or an adulterous couple and a duel like Three Sisters. All it has is a series
of ludicrously bungled attempts at murder and suicide and adultery. Perhaps these failures are what makes it feel the saddest and most truthful” of Chekhov’s
great tragi-comic masterpieces”. (http://www.richmondshakespeare.org.uk/).
The production left me feeling a deep sense of sadness at the futility of the characters lives which is, no doubt precisely what Chekhov intended. Uncle Vanya who is, in essence a kindly man has become cynical and depressed due to his long residence on a provincial country estate in 19th century Russia. Vanya’s love for the professor’s young wife is not reciprocated and Vanya cuts a half comic, half pathetic figure in his fruitless pursuit of her.
The Professor spends much of the day in bed malingering and much of the rest working on books about art which, as Vanya notes no one will read. His young wife flutters like a trapped bird wishing to escape her cage but, as with the Professor’s daughter fears to break away and, ultimately remains imprisoned. The Professor’s daughter is infatuated and, possibly in love with the provincial doctor but her feelings are not returned, the Doctor being attracted to the Professor’s beautiful young wife who, as noted earlier can not break out of her cage.
In Uncle Vanya one witnesses the death of idealism. The Doctor speaks passionately about planting forests which in centuries to come will give joy to the people, however his love (perhaps better described as lust) for the Professor’s wife causes him to abandon his forestry projects leaving the young trees to be damaged by the animals of the peasantry.
Matters come to a head when the Professor tries to persuade Vanya who has been managing the estate on his behalf to sell it. Vanya makes an unsuccessful attempt to shoot the Professor who leaves with his wife followed, shortly after by the Doctor who’s attempts to draw the Professor’s wife into adultery have failed.
The household returns to “normality” with Vanya and it’s other members waiting for the release which death will in time bring.
In order to attend productions at the Mary Walace it is necessary to be a member of The Richmond Shakespeare Society although members can purchase tickets on behalf of non-members. My thanks goes to Emily, my friend Brian’s partner, for bringing my attention to this production and inviting me along). Bleak and profoundly sad and brilliantly performed.
Yesterday evening my friend Brian and I attended a production of My Boy Jack at the Teddington Theatre Club, http://www.teddingtontheatreclub.org.uk/production/my-boy-jack. I wholeheartedly recommend the production which, unfortunately finishes it’s run today (Saturday 5 July).
At the outbreak of World War I Rudyard Kipling is determined that his severely short sighted son John (known as Jack) should enlist in the army. Having been rejected 3 times due to his poor eyesight Kipling uses his influence to secure Jack a position as an officer in the Irish Guards. Jack goes missing in 1915 and is later found to have been killed while leading his platoon into battle.
The portrayal of life in the trenches is masterful. The colourful language and the sheer gut wrenching terror of the soldiers who feel in their bones they are going over the top of the trenches to almost inevitable death had me feeling that I was present with Jack and his platoon. The relentless rain mingled with the sound of heavy artillery brought the battlefield to life. Fortunately the Director had kindly warned me about the sound effects during the first half of the play so my guide dog Trigger remained with her outside the theatre until the interval which is, I feel sure not in her job description!
Jack’s enlistment and subsequent death causes huge tension in the Kipling household. Throughout the play his sister is vocal in denouncing her father for exerting pressure on Jack to enlist despite knowing that his vision is virtually non existent in the absence of glasses. Kipling’s daughter is an angry, vocal young woman who refuses to be silenced.
The Kipling family are visited by a survivor of Jack’s platoon who describes seeing Jack seriously wounded and then vanishing in a burst of shell fire. Kipling’s response is that his son has died gloriously fighting for Britain but his wife and daughter see his death as futile. In an emotional sceene Kipling admits that he must see Jack’s sacrifice as meaningful otherwise there is nothing left to hold onto. He loves his country and can not concede that his son may have died, stumbling around, blind in the trenches for no rhyme or reason. In the end there is a reconciliation of sorts in the Kipling family but the death of Jack remains ever present.
As a visually impaired person I felt for Jack as he struggled to read the letters during his medical examination for the army. Ironically had his father not used his influence Jack would have survived the war as he was medically unfit for military service due to his severely impaired vision but then, of course there would have been no play.
At university back in the dim and distant past I read history and politics. One of the books I read as part of The History of Political Thought was a slim tome by the Italian writer Machiavelli entitled “The Prince” which, in essence argues that might is right and that princes (those wielding power) are entitled to use whatever means are at their disposal to retain power. Machiavelli’s arguments have lead to him being labelled as immoral by some while others argue that he is a political realist who was describing the real world rather than the world as we would, ideally like it to be.
I was reminded of my studies when my friend Brian asked whether I would like to attend a production of Machiavelli’s “Mandrake” at the Brockley Jack Theatre, in London on Saturday 15 June, I wasn’t aware (or at any rate I’d forgotten) that Machiavelli had, in addition to “The Prince” written a farce, consequently I jumped at the opportunity to attend. The fact that the theatre is located above the Brockley Jack pub was, I must confess an added incentive to go along!
The description of the play as it appears on the Brockley Jack’s website is as follows:
“Mandrake – Machiavelli’s greatest sex farce.
Callimaco wants Lucrezia: Lucrezia is married to Sir Nicia. Sir Nicia wants children. Ligurio wants to please both Callimaco and Sir Nicia. But what happiness
can Lucrezia find? And Siro, the unpaid servant, how can he turn things to his advantage?
It’s about marriage, lust, adultery, corruption and deceit – all aided by the Mandrake Infusion. Machiavelli’s comedy is one of the landmarks of the Italian
Renaissance – it marks the break with Medieval drama and is the forerunner of Shakespeare’s comedies.
It played to packed houses in the Florence of the Medici; in Venice it was so popular that the audience overwhelmed the stage and made it impossible to
complete. And it has remained popular ever since.”
I’m looking forward to attending. For further information on the play and the Brockley Jack please visit http://www.brockleyjack.co.uk/brockley_jack_studio_whats_on.html