|Photos: Ellie Kurttz/RSC|
One company, two performing spaces, three days, four plays and sixteen Friends!!
This was my first international outing with the Friends, and before departure I was a little concerned. What was the format? What would the group be like? What a wonderful experience as the group comprised of some old hands, who had been on several outings before, and some new faces like me, all of whom had a common interest in theatre and a willingness to commit to three days of 'hard core' theatre!
Philip Massinger's The City Madam was our introduction to the RSC in Stratford. It was a spectacle with a cast of 21. While the thrust stage does not allow for the most sumptuous of sets this was more than compensated for by the costumes. Large casts and exquisite costumes were to be repeated throughout the weekend, almost to the point of exhaustion.
Macbeth, usually a strong general who is coaxed into malevolence by a manipulative wife, was in this production portrayed from the beginning as an evil little weasel who shows no sign in his nature of the 'milk o human kindness' that Lady Macbeth purports fears. Cast in this way, Jonathan Slinger plays the roll with conviction through to its bloody conclusion. One difficulty with this interpretation is that it undermines the usually pivotal role Lady Macbeth plays in the unfolding tragedy.
That said there were some moments of pure magic. Having the witches played by three children was genius. From their first entrance their presence haunts Macbeth.
They drop like corpses from the flys and jerk to life as they descend to the stage. Caroline Martin shone as Lady McDuff, and the scene in which she and the children are murdered is positively harrowing.
Cardenio is billed as 'the lost Shakespeare'. A matinee show on a two performance day, I have to admit I approached this performance with some trepidation. However, the reality was a joy to watch, so much so that I have booked tickets to see it again!
The Merchant of Venice, the last of the four plays during the trip, was the most challenging and divided our group! Directed by Richard Gould it was set in Las Vegas. He uses devices such as Lancelot Gobbo being played by an Elvis impersonator and the casket challenge devised by Portia's father to choose a suitor portrayed as a TV show: part game show part reality TV.
I found the ending frustrating as it left me determined to read the play again. What had happened? I understood The Merchant of Venice to be one of Shakespeare's comedies, I had to double check this, and true enough it is listed as one. By definition a Shakespearean comedy is one that has a happy ending, usually involving marriages between the unmarried characters. However Gould uses Jamie Beamish's Elvis to challenge the idea of marriage as the 'happily ever after' solution we are sold, and leaves the audience questioning, what just happened.
Finally I have to congratulate Gemma for her superb organisation and the unflappable way she handled every challenge we threw at her. Thanks for a wonderful trip!
Sharon McIntyre, Friends' Council