To Be Or Not…
Call me old-fashioned if you will but I don’t want to encounter Shakespeare in modern times. Hamlet set in the boardroom of some rapacious international corporation does not light my fire. I can’t cope with my Hamlet looking and sounding like an IBM computer salesman. I don’t want a slick smart mouthed wise guy.
I need a melancholy and vengeful Prince of Denmark, sometimes thoughtful or indecisive, other times erratic and always seriously flawed. My Claudius must be Kinglike, calculating, ambitious and horny and not come across as a pinstripe-suited auditor in pursuit of a fallible executive’s scalp.
Above all he must not be a clone from ‘Death of a Salesman’. Polonius, Lord Chamberlain of Claudius’s court, must exude self-importance and be demonstrably a devious and manipulative old ratbag. He must not appear as a down-at-heel, bespectacled cost accountant ready for the knackers yard.
I like old friend and loyal supporter Horatio to be factual and focused and do his job and tell Hamlet’s story, he is a narrator not a spin-doctor. I much prefer Ophelia’s death to be in a river surrounded by garlands of flowers rather than in the office floral water feature. Even if Rosencrantz and Guildenstern thinly disguised as service technicians maintain it.
I hate Queen Gertrude playing the office bike in a business suit and flaunting a string of cultured pearls. Beyond this, I twitch and squirm with pain when most of the cast wander on and off looking for all the world like Jehovah’s Witnesses searching for the next door to knock. I want my Shakespearean characters to be ‘in period’ the way Shakespeare intended. I want the scenery to frame the action. I do not wish to see motley selections of abused furniture, papier-mache rocks and cardboard statues carried on and off by the characters.
The sad fact is most of the actors available to ‘live theatre’ seem to be more at home playing in modern plays that are ‘Much To Do About Nothing’ or else running the dramatic gamut from A to B as two-dimensional characters in television soaps, selling slimming potions to the criminally and hopelessly obese or pandering to the pretentious future owners of gas guzzling, climate assassinating, high-performance four-wheel drive cars.
‘Let those who play your clowns speak no more than is set down for them’. To Be Or Not … The Real Shakespeareans To Be Or Not … The Real Shakespeareans Perhaps the struggling thespians lack the talent, training, temperament or desire to play in ‘Real Shakespeare’. And beyond this skill-will shortage perhaps the actor-managers, company tightwads and timorous investors lack the courage to stump up for period sets and costumes.
APPAREL OFT PROCLAIMS THE MAN
‘I am starting to hate the works of the bard,’
said a sad little chap with the spotted bow tie.
‘In my day, don’t you know, I was happy to go
to the drama,’ he declaimed, with a thespian sigh.
‘I exulted in kings, and cheered brutal Scots,
cherished the Danes of the outrageous fringe,
found plenty of pleasure in Measure for Measure
and The Merchant of Venice made my heart sing.’
The costumes and colour gave light to the world,
betrayals and battles brought parry and thrust,
with the raising of hackles, princes in shackles,
the feasts and the wine, and the love and the lust.
But now it’s a grim, turgid, down at heel thing,
done in ill-fitting lounge suits and rugby club ties,
in a modern day pose, with a vernacular prose,
where clean-shaven non-entities claim no disguise.
Inevitably and regrettably: ‘all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players’ and most struggling actors will play many parts…because it beats the hell out of getting a proper job. The spurious claims made by the purveyors of ‘The Bard In Modern Dress’ that they are staging a courageous and creative adventure in theatre to delight a waiting, salivating audience is just so much hogwash. Sure, at the launch, the want-to-be camp followers and the super-trendies will fawn on whoever is buying the drinks and supplying the finger food.
The strident voices of the freeloaders will always provide the encouraging chorus of, ‘Oh darling, it is so exciting to hear the bard in modern English, so much more stimulating than all that ancient stuff’. Unfortunately, when the wine and the nibbles run out, so will sycophants unless, of course, they score free tickets.
However… ‘To the noble mind rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind’.
To Be Or Not … The Real Shakespeareans – Albert Abercrombie (c) The Screw Soapers is published by permission. Any persons or organizations wishing to reprint this work, in whole or in part, are invited to contact The Editor: firstname.lastname@example.org