Last night put the bow on UK theater for this summer: 6 plays in eight nights, working around a couple WSC receptions and family vacation. The last two nights I was at the Globe, sitting down in that theater for the first time, since I usually buy the cheap yard tickets. The stage looks really great from the upper deck, it turns out.
I heard the Irish director Caroline Byrne on Saturday morning talk to the WSC about her production of Shrew, set during the Easter 1916 rising in Ireland. She talked about how Irish women had been airbrushed out of the history of 1916, and also out of the commemorations in 2016. She told the assembled academics that in this play directors get paid for Kate’s final speech, and also that she wanted her play to take a stand for equality.
I kept wondering how she would pull it off, given that the language of that long, complex, sometimes maddening speech celebrates subjection and passivity — “A woman moved is a fountain troubled” — and ends with Kate laying her hand beneath her husband’s foot. The most striking innovations of Byrne’s staging of Shrew spliced in an Irish liberty ballad that drew on Yeats’s “Easter 1916” into the text. Aofie Duffin’s fiery Kate opened and closed the play by singing the ballad, and I couldn’t help but think that in returning to it at the moment Kate’s long speech ended registered the production’s slight distrust of the early modern material. I like the idea of a performance of this speech that really makes a play for equality: it’s important that Kate lectures and dominates the other wives, that she wins a tidy sum for herself and Petruchio in the bet that, just maybe, Grumio has had time to tell her about offstage, and that she speaks the longest and most rhetorically compelling speech in the play. Can that be enough to redeem the speech in a feminist age? I’m still not sure, and this production didn’t quite let me find out.
Petruchio had lost his voice the night I saw the show, which was in fact the very last show of the run. Edward MacLiam carried himself well, but his growling laddish brutality wore thin pretty quickly. I’m somewhat attached to a reading of the play in which Petruchio finds in Kate’s wit and aggression a match for his own intelligence and lack of care for social norms — but this production played the misogyny pretty straight.
The most reliable bits in this show were the subplot and the servants. All the servant parts were played by women, thus emphasizing the patriarchal structure of the social world, but the servants were often able to resist, reconfigure, or otherwise re-route the power structures under which they served. In the tragic romance main plot, with its echoes of Irish revolutionary tragedy, that mobility was hard to find.
I have a strange feeling — perhaps more in the nature of a forlorn hope — that there may have been some compelling interpretive choices in Iqbal Khan’s staging of Macbeth. But the acting was so terrible — so frankly and shockingly incompetent at times — that it was hard to think about the stylized witches, the nameless boy who never spoke but ended up preceding Malcolm to the throne, and the interesting stage business with the center-stage pit and the yard. Or maybe I liked those things because they meant that at least for a while neither Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, nor Duncan were speaking?
I really don’t understand why these actors spoke so strangely, with widely varied pacing and at times meaning-destroying pauses between words. They rushed past such lines as “Unsex me here” and “Make the green one red” as if they had someplace they needed to be. I understand wanting to try to remake or individualize these old chestnuts, but in practice they just seemed erased.
The play was full of shouting, dearest chuck! I suppose we have to blame those sorts of things on the director, unless we assume he was distracted with his larger stylistic choices and just forgot to listen to his actors? Alas, I couldn’t quite mange that myself.
The silent child was never explained, but perhaps gestures toward Lady Macbeth’s lines about nursing (spoken at an incomprehensible roar). The boy’s presence on stage added some drama or at least mystery — but it didn’t add up to much in the end.
Oh well — not all productions work. I’d thought for a while that I’d never seen a bad production at the Globe, because the audience engagement pulled everything up to at least the level of good fun. Didn’t quite get there this time.
The Porter was great fun, and the Malcolm/Macduff scene was nicely played, as well as being a welcome break from the lead actors.
No plays for the rest of my travels — but some good things will be coming to New York in the fall!