A not-so-global ‘O’

‘London, was on the other side of the river’ —, this is what the tiny narrator-guide recounts in the course of the exhibition tour. No bridges to cover the distance, Bankside was a place to look at with both embarrassment, and desire. ‘Las Vegas style’, she says. That was the borough where to go to find a good pint, a whore, and, of course, a theatre. A flag fluttering on the roof meant that around 2pm there would have been something on stage.

A tweet, today, reminds me that at 2pm I will be attending As You Like It. At the Shakespeare’s Globe. Eventually. Must say it is not an easy task to carefully select the show to attend to. Not only because the billboard evermore presents little frequented elsewhere plots, but also for the absence of an ensemble per se, which is kind of disorienting. The latter to say that little consistency ends up to define the visit as a theatrical experience.

Definitely intense is the cultural experience. First, for the altogether touching, and quixotic idea of the American actor Sam Wanamaker, to build up a copy not too far away from the site of the original one, burnt down for a special effect cannon shot. Primarily, yet, for an idea of theatre, the one of that theatre, as a deep and alive conversation, — ‘philosophical’ being a dialogue, between actors and audience. A smelled human ’worldly circularity’.

It was not a matter of seeing, — except for the Devil’s Nest, where gentlemen had the chance to ‘swipe’ the fancy ladies, there searching for a zero endeavour livelihood. It was a matter of hearing the theatre. The main focus was on language, in a close physical, and eyes, proximity. The latter being what still lasts today, as the one and only element of continuity, one season after the other.

The current artistic director — Michelle Terry, ‘brands’ the 2018’s one around that concept of a ‘wooden ‘O’’ within which Shakespeare made it possible for the world to encounter worldly matters. All of them. Despite the atmospheric conditions, with or without pigeons (or helicopters), standing or seating. The director — Elle White, adheres wholly to the logic of one of the Shakespearean stories specifically thought for this set itself.

Unfortunately, the result is — as much as impeccable on a semantic level, a bit strenuous. There’s something in the practice of an obstinate ‘cross-genderality’ that endangers it to be dispossessed of its being mysteriously destabilising, and transformative. That is the case of Rosalind — the tall and slim Jack Laskey, and of Orlando — the petite Bettrys Jones. It simply does not fit.

Need to confess the ‘femininist’ inhabiting me might be here tampering, but Rosalind a man? Nope. Especially if ‘en travestie’ when already in disguise. It ends up confusing and ‘schizophrenising’ possibly the most interesting female character of the whole Shakesperean canon. She, who is the mouthpiece of an assertive sensibleness in the matters of love, which is the most radical topic inhabiting the land of imagination.

Encore, she, who consciously, and corageously, enters into the ‘green space’, — here a mysterious, and hardly to geographically locate forest, where wild animals, and occasional, glib, talkers live. She, who has to become a ‘man’ to tell men that to love is a matter of survival of the species. And ultimately she, who is capable of doing so, laboriously, and honourably, as a ‘woman’.

That is not the case (meaning: they do operate, out of fluidity, though), of Celia — the deaf actress Nadia Nadarajah, impeccably supporting her friend-sister, and neither of Touchstone — an extraordinary Colin Hurley, in his mise à la Falstaff complete with trumpet horn, and unforgettable timing, and luxuriating ‘in’ a Junoesque Audrey. Perhaps neither of a ‘hippie’ Jaques — the however excessively seraphic Pearce Quigley.

Long story short, the audience sniggers, a plastic pint in one hand. In the ‘global’ era, though, it seems to be a missed opportunity not to collect stories from the other side of the river, so to bring into the ‘globe’ something more, and more currently smelled human. That would give the audience a more Shakespearean chance to reflect, and be reflected. Entertainment does not seem to be enough. Not even in a semantic impeccable musical.

On the other hand, it is the policy of this establishment — that does not receive a penny from the government, to support the literacy of the ‘groundlings’ on the subject of the Bard. Sure, most of them are tourists. But it is magnificent. If you ever will have the chance to plan a visit, get off at Blackfriars, yes, but do not trust Google Maps. Get there across the Millenium Bridge, and you will gather an even more essential glimpse on the two worlds.

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Enters, Valda

The Queen Elizabeth Hall is not overcrowded, quite the opposite. Mostly dancers, friends of the performing arts, non-Londoners. The sunny blue sky kept many others in the outer space of the Southbank Centre, despite the unmissable presence — on one date only, of a contemporary dance icon. The beautiful 84 years old Valda Setterfield. Each wrinkle, a story. From Merce Cunningham, to Woody Allen. Presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, her Lear is recent, though not new, and entered fast in the female interpretations’ history to settle quite high in terms of appreciation.

John Scott’s choreographic direction for the Irish Modern Dance Theatre, ‘minimilizes’ the plot, focusing on the relationship between Valda/Lear and her progeniture ‘beyond-gender’. There’s an across-the-board performative linguistics in action here, defining a peculiar theatre-dance made of both speech, and athleticism. Some white prints of Shakespearean fragments are set on the black backdrop, floating around a rectangular map — perhaps a realm to be split, most likely the disordered thoughts of an old lady.

Enters Valda, from the right side of the stage, a pace as much assertive as it is possible, a white paper crown on her head, house dresses. She begins to contemplate it, her inner land. She strolls on a white floor cloth, and seems to be pondering with her whole body. She stops before long, face to the audience, and she entrusts the search of a meaning she struggles to find, to some delicate tai-chi postures. Some ‘sharp’, acute notes deepen her confusion, and shadows too, come to wear further any attempt to reach a cognitive order.

Enter Regan/Mufutau, Goneril/Konan, Cordelia/Kevin, and through an increasingly rapid promenade the daughters/dancers come to complicate the above endeavour even more. Some sort of ‘chorus of the derangement’ words out loud Valda’s/Lear’s mind: ‘kingdom’, ‘royal’, ‘degree’, ‘sisters’, ‘loyalty’, ‘condition’. There’s one, however, that prevails over the others: ‘consideration’. It is the core of the relational topic, transcending any parental, or delusional, bond to open up a reflection upon the need(s) of ‘the other’.

They all search for a settlement, but it ends up being just a run, wearing and scant. The throne is a wheelchair. From a golden bag, sparkling with precious gems, Valda shares sweets with ‘the little girls’, and the audience too. The ‘affectionate depositions’ are almost acrobatic figures, a pantomime evoking a kiss on the hand, a who-is-jumping-higher game. Shakespeare is read ‘as scripted’, but the music/noise is more and more deafening. Valda/Lear has by now lost her (self) power.

It is interesting to note how this project relates to the plot suspending it as in about re-entering choir-room: Valda returning to be Valda, acting as director, especially when it comes to the interaction with Cordelia. The latter very much confused too, not just because of what Shakespeare compels her to state on stage as an actor, but also because she is French!, and cannot understand all these stories of English kings and queens… The exile is hilarious, almost en travestie… Literally rolled out of the stage, she exits singing ‘Allez venez, Milord…’

The blood feud between Regan and Goneril follows a similar evolution: from a parade of fools with flowery helmets all around the old lady, who can just spend her days begging for attentions on the phone — much more as a lucid Yiddishe Mame than as a Lear, up to a second rehearsal intermezzo. The comedy mood does not last much, though, as a physiological resentment, almost a repulsion, about an old mother’s ‘neediness’, murders by nature any filial love — ‘You are old!’.

So this is how ’The Tempest’ in this Lear goes also through a consideration of Valda on herself, perhaps as an agée dancer: ‘This is not Lear, who is it who can tell me who I am?’. The light turns into lunar, then blue. Blowing winds, in Lear’s mind, and all of the fragments of her inner land are scattered on stage, up to the dramatic reconciliation with Cordelia. That is, a needed sacrifice in order to accept the need(s) of the other.

Madness is the ultimate land of forgiveness. Daughter-mother and mother-daughter searching for a lullaby to be recovered among ancient memories, some lyrics of poetical imageries so to let go of power, family, worldly folly. Then, the peace of mind, the ending sweetness of an extremely caring, and moving gesture: Valda/Lear wrapped up as in a cocoon with the remains of her cloth/map. To fall asleep, maybe.

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A Ginger English King

Something queerly melancholic defines to me the overall mood of Brighton. Those days in particular, when the seagulls yell, protesting under a grey sky because soon it will be raining. Perhaps it is a matter of the ocean’s dim waters, and those ancient white ‘walls of land’, both establishing some sort of distance; one ‘borderland channel’, historically insurmountable, while now badge of fears and uncertainties: ‘will the B-thing happen?’ — everyone has the question floating in their mind, even if anyone talks about it any more.

Possibly nothing is more appropriate than this state of mind, to approach one of the mostly ‘inner life’ packed Shakespearean tales — the not meaningless rumination of a ginger, and very English king; in the purest devotion to that white, green, and blue land that feels like relentlessly distancing from any ideal border of the one who English is not: ’scepter’d isle’, ‘other Eden’, and ‘demi-paradise’, a ‘fortress built by Nature for herself / Against infection’…

Fortunately, a change in spirit happens while getting closer to the actual location of this tiny little gem nestled in the Fringe of a rather hard to define festival — music, art, theatre, circus, dance, movies, literature… ‘too much’, some would say, slightly as some Brightonians are, locals and adopted ones, doing their best to overstate, ending up wearing out. The little jewel in question is an ‘off’ event: Puppet King Richard II is a Pocket Epics production, — and it really is a poem to be treasured in one’s pocket.

Conceived to be set in the space where it occurs, ‘The Cave at ONCA Gallery’, it is actually a one-man-show, impeccably managed by Gregory Gudgeon — yet RSC and other Shakespearean (and not) companies actor, assisted by a tiny bit of a clumsy Lucas Augustine, under the direction of the splendid Linda Marlowe (currently on stage in London), whose touch can be perceived in the almost fashion choices of the colours, echoing Vivienne Westwood’s punk.

The audience awaits for a while at the ground floor of the gallery, — white paper rolls, and coal chalks, to be then invited to descend underground, in a courtyard/cellar. The number of 26 seats makes of the performance an intimate experience, and despite the restricted dimensions, an incredible perspective discloses to the observer through a sequence of small antrums, setting up more of a devotional crypt, than a prison.

The ‘hollow crown’ hangs close to the heraldic seal — a chained deer, strangled almost with the ‘royal garland’. Genuflected at an altar face to the spectators, Richard entertains as a puppeteer in a childlike manner, while fully conscious that his own fate will held betrayal and death. His own toys are rudimentary tools, such as wooden spoons, and a shoe horn, but also real puppets — carved with unbelievable similarity to the real actor, and director by Jitka Davìdkova and Brigitte Dörner, Czech animation and 1960’s kids TV inspired.

Dressed up in a purple shell suit, white chalk on his face — not in a clownish way, though, black gloves, this virtuous improviser directs the action of the betrayal itself — alternating accents, horses hooves, air planes, and the diminishing of his own stature as a king. An invisible mirror, which will manifest just at the very end, is the real ‘transferal’ motif of a power which is imperceptible itself: the more Richard becomes smaller, the more Henry acquires in matter; black, and red, helped by vultures that would recall the ones of Disney’s Robin Hood, wouldn’t it be for a Hitlerian ‘Ride of the Valkyries’.

Nothing from the plot is spared; and the intimacy with the audience turns into something even more persuasive in the ‘second half’, when the 26 chairs are no longer frontally aligned, but disposed against the walls as in a rectangular House of Lords, all accomplices of the betrayal. Black and red are about to kill purple and ginger, so that when the stab comes, and the poetic ‘ascension’ happens, a deep melancholy takes all back to reality. The seagulls too.

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KRII Welsh Captain

Pocket Epics Master

 

 

 

The Mysteries of Love

Everyone tells you so – ‘This place is huge!’, but nothing can prepare you for the real dimensions of Kuala Lumpur. Living in KL is a bit like living in a gigantic box of Monopoly. The toy cars, you move them from your smartphone via Grab, and the small local currency, it ends up fast. Getting to this particular location, makes no exception.

For Time Out, KLPac – Kuala Lumpur Performing arts centre is one of the ten ‘must see’ in the Malaysian megalopolis. Formerly a railway warehouse, and a long history of abandonment and restructuring, the building has been impeccably converted since 1995, and currently houses two performance, and nine rehearsal venues.

Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham have been inhabiting the space since then, giving life to the first privately run theatre in Malaysia: The Actor’s Studio @Plaza Putra; and in ten years they have multiplied the cultural offering together with some local partners. Workshops, shows, a small library, conferences, art therapy, orchestra.

The architectural experience is worth a visit. The current billboard, and its three Shakespearean choices, even more. The occasion is a very free adaptation of the Midsummer Night’s Dream in Kelantan dialect, with some lines in Malay-English. Mak Yong Titis Sakti is not new: its debut dates back to 2009, and whilst it has already been included in the Asian Intercultural Shakespeare Archive, it returns as a classic for the local public.

Norzizi Zulkifli, – a woman, a Muslim, a former television actress, winner of numerous awards, brings in her direction some cultural topoi that are worth telling. Typical dance in this fragment of land, the ‘mak yong’ seems to be an exemplary metaphor of a geographical location that holds India and Indonesia together; and nothing begins to happen on stage before a real blessing.

Ritual elements found its history, the passage into the world where the spirits live, that very much resembles to the ‘green space’ imagined by Shakespeare. Especially in this plot. The hands of the dancers, – with the function of a choir, arch themselves in a particularly tiring posture, perhaps to orientate the entrance into that other dimension.

Titis Sakti is a fairytale character, a little fairy and a little flower, silent but acted here, along the various clumsy spells foreseen by the original. The cast, – entirely female, except for the Malay-comedy version of Puck, which is not one but two here, works well. The first part is not easy to follow: completely committed to improvisation, it is fun, though, for the hilarious reactions of the public.

The king of fairies – played by a woman in a silver dress illuminated by a red light, orders the two servants to interfere with the unfortunate guests of the enchanted forest. And some partially understandable segments seem to allude to some maniacal habits of the Malaysians, in particular the almost pathological use of the smartphone. More than in other parts of the world.

The second part is the most Shakespearean, and understandable. The light turns into green again. And the triple, mysterious, nature of love the director is interested in, – the perfect love, the forbidden love (with a very unlucky father chasing his daughter armed with a lantern), and the unrequited love, manifests with almost danced interludes in the form of quarrels, and whiny lamentations.

«To face the truth about love, an enquiry into magic is required. No reason. No common sense. No intellectual needs. Love does not need any justification, since you alone get to deal with the emotions that mysteriously run through your veins, affecting heart pumping, and body vibration. From hatred to love, and from love to hatred, all this involves a magic of some sort».

The eventual result is a musical that is also a therapeutic session, especially for the local women, veiled and not, and expats like me who have chosen Malaysia to investigate the mysteries of the above. Doing it at the end of the world, lost in translation, becomes almost a prayer. And I receive with gratitude the final blessings that, in the white light, thank the spirits of the theatre.

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