Last night Andrea and I went to the theatre.
We went to Stratford to see a play called ‘Two Roses for Richard III’ at the Courtyard Theatre.
It is part of the Shakespeare Olympiad this year, in which all of Shakespeare’s plays are being performed by theatre companies from around the world. This was supposed to be a celebration of Shakespeare’s history plays by a Brazilian theatre company called: ‘ Companhia Bufomecânica’. It was in Portuguese, French and English with sur titles.
The whole thing was a bit of a disaster. Andrea was running late due to calfing problems. Her favourite cow calved, but the baby was dead, and the whole thing was a sad, messy business.
Then it bucketed it down on the way there, and when I say bucketed, I use the word advisedly. There was so much water on the roads it might have been easier just to abandon the car and take a small dinghy.
The play was in the Courtyard Theatre. When we arrived there, starving and wet, we found that the tea shop bit had closed down, and all that was available on the bar were jars of chilli peas and chocolate raisins at exorbitant prices. We picked our way round the buckets catching the drips from the leaking roof, and hoofed back down to the main theatre, where we were able to snaffle a limp Danish pastry and a chocolate muffin to keep our strength up.
I got indigestion from scarfing down my pastry too quickly, and then took the roof off of my mouth with the coffee.
Apart from that it was all going well.
Then the play started.
Here’s the thing.
I have seen a lot of plays in my time. I mean, A LOT. I have no problems with avant garde direction. I have seen a Russian Hamlet which incorporated a large, moving curtain made of old tights. I have seen Hamlet as an Indian mime act. I have seen Macbeth done in the style of an old fashioned Western, and Merchant of Venice set in Vegas with Yoda and slot machines. All of them were fabulous.
I have seen things on thrust stages, proscenium arches, in the ruins of castles, in promenade, and in the round. I am not shy of new theatrical experiences. I do not need everyone to be wearing wigs and standing stiffly on stage proclaiming their lines.
What I do need though, is some kind of feeling that a production makes sense.
It was not that the production was mainly in Portuguese. The sur titles were adequate. Well, sort of, when the guy who was flashing them up on screen remembered to keep up with the pace of the person who was speaking on stage. Sometimes we had title lag. Sometimes we had no titles at all (I think he had gone for a fag break).
It was that the play just did not make sense. Mainly it was based around Richard III, but sort of snipped up, put in a bag and shaken around. Occasionally there would be random interjections in a variety of languages, including some long speech by a guy in French (surtitles guy had gone for a wee here), where he was talking about living in Brussels, and how everyone speaks Walloon or Flemish, and the school built a wall in the playground and they had to talk to each other through gaps in the wall.
Or something. It was hard to tell. My ‘matelas pneumatique’ French was letting me down very badly at this point.
And I’m not sure what this had to do with Shakespeare’s history plays at all. This is probably also a failing on my part I know, but it was all a bit much.
The staging was entirely random. First everyone came on in normal clothes, except for a man wearing a leather breast plate, holding a rifle and wearing a boar’s head.
Then a huge washing line creaked onto the stage and everyone got undressed to the sound of some kind of random break beats operated by a guy with a Mac squatting at the back of the stage. Then everyone put everyone else’s clothes on. Then they took them all off again. Then they pulled the washing line down and put a load of other clothes on.
All except boar head man who got naked, except for his boar head, and squatted in front of us for what seemed like several weeks.
I do not disapprove of nudity. I do disapprove of nudity I have not asked for, and which is not aesthetically pleasing to me, and which makes no sense. I also disapprove of it squatting in front of me with its hairy buttocks and dangling scrote waving in the wind.
I do disapprove of scrotums I have decided. I just do. I’m sorry if you have one. I may love you despite your scrotum, but I just cannot love them for their own sakes. And I certainly don’t want to have to avoid eye contact with one after having snaffled down an apricot danish too quickly.
It is not right or fair.
Finally scrotum boar head got dressed, which was a blessed relief to all of us, even if he was wearing something that looked like surgical support stockings and a large vest.
After that everyone dangled from the rafters for a while. There was a bit of abseiling for no apparent reason. Clarence got murdered on a large, rusty ladder that spun overhead alarmingly, and I began to get a bit dizzy.
We segued to a court scene involving everyone wearing enormous, knitted bobble heads with red string for eyes. A huge tug of war ensued, and bobble heads wobbled and rolled, and everyone’s Portuguese got very muffled and sweaty.
As well as the bobble heads, everyone had, at this point, decided to go for the support tights option. Some of the women were wearing crinoline hoops, and lots of the men were wearing laced leotards. Everyone’s hair went a bit mental thanks to the bobble heads, and the sweat was pouring in rivers down the stage, which sloped alarmingly.
After that there was the scene where all the queens whose sons and husbands and fathers have been murdered, gather on stage to heap bile upon Richard’s head. They wobbled about in their hoops, shouting and ranting, while out of the rafters descended an enormous mobile made of hundreds of enamel cups and tea pots in various free form structures. It clanked and wobbled in the wind, as they clanked and wobbled down below, and I was never entirely sure what the tea cups were all about and got very distracted in a deep metaphysical chat with myself about it.
At half time Andrea and I decided that enough was enough. We felt sorry for the cast, who were clearly working their little bobble heads off, crocheting and shinning up and down ladders all day, but we could do no more. Especially because the man sitting next to Andrea smelled quite a lot of wee, and the auditorium was getting hotter and hotter as the evening went by.
One can only suffer so much for your art, and when you find yourself worrying about whether he’s actually comfortable wearing that woman’s knickers, and how did the costume fitter find all those support tights, and how do you ship large quantities of enamel tea cup art over from Brazil, and whether you’ve seen those bobble heads before in an episode of Dr. Who, you know it’s time to quit while you’re ahead.