As You Like It and the screening phenomenon

Just saw the National Theatre’s As You Like It in the local cinema in Falmouth. What an extraordinary boon to us hicks who live out in the sticks. Of course, doing what I do, I try to see as much good live theatre as I can, but it’s often a long way. Even the wonderful theatres in Plymouth are a two hour journey. So this screening phenomenon is wonderful.

Of course, this isn’t the first one I’ve seen. There have been a variety of good things – the one that sticks out most in my mind being the excellent A View from the Bridge, with Nicola Walker and ┬áMark Long. The first production I have seen which makes sense of all the allusions to Greek theatre and presents the play in all its tragic inevitability, as effectively a Greek tragedy, complete with flawed tragic hero.

So – As You Like It. An exuberant production with a lot of very funny touches [such as the sheep] and an energetically scampering cast chasing each other around the set in pursuit of love.

The set! I can see what they were trying to do. They made a brightly coloured office-type setting for the opening which was ugly and which I found off-putting. It did not suggest a Duke’s court in any way but rather a corporate enterprise. Then the desks, tables and chairs rose up and became the Forest of Arden. That worked very well [though I’ve seen the idea before]. Not that that matters … there’s nothing new…etc.etc. It did suggest a forest, with clever pools of mysterious lighting, and the green notes attached to the trees which were partly Orlando’s love letters to Rosalind and partly leaves, The recurring idea of falling leaves/notes was nice, almost confetti-like and certainly joyful, I did find myself asking, however – was the office setting for the first scene simply there to justify the furniture used again for the forest? Hmm. A dubious reason. Though I did try to justify it in my mind: the unnaturalness of the Duke’s court against the natural Forest where lives the banished Duke. False against true, so that somehow everyone, even the bad Duke, now transfigured into hermit-guise, is dissolved in the natural setting of Arden. Everyone, even the brash office furniture is made anew and softened at the edges by a softer light?? Well, maybe that’s what they meant. But that opening was a shock and took a bit of getting used to. At one time I had a sinking feeling that the office would become the Forest less pleasantly, since all the desks had miniature tree plants on them – the wildness of Arden – which threatens the Duke’s reign, always lapping at the edges of his kingdom, shrunk and contained perhaps, imprisoned – and I feared that a more prosaic forest of these miniature trees held by the busy chorus of extras, would be the way Arden was done. Thank goodness no! The Forest did work, managed to retain threat and mystery as well as encouraging, as the spring fever of love enters it, a softening, a place where sheep and goats might frolic and love blossom unharmed by wolves. This softening of the forest under the magic of love was nicely done and I ended up carried along by the fun and the charm. And as always, food for thought. Vive live screening!

 

ISBNs

One examining board – and others will follow – has decided to exclude all plays without ISBN numbers from their AS/A level exams. I have argued at length that having an ISBN number is no guarantee of quality which is I presume why they have done it. The number is merely a tracking device. For my plays, which can only be ordered as hard copy or as downloads through this website, putting a tracking number on them would have been a waste of time and money. But I’ve had to bite the bullet, since this board won’t give in and others have indicated they will follow. To start with, I’ve picked plays that would be suitable at this level, 18 of them. That’s 36 numbers, since the download version of each play has a different number to the hard copy! Arrgh! Well, on the plus side – the number may mean that bookshops etc might order them now? Who knows!

Just to reassure you. The plays concerned, which you’ll find on the Playshare page and which will be obvious because the numbers are under them, conform to the other proscriptions in the specs. They are at least one hour long, have been published by a registered publisher – DramaWorks – and in addition, many of them were commissioned by youth theatres or theatre companies before coming to me. All have been tried and tested in front of paying audiences. Have a look!

ENCHANTING IBSEN

Working once again on Hedda Gabler to update page references and quotes so that they fit with the newest requirements, I’ve been enchanted once again by what a master Ibsen is. How in a few words from a character he’ll prepare you for the entry of another and give us a good idea of what makes that character tick too – he’s so succinct and subtle. Even just reading you don’t feel that there’s anything ham-fisted about what he’s doing. You are unaware of it – as unaware as a member of the audience would be. He never labours symbolism either [except maybe in The Wild Duck, which is a play I love, but where the symbol of the wild duck itself can be somewhat hammered home!] The symbol of Hedda and Loevborg both as loose cannons [no pun intended – well perhaps the smallest of intentions!] who might explode into violence at any time is wonderful, and her playing with the gun creates a physical tension as we realise how dangerously bored Hedda is. Oh I wish I could write like him!

As for Sophocles, well! I’ve nearly finished updating Antigone for the same reason and have been struck anew by the modernity of its themes now, in an age where religions and dictators impose their will on people, just as they did in Sophocles’ time. Antigone can be likened to so many courageous individuals who stand up for what they think is right without counting the cost to themselves and their own safety. Wow! It just goes to show that plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose. Sorry about lack of accents in the French – I haven’t mastered how to do that yet!

I’ll have finished Antigone in a couple of days and then Hedda and Antigone will be up on the website as updated downloads.

More soon…