Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: Pig Girl, Finborough

“Turn your head and you’ll see me”

Colleen Murphy’s Armstrong’s War remains one of the best new plays I’ve seen in recent years and that it hasn’t returned to these shores since its initial Sunday/Monday run at the Finborough in 2013 is an absolute travesty. In the meantime, we do now have the opportunity to see another of Murphy’s plays – 2012’s Pig Girl – which comes freighted with a different sense of expectation, as its premiere in Edmonton, Alberta was mired in controversy and sparked fervent protests at its perceived cultural appropriation. (An excellent précis can be read here.)

The play was inspired by a horrifically true story of a Canadian pig farmer and serial killer who was convicted of six murders but implicated in dozens more – his preferred victim being sex workers of aboriginal descent, a section of society too easily ignored and neglected, allowing him to literally get away with murder. Murphy depersonalises her story though, elevating it to near-mythical status in order to give a voice to the thousands of women, so many of them nameless, whose lives have been impacted by senseless violence. Continue reading “Review: Pig Girl, Finborough”