This fortnight the Theatre Preview holds the page for Shakespeare — Andrew Burnet checks out new productions in Glasgow and Edinburgh while Mark Fisher goes to the movies. Overleaf, find out about a Polish eight year-old. Fifties’ sci-fi and a WWII poet.
lISTINGSSO OABARET 52 DANCE 53
'It‘s enormously difficult to stage.‘ says Kate O‘Mara ofArttorty And Cleopatra. the latest production by the British Actors Theatre Company. ofwhich she is a founder member. ‘The action shifts between Rome and Egypt with alarming alacrity. and it‘s terribly difficult to make the audience understand where you are. Also. there are some battle scenes which are almost surreal — Caesar marches across the stage with his army and has two lines. and then Canidius marches across the stage the other way
with his army. so either you have to employ a cast .
of thousands or what do you do‘." In keeping with company policy. the cast has
directed the show itself. "I'he reason we don‘t use
directors,‘ says O‘Mara. ‘is that we want it to be our collective perception of the play. not one person‘s perception — it‘s so frustrating for an actor to have to behave like a puppet.‘
Her main contribution will be playing Cleopatra. ‘It has to be the best part ever written for a woman,‘ she says. 'and it‘s extraordinarily
difficult to play. because of her “infinite variety“.
One looks at the text and here she's doing a bit of
play-acting. here she‘s being genuine. here she‘s trying it on again. here she isn‘t. here she‘s in a tempest. here she‘s being a little girl. here she‘s being a tiger. here she‘s being a pussycat - and somehow you have to alternate from one to the other. literally within halfa line.
‘But it‘s really the tragedy of Antony more than Cleopatra.‘ I think.
Similar humility comes from Bill Leadbitter. who plays Iago in the Lyceum‘s Othello. Despite playing the larger part. he is in no doubt about the play‘s central character. ‘It‘s very easy.‘ he says. ‘to impress people by being on stage all the time.
You can make this play about Iago. but it‘s not - the greatest human being on the stage is Othello. Everyone I speak to tells me about my character. Because he is one ofthe greatest villains in British drama. they come with expectations. and I think what you have to do is undermine them.‘
Director Ian Wooldridge agrees that the tragedy centres around the title character. ‘Othello.‘ he says. ‘has a very strong sense of his own identity. He‘s a military man who relates to other men in a very limited context. At the start ofthe play he has discovered love. which is totally fulfilling for him. But he has a moral code that is very fundamentalist. and when it is ‘proved‘ to him that Desdcmona has been unfaithful. he has no other course than to kill her. That‘s his ﬂaw— he doesn‘t talk to the right people.‘
‘Evcryone who is duped by Iago.‘ continues Leadbitter. ‘could very easily have verified what he says by asking another person; and nobody does until it‘s too late —- what does that tell you about them'."
‘Everybody can relate to ()thel/o on one level or another.‘ concludes Wooldridge. ‘It‘s very accessible. very passionate. very fast-moving. It‘s like a rollercoaster with an inevitably tragic ending.‘ (Andrew Burnet)
Antony A ml Cleopatra is at the Theatre Royal. Glasgow, Mort 30—Sa! 4; ()thello is at the Royal Lyceum. Edinburgh. Thurs 26—.S‘at 18(rtotSttns).
One Hal of a movre
There's certainly no shortage oi choice tor the Shakespeare ianatic right now, what with the two plays mentioned above, one Macbeth just iinishing at The Citizens, another more exotic version due to land at The Tramway and a third opening in Dundee. Butiust in case you have an evening oil alter taking in that lot, you can head to the moviesand cram in even more oi the Bard.
Actually, It you buy a copy oi the screenplay (Chatto 8. Windus £7.99). you could be iorglven ior thinking that Henry V is by that lamous scribe, Kenneth Branagh and not William Shakespeare at all. “A screen adaptation by. . . ' commands the same amount at space on the book jacket as the name oi the original author. Branagh's version, In prlnt at least. ls lnevltably an odd artliact. Mixed in with your genuine 16th century verse are handy descriptions
like, ‘With a dramatic tlourlsh he turns toiling open the doors revealing an ominous darkness’. The word ‘darkness‘ is printed extra bold. Very ominous. There are lots oi pretty pictures, but the Collected Works can be bought tor less and it’ll only coniuse the GCSE set.
The illm itseli is much more rewarding. It at times overly earnest and a touch humourless, it is ior the most part true to Shakespeare whose tlawiess sense oi dramiic structure can’t help but make tor a compelling iilm. Traitors, politics, war and romance; it’s all prime Hollywood material - and the hero gets the girl in the end.
The halrcuts have grown out a little since Olivier’s celebrated bowl-head illm version and Branagh-the director - replaces Sir Larry’s wartime patriotism with a more realistic vision oi battle brutalltles. Soldiers splattered with blood and mud stagger through slimy trenches or earthy ilelds as arrows, cannonballs and the elements rain overhead. There’s still an edge oi romanticism, butthe illm has enough gloomy, candle-lit rooms and shadowy night-time sequences to
put across a halt-convincing sense at 15th century drudgery.
Derek Jacobl’s Chorus is the iilm's biggest irritation. Elsewhere. Branagh has been happy to make cuts and has. ior example, inserted a couple at ilashback scenes irom the Henry ill plays to let us see more oi Falstait. The same liberal editing should have been taken to the Chorus whose role — to apologise tor the limitations oi theatre and to describe the setting — is quickly made redundant by the techniques oi cinema. Jacobi, wearing modern dress - albeit the kind that only actors ever wear— appears irom the shadows on an empty illm set or at the seairont at Southampton and warbles through his lines like he was Donald Sinden in the TV-cult classic ‘Dlscoverlng English Churches’. Whereas Sinden was beyond paraody. Jacobi ls simply out oi place.
Branagh, meanwhile, reiuses to give any glimmers oi insight into Henry's private persona. He plays him throughout as a remote public persona working iorthe common good, expressing happiness only when his men are happy. He lets rlp into several rousing speeches, but it is a shame that
he retains his distance even in the early ‘low-ilie’ scenes.
For an insight into Branagh the man, there is ‘Beginning’ (Chatto & Windus £12.99 H8), the biography at a 28-year-old which takes you from his Ballast background to the lormation at his Renaissance Theatre Company. taking in several duil drawings en route. A modest introduction admits that he only did it tor the money and it you can iorglve the inevitable lnduigences and actoriy cliches, it's an interesting read. (Mark Fisher).
See Film Listings ior perlormance details.
The List 27 October - 9 November 1989 47