Mark Fisher hobnobs with Richard Briers aobut Shakespeare. Also: Andrew Dallmeyer‘s latest play
and Asian Artistes in A Love Betrayed.
LISTINGS: THEATRE 48 CABARET 52 DANCE 53
As Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company slips in early to the Edinburgh International Festival, Mark Fisher talks to Siobhan Redmond and Richard Briers at the culmination of an eight-month world tour.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Kenneth Branagh‘s Shakespeare double bill is his inventive, not to say idiosyncratic, casting. Emma Thompson, for example, is cast conventionally as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream and surprisingly, but by all reports successfully, as the Fool in King Lear. Likewise Siobhan Redmond — last seen here as a saving grace in the Royal Lyceum‘s ill-fated As You Like It — plays both the wicked sister Goneril and the fairy queen Titania, while Richard Briers is a predictable Bottom and a considerably less predictable Lear.
‘It‘s extraordinary for me to be given the opportunity to play Titania,‘ agrees Redmond. “I‘m completely un-Titania-like. I couldn‘t look less like Kate Bush for a start! The two roles have a certain pulsating quality which unifies them, but obviously they pulsate in different ways, for different reasons and to different degrees.‘
Briers too, spots similarities in his roles. but emphasises the differences in mood between Shakespeare‘s best-loved comedy and most moving tragedy. ‘I suppose human folly is there,‘
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he says in actorly tones much richer than those of his often petulant TV sitcom characters. ‘Bottom is a conceited, pushy sort of man who thinks he‘s the greatest actor in the world. Lear is a pushy, arrogant old king. All comedy is about distress; all comedy is about the banana skin. Bottom is turned into an ass and King Lear is booted out of his own home and becomes a beggar. It‘s all about decline and fall. But when you do the comedy it‘s jolly and once you put the red costume on for Lear the whole thing just changes instantly.‘
On the road since the beginning of the year, the plays have matured and the company has slowly worked itselfinto Shakespeare’s rich and complex roles. Meeting the challenge of making the plays as intelligible as possible to non-English speakers, Renaissance has developed further the story-telling clarity on which Branagh insists. ‘We spent the first part ofthis tour in LA.‘ says Redmond. ‘People attend the theatre there as they go to restaurants. They might go just to have dessert, so they‘ll turn up for a bit of the play and not necessarily the first bit. In Tokyo, which was our next venue, the audience arrive 45 minutes
before the play and sit down very quietly. extremely quietly; in fact, they don‘t talk at all. We had a wonderful time in Japan and it‘s been really good for us playing for audiences who don‘t speak English, because it really does make you think about every word you‘re saying.‘
Remarkably after such a long and demanding tour, the company is still in high spirits and has suffered no internal rifts. No doubt it helps to have a director who doubles as actor, not only because he is naturally sympathetic to other actors‘ problems. but also because he has remained with the production throughout its run. ‘People have remarked that, certainly in The Dream, a really happy atmosphere comes across,‘ says Briers. ‘People genuinely get on and like each other. That does come over. It came over in The Good Life, because the four of us always liked each other.‘
Redmond agrees. ‘I find this a very different kind ofjob from most of the theatrical work I‘ve done before. A change hugely and enjoyably for the better. Because Ken is an actor he understands about certain difficulties and he knows about ways of getting you out of them. And ifhe doesn‘t know. he‘ll be honest enough to say so and not attempt to fob you offwith a lyric interpretation ofthe line which isn‘t the point at all. That‘s enormously energising.‘
‘It‘s the most exciting point of my career,‘ says Briers who, with plans to try his hand at Chekhov in the near future. reckons that 100 performances of Lear is enough for anyone. ‘I don‘t think it will ever be topped. After Lear you say, come on, frighten me! To have played Lear and got through it. even ifone had been totally unsuccessful, it would have been better than not doing it. I‘ve done Run For Your Wife and I‘ve done King Lear. Why not'."
A Midsummer Night's Dream and K in g Lear, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 6—18Augusl. Ell" Box Office 031 225 5 756.
In 1938, La Pasionaria, the great woman orator ol the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, made an impassioned appeal to the remnants oi the anti-iascist armies. ‘Better to die on one’s ieet,’ she said, ‘than to live on one’s knees'. Nearly live decades later this spirit oi resistance inspired playwright Edward Bond to write ‘The Human Cannon', which will receive its Scottish premiere as part at the Scottish Youth Theatre’s summer lestival.
As director Nick Phillipou explains,
however, the play concentrates more on personal heroism than on the grand historical canvas. ‘Agostina, the main character in this play, isn’t La Pasionaria. She's a villager who lights Franco's troops and is iinally shot by the victorious Franco armies; and the thing about her, I think, is that her great strength lies in the tact that she’s completely ordinary, she could be anybody. So the play is a real celebration at the strength in ordinary people - it isn't a Political with a big P play, the characters are people who you could meet walking down the
The theme at ordinary people lighting back against repressive regimes is one
Phillipou considers to be crucially
relevant today, and the young company — all aged between 12 and 20 — have been learning about and discussing the issues at lascism, democracy, and the events in Eastern Europe over the past iyear, as well as the Spanish Civil War tseli.
Phillipou says he's shocked by the revisionist view oi Franco as a benign dictator which is often taught in schools. ‘I ieel that our stand against lascism must always be absolute, we must never mess about. It’s an incredibly interesting area to be exploring at the moment and especially loryoung people as well, who have such an amazing imaginative ability. I think one at the most important iunctions at youth theatre is that it makes a brilliant lorum within which young people can find out about the world and themselves at the same time.’ (Andrea Baxter)
The Human Cannon, The Old Athenaeum Theatre. Glasgow, 31 July—4 August.
The List 37.lul_\ ‘) August lWli45