Back in town after the critical success of God Say Amen in April, the English Shakespeare Company brings Coriolanus and The Winter’s Tale to Glasgow. Philip Parr talks to Michael Pennington about power. politics and purism.
‘Brutus and Sicinius (the grand manipulators in Curio/antes) are ambiguous in the sense that many trade unionists are ambiguous.‘ insists Michael Pennington. joint Artistic Director ofthe English Shakespeare Company. ‘Clearly their politics are good and their mission — to try and fight through some kind ofdemocratic order — is absolutely sympathetic. But there is a question that arises as to why they‘re doing it. what their motives are. Are they just power-hungry. which after all is what people have said about every significant trade-union leader that‘s ever been around. So there is that complex question and I don‘t think it‘s a question that Shakespeare ever resolved.‘
Those who saw the ESC‘s recent melting pot of the history plays. God Say Amen. will not be expecting any answers in two new productions of Coriolmius and The Winter's Tale. God Say Amen linked the struggle for control of the English medieval throne with the battle for oil in the (iulf. but offered no easy solutions in either case. Once again. explains Pennington. there are numerous parallels to be drawn between Curio/anus and recent political turmoil.
‘lt‘s a quite remarkable play.‘ says Pennington. ‘which for some reason is not done as often as it should be. It‘s on a level with the famous tragedies. It also has a terrific political relevance at the moment and has done since we originally
LISTINGS: THEATRE 52 CABARET 54 DANCE 55
English Shakespeare Company's The Winter’s Tale
planned the production in the month before the Berlin Wall came down.
"fhe people take to the streets demanding bread in the very first scene and at that time. ofcourse. it was extremely relevant to the events in Eastern Europe. Since then. it‘s taken on all sorts of resonances because of the Gulf War. And at another slightly less significant moment it seemed
to be about Thatcher and her resignation. The play '
picks up all sorts of political vibrations — it‘s very much like the history plays in that respect. And I think it's the most complex political play he wrote. But there‘s also the tragic scale which has a chilly grandeur to it which has made it a less popular choice for companies in the past.‘
Pennington and fellow Artistic Director. Michael Bogdanov. have decided to stage ( ‘oriolunus in the smoky committee rooms and soulless concrete squares of pre-revolution eastern Europe. thereby emphasising the contemporary relevance ofShakespearean drama. The Winter's Tale. conversely. has been given.what Pennington
i Lust for life
We normally rely on Maytest or the Edinburgh Festival for our supply of loreign theatre, but Edinburgh’s Traverse is making an inter-testival exception by importing Canada's One Yellow Rabbit tor a week-long run. Based in Calgary, Alberta, the award-winning company has made its name perloming over 40 oil-beat and energetic shows over the last ten years on North America’s alternative theatre circuit.
The show the company is bringing : ' across the Atlantic is a fast-paced , dance-drama about three charactersin i z a radio play who try to get on with each otherwhile being manipulated by their interfering author. EIusively-titled The i i Erotic Irony of Old Glory, the play is reminiscent ol Pirandello's Six , Characters In Search at an Author, as three dead characters come back to lite to track down their maker. First staged in 1988, the witty, it somewhat ; cerebral, play has been hailed in Canada as the company’s most accessible piece to date.
One particular facility provided by the l combination oi dance and drama is that
Erotic pleasures with One Yellow Rabbit
the movement, choreographed by Denise Clarke with not a little
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describes as ‘a purist‘s straightforward treatment’. The play has few political undercurrents and it sits somewhat uneasily alongside the charged analogy of ( 'ort'olanus.
‘It contrasts completely with (‘oriolamtsf agrees Pennington. ‘and it is a change ofdirection because we‘ve built a reputation on doing things that are linked. But what we really go for is the middle ground. not Romeo and Juliet. Hamlet and the rest. but plays which we certainly consider to be on a level with them in terms ofquality. And the big advantage is that we‘ve been playing Winter's Tale to audiences who don‘t know it and don‘t know what happens in the end. It‘s great good fortune to be able to do Shakespeare from a narrative point ofview. It‘s exciting because you‘re almost replicating the situation when the play was first put on.‘
The Winter's Tale. Tue 4. W ed 5, Sat 811m; ( 'orio/(mus Thurs 6—Sut 8110:: Theatre Royal,
eroticism, is repeatedly used to undercut and contradict the dialogue.
; Taking as its basis The Green Coupe, an original 1930s radio play about a tatal ménage a trois, the new play turns everything upside down as the
3 characters try to escape their inevitable end. Described by one critic as ‘hard-edged, witty, stylish and sexy,’ the hour-long pertormance is primed to entertain Scottish audiences with its irreverant theatrical deconstruction. (Mark Fisher)
The Erotic Irony of Old Glory, Traverse
Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 12—Sun 16 Jun.
The List 31 May— 13June 1991 49