Bard, bawd

or bore?

'ls Shakespearean wordplay

funny. or is itjust the way they tell them? As two comedy squads from the Royal Shakespeare Company

lay seige to Edinburgh, Neil Cooper stifles a snigger.

What’s the difference between a clown and a fool'.’

Don‘t know”? Me neither. The funny thing

Shakespeare is. well —- no, don't laugli —- you never

quite know where the funny bits are. See. great man's gags are tnore obscure than a

Milligan punchline. but that's age for you. it usually helps if Shakespeare‘s motley crew of buffoons are played by our own teleyision funny men ~ May Wall. Bill Maynard. Roy Kinnear and John

Cleese are among those who have slipped

doublet and hose to bring the Bands more bawdy

delights to life.

Now Paul (ireenwood still best remembered.

despite impressive stage credentials. for If

television sitcom Rosie. which launched him as a naiye rookie copper is having a stab as Feste the it‘Uf/f/f I'V’i'g/II. which yisits Edinburgh Festival Theatre this month. In turns awash with light and shade. the play is a gradually unravelling meditation on marriage. mistaken identity and all the deep .stuff' besides. lts

Fool in the RSC‘s touring production of 'l

contrasts are no better personified than in

professional funny man who’s been told his act

full-length show. performed by a dnmer- racket 3 sporting cast who are keeping the flame of l sophisticated entertainment aliye. and frankly running the risk ofembracing luy \ydom

After all. rey ue has long been the preserye of whiz/kid ()sbridge boys and girls with a plum where their meal cords should be and a y ocabulary the size of a prep school. Fry and Laurie" You betcha. Monty l’}'thon'.’ Of course. l'iycn Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. the scarnps who broke the mould with Beyond The I-‘ri'nge. were smartarsc conformists really. No surprise to find they both have pieces performed here. alongside the likes of Victoria Wood. Maureen Lipman. Bernard l.eyin and lierek Nitrimo. So what exactly is the appeal beyond the (ireen Room'.’

‘Shakespeare's something that defines us all.‘ says l.usconibe. ‘Thcre's so many references to him


through general aspects ofour culture and language that we all know him. eyen if we don't think we do.

L This is something we thought was a specialist thing but has had a commercial life. l also thought it was quite comic using Shakespeare as the focus of a

about Where there’s a Will: Paul Greenwood as Feste, ‘a bit of an

- alternative comic’ some of the

Spike Of course.

rey uc bccatrse he's so rey'cred. So as well as a

celebration. we're making him slip on a banana .skinf

l’aul (ireenwood cites lire/fill .Yig/il as a slice of Shakespearean sitcom. subiect to the peccadilloes of the times. ‘Some of the tnore obscure stuff in 'lire/fi/i Mfg/H is lost.‘ he says. ‘but there's all this stuff about beef in it. and because of what's iust been happening it all sounds terribly contemporary and brings the house dow n.‘ '


"l‘hcre's a bit of an alternative comic there'. (ircenwood whose w ife is l)iane ls'ecn. queen of 70s sitcom "fhe ('uckoo \\'alt/‘ and ‘Rings On Their Fingers. ‘but on the whole he’s more wise than funny. When I first started. because he speaks in different rhythms. my initial idea was to give him bits of may comic l‘d cy'er seen or been influenced by .\la\ .\liller. Rob Wilton. liric \forecambe. llancock. .\'ow l'yc ended tip not doing that at all: not trying to be funny with daft yoiccs and silly walks. but just saying the lines and seeing what comes out.

First. though. at the city's King's 'l‘hcatre. another RS(' company present The .X'lni/t'inr/n/uu' Rm m; a much-heralded series of sketches and songs inspired by Shakespeare. and originally pulled together by actors (‘hristopher l.uscombc and \lalcolm .\lcl\'ce for a charity 'do'. Since then it‘s expanded into a


l.uscombe agrees. ‘( inc of the great joys of {The .S'liu/tt's/n'un' Rt’l‘lu’] is getting a laugh from something written a hundred years ago.‘ The last . laugh though. must go to lieste. .-\s the man says. ‘l’leasure will be paid one time or another.‘ And the difference between a clown and a fool'.’ Now there's a funny thing . . , (Neil (‘ooperi '/.//(' .V/Iu/s‘r'sjit'tll't' It’r’i‘m'. Kill}; is ill/It’U/l‘t’. [til/f/I/HIIZQ/l. .l/uli /5 Sill 3’).’l/)I'l/.' 'l'llr'u/n' Royal. (i/usjcun; i/iu' 35 Su/ 3‘) June; 'liw [ff/1 Rig/II. lir/I'n/Huyl.’ I'v’s/ii'u/ 'lilu'ufrr'. lire 33' .X'ul 37.11))?!

Feste. the

Shaw redemption

‘I think it’s simply one of the greatest comedies in the English language.’ No, that’s not a description of the Scott Report or the latest SFA edict on the passback rule, these are the words of Hugh Hodgart, director of the Royal Lyceum’s new production of Pygmalion. George Bernard Shaw’s classic tale of power, language, poverty and class has been reproduced on stage and screen so many times that its strength may have been diluted through repetiton.

Hot so, believes Hodgart. ‘Poverty is one of the most severe forms of oppression and that’s become more


relevant, not less,’ he argues. ‘Some l a

3 class system may have changed but

newcomer Emily Winter as Eliza and Michael Mackenzie, star of Cardiac Arrest and Hamish Macbeth as Higgins. Hodgart believes casting may be his toughest task. ‘lt’s one of the most anxious periods for me,’ he admits. ‘If you get it wrong you have to live with the consequences. It you do get it right, it’s wonderful. Beyond a certain point there’s very little anybody can do if the actors can’t do 5 it, so if you get the right actors you’re 7 away to the races.’

But where are today’s George Bernard Shaw’s? Hodgart sees only one contender. ‘John Pilger fulfills part of Shaw’s function in being a lone voice in the wilderness,’ he says. ‘They both say the unsayable and take the same amount of flak because they both rock the boat. But what they say j is undeniable.’ (Brian Donaldson) Pygmalion, Royal Lyceum Theatre,

5 Edinburgh, Fri 12 April-Sat 4 May; then touring Scat/and.

, e; |pfay traces the transformation of Eliza

' Doolittle from Cockney flower girl into divine duchess through the teachings of upper-crust linguist Professor Higgins. Ho social crusader he: his initial motivation is to win a bet, yet Eliza emerges triumphant, able to make her own choices and fulfill her potential.

Hodgart first directed the play in 1986 during his stint as Associate Director at the Lyceum. Having left in 1993, he returns afresh from a series of projects including a period of teaching at the BSAMD. ‘That allowed me to explore the business of teaching acting and to secure my thoughts about the whole theatrical process,’ he states. ‘When you’re starting from scratch with students, more is expected of you and that has helped clarify my thinking. But I don’t have to explain to this cast how to do it because they know.’

And this cast includes relative

Sir George Bernard Shaw in 1913: dismissed Pygmalion as ‘a potboiler’

of the details of the rigidity of the

you still need money to live.’ Written in 1913 and dismissed by the uthor himself as a ‘potboiler’, the

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