May 9, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Try something new this year

I really hope the ‘Stratford Crowd’ are going to try and see some new things this year.

An odd comment? Well, it doesn’t seem so when I compare sold–out performances for the entire run of the excellent but traditional RSC production of ‘Antony & Cleopatra’ compared to half–empty houses for a mere four performances of a German production of ‘Othello’.

One friend of mine loves the language and poetry of the Bard so much that she refuses to see anything that’s not in English. “It’s not Shakespeare if it’s not in English”, she says.

I don’t know how widely–spread a view this is, but it seems a real shame as she will miss some wonderful theatre this year. Shakespeare, for me, is not about the language. Yes, it’s wonderful, but it’s not the reason I fell in love with the plays. What I fell in love with was the drama, the ways in which his characters come to life on the stage, the situations he creates and the dynamics of the characters. You don’t need the plays to be in English for that. As I believe ‘Othello’ showed, and as films such as those by Kurosawa demonstrate, Shakespeare’s dramas can be successfully transferred to all kinds of environments, cultures and languages. The stories are universal, their characters internationally recognisable.

There’s going to be some pretty special international theatre. A Japanese ‘Titus Andronicus’, an Indian ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, a Russian ‘Twelfth Night’ and a Chinese ‘King Lear’ should be some of the highlights, and in many ways these are the plays I’m most looking forward to– how often do we get good quality international Shakespeare in the Midlands? Certainly never in this quantity. And I will be sorely disappointed if I go to these performances and have as much legroom as I did for ‘Othello’. If you’re going to try something this year, try something new, don’t ‘play safe’– get a cheap seat for something experimental, or something from a different culture, or even for one of the new plays, and just see what you think.

Rant over!

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