September 3, 2007, by Peter Kirwan

The End Result

Today I submitted my MA dissertation. This is of particular interest to this blog as, as my longest serving readers will know, this blog only came about because of my dissertation. Let me take you back, if you will, to March 2006.

As the RSC’s Complete Works Festival rolled up and I started choosing which productions I wanted to see, I became painfully aware that I really wanted to see them all. I wanted to see the big names, I wanted to see the less-performed plays, I wanted to see the visiting companies. And, as the Festival was going to span the two academic years in which I was doing my MA, I thought that this would be an excellent opportunity to do something new in Shakespeare Studies (itself a rare enough thing!) by attending the entire event. Not long after, I was asked to keep a blog of my theatregoing by Susan Brock, the administrator of the CAPITAL Centre, and the Bardathon was born.

So now, almost 18 months later, the finished product is here. 21,000 words over 80 pages of dissertation, with another 84 pages of appendices. I’ve called it Shakespeare’s New Stages: The Impact of the RSC’s Complete Works Festival on Audience and Critical Understanding of Shakespearean Performance. Catchy, I know, but it sums it up.

What I’ve done is highlight the crisis in Shakespearean Performance that several commentators have written about: that Shakespeare cannot survive as a heritage institution, but instead must grow and develop with its audiences and with the rest of the theatrical world. While fringe Shakespeares exist, there is a feeling that the institution – in this instance, the RSC – are holding back the development of Shakespeare on stage by pandering too much to audience expectations of a heritage, ‘traditional’ (I hate the word, but without getting too detailed it’s probably the easiest to use!) Shakespeare.

The Complete Works Festival gave the RSC an opportunity to answer this crisis, by bringing loads of fringe theatre forms and companies into the mainstream, and the dissertation basically looked at how the RSC and its guests reinterpreted Shakespeare over the year in three areas – Space, Language and Performance. I looked specifically at what was new for the Stratford-upon-Avon audience, and how audience involvement and expectations were inverted and subverted in various productions.

While doing this, I also looked at the further reaching impact of the Festival, with the dissertation boiling down to the question of: Is the Complete Works Festival going to have a lasting impact on Stratford, on the RSC, on the performance world? My answer ultimately is that it has the potential to. However, my feeling is that it won’t. The legacies of the Festival that Michael Boyd has acknowledged – ensemble theatre making, international collaborations, new work – have all been a part of the RSC’s work before now, and I think that, while his claim that it was a “landmark year” is true, I think the claim that it was an “engine of change” is not. I hope I’m wrong, and I didn’t express my worries quite as explicitly in the dissertation, but I’m not convinced the RSC is going to be undergoing any radical transformations, apart from in physical space, for quite some time. The new season is entirely Shakespeare and entirely big-hitters: Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice , A Midsummer Night’s Dream , The Taming of the Shrew and Love’s Labour’s Lost . Even with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, it’s still a bit uninspired, and I hope that the temporary quietness of the company doesn’t mean that all the experimentation of the year doesn’t go to waste.

If anyone’s interested in hearing more about it, just let me know! Though obviously you may not- it is, after all, just an MA dissertation. The plays I discussed in detail as part of it were:

The RSC’s Pericles and The Winter’s Tale
Forkbeard Fantasy’s Rough Magyck
Tiny Ninja Theater’s Hamlet
Kneehigh’s Cymbeline
Munchner Kammerspiele’s Othello

However, I managed to get about 45 of the 54 productions into the dissertation, which I’m quite proud about!

Anyway, I’m now onto the next phase of my life. I now work full time with the CAPITAL Centre, which is keeping me very much in the loop on Shakespearean performance, and I’ve recently been approached to help with two academic projects. Firstly, I’ll be assisting the new performance editor for Shakespeare Survey by finding out what performances are on, going to see some of them and reviewing the ones I see, and secondly I will be working on Internet Shakespeare Editions helping to build up an international online reviewing network.

Beyond that, I’m looking forward to a rest from academia. A PhD may turn up down the line, but for now I’m just looking forward to my bed…..

Posted in News