Tea time with Shakespeare

Ladies and Gentlemen
Welcome to the Globe Theatre
Today I have the honour
To present to you
The major masterpiece
By William Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet
Let the show begin!
Here come the Lord’s Chamberlain Men

On the other side of a little curtain, the great Elizabethan theatre stands: fanfares, drums, thunderous applauses are warning the performance is about to begin.

This is a huge red dot on Mary’s agenda, you know? Right so! She is Mr Charles Goodwin’s seamstress `jackie` of all trades, and — it was about time!, she, too, will wear a costume and enter the stage! Sure, her face will not be visible, she will only be allowed to assume the role of a silent friar. Hooded head to toes her `job` will be to settle a little tree in order for the audience to understand the set has shifted into a forest. That’s already a lot, though, isn’t it? Everyone knows women cannot act. Devil’s business! The Puritans are super-strict.

She is fine as so, though. On this side of Sir William Shakespeare’s great theatre she is the minor queen of a kingdom of imagination and `action` and a great deal must be done: stage dress, do hair, make up, for the greatest young actor ever seen under Queen Elizabeth’s `theatrical` reign; and tonight he will be interpreting the role of Juliet. Sure, quite a sad story this one, but Master Shakespeare, it’s known, he is unpredictable! As when he invented the story of the donkey, or the one of the skull. She has fun Mary — silly girl!, in her minor realm. She preserves of it the chaotic order, and can find anything in there: wigs, little shoes, trinkets, mannequins, swords, face powder. Even tea pot and cups!

She imagines having tea with the Queen herself — it is said it takes hours to make her white, that is to cover smallpox marks, and the greatest playwright of England, what now? — silly girl!, of the whole world. That’s right! She imagines an encounter for tea between Elizabeth and `Willy` — that is how Mr Goodwin calls him. Thus, all of a sudden, she is the one who becomes a playwright, and a doll maker too, of a couple of images at the core of a child-friendly Elizabethan theatre storytelling. Condensed information, superbly investigated yet essential, forever to be cherished — thanks to the power of narration, into the memory of small and big generations.

This is one adorable fresco, Shakespeare a merenda (2016), signed, directed, and interpreted by Elena Russo Arman, and splendidly portrayed in a gallery of tableaux vivants, complete with feather duster, sceptre of a minor queen who is much informed of all the folds registered in a history that lives itself in the art of theatre. Precise, yet creative, La Vie en Rose lives in her creativeness with the `mille capinere` song, and she accurately tells the truth about theatre as better one couldn’t: `A magnificent fiction exhibiting a reality truer than truth, whilst the effects on the audience are surprising`. This is the beauty of it!

Mr Goodwin always says so — in Francesco Gagliardi recorded voice:

Mary! Silly girl!
Remember! This is The Globe
The biggest theatre in London
There are no old shows here
Only new audiences

She dreams, Mary, in Mr Goodwin’s dressing room, and she keeps herself busy while she awaits for the signal, a fanfare, and when it comes, rapid she slides on the other side of the little curtain…

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© Laila Pozzo

A `danse macabre`

This is one challenging encounter. True, when it comes to performative arts, linguistic medium (almost) never prevents understanding. True, too, that Shakespeare’s `ethics symbolism` transcends space and time. True, also, is that at the hands of Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod, ethics and language come to be an artistic composition embodied into the movement of a whole. Ultimately — Instagram also says so, `they are Cheek by Jowl`, inseparable, integrated, British by-birth international by-right. Choral in nature as in dance, it is some sort of brand practice the (almost) permanent performers’ `commonality` presence on stage. Therefore, no matter whether the message is conveyed in Russian, French, Italian, or English.

This Shakespearean encounter continues to remain a challenging one, though. That is not because it is in Russian, as produced with the sister ensemble of the Moscow Pushkin Theatre. That is neither because of some abstract, almost `dry`— if not claustrophobic, choices, in scenery and costumes, with just one (abrupt) music concession contradicting all the rest. This Donnellanian interpretation of Measure for Measure challenges because it grips the text — a comedy? (let’s leave the question open) and the `monstrous bargain` — `sleep with me and someone will be saved`, with ferocious realism. In spite of some stretched, almost overdue, laughters, and the `new Moscow`, which is rather a `New Yorika`, backdrop, the hashtag stands: #endrapeculture.

Could be this late plot’s tune is irritating in itself (harassing?), but the impression, whether after reading, or after attending it, is an acute `uncomfortableness`. Isabella — an impeccable Anna Vardevanian, loses all in the attempt of arranging for everyone not to lose anything. To the effect that the assault she escapes from returns disguised as the annihilation of her individuality, as an assault to her own identity. Isabella is no more. Thus making this Shakespeare even more challenging, since for Donnellan the keystone is unceasingly stated to be forgiveness, whilst no-one feels nothing in this version, let alone gratitude which feeds forgiveness as an absolute mother.

The ferocious human variety — beastly, underlined in the opening tour with a short passage on all four, living into the narration, is differently composed: little State power men, not that much post-soviet, rigorously in suits, such as the Duke, who, as much incapable to access his responsibility principle, as he is in his being neurotic, abandons his city-state, or such as Angelo, his alter-ego, to whom he entrusts the rule, without being aware (are we sure?) he will turn it into a regime; a band of hookers, pimps, whore-runners, small `fantasists` wheeler-dealers, — such as the emblematic Lucio, and women not of loose morals, but rather of fragile morals; and then the clerics, nuns and friars, otherwise standing on the sidelines, in a diverse kind of claustrum, in a not dissimilar manner, though, as those who live in the suburban brothels.

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© Johan Persson

The fornication felony, — Shakespearean hyperbolic emblem of the above mentioned symbolism, is immediately restored as soon as the new `controller` settles, and even have it worn in the shape of a seal-collar, `Fornicator`, to the very poorly not guilty Claudio, responsible for having impregnated Juliet (far less fortunate than the other one) and awaiting, in a jail hosting a further sub-humanity, to be executed. That is here, around the chance to save this life, where Isabella’s odyssey begins, a desperate quest to be woman in a world of men. To whom should I complain? Did I tell this, Who would believe me?

She will save her brother, his partner, the little one born not from lust, but from inconsistency. She will even save her abuser, condemning him to atone for a previous analogous offence committed against Mariana — definitely the far most tragic figure in this `comedy`. She will save her virginity, not her chastity, though, and so losing her identity. No longer wearing her veil, she will end up dancing an understated folk waltz in the arms of the Duke, quite possibly like him — as a matter of fact, neurotically incapable of accessing her responsibility principle. That same Duke who has actually never left his city-state (Vienna, London, the Chinese `Sin-City` the education pack talks about? It doesn’t matter much really) in order to control from the inside its life `lymphs` disguised as a humble friar.

This Shakespeare is challenging. Perhaps the truth is that what challenges is to stand the sight of a repulsive humanity whose dark side does not spare anyone — as director assistant Kirill Sbitnev states. After all,
An Angelo for Claudio,
Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure,
Like doth quit like, and measure still for measure.
This is the `death dance` of an inconsistent life anyone is at risk of living. Marvellously encapsulated in front of five red cubes with the function of scenic `partiture`, at time execution chamber, `red light window`, tableau vivant, the lamps are blinding upon this fragile reality.

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© Johan Persson

Seen on the Cheek by Jowl YouTube channel available until May 28 2020