A not-so-global ‘O’

‘London, was on the other side of the river’ —, this is what the tiny narrator-guide recounts in the course of the exhibition tour. No bridges to cover the distance, Bankside was a place to look at with both embarrassment, and desire. ‘Las Vegas style’, she says. That was the borough where to go to find a good pint, a whore, and, of course, a theatre. A flag fluttering on the roof meant that around 2pm there would have been something on stage.

A tweet, today, reminds me that at 2pm I will be attending As You Like It. At the Shakespeare’s Globe. Eventually. Must say it is not an easy task to carefully select the show to attend to. Not only because the billboard evermore presents little frequented elsewhere plots, but also for the absence of an ensemble per se, which is kind of disorienting. The latter to say that little consistency ends up to define the visit as a theatrical experience.

Definitely intense is the cultural experience. First, for the altogether touching, and quixotic idea of the American actor Sam Wanamaker, to build up a copy not too far away from the site of the original one, burnt down for a special effect cannon shot. Primarily, yet, for an idea of theatre, the one of that theatre, as a deep and alive conversation, — ‘philosophical’ being a dialogue, between actors and audience. A smelled human ’worldly circularity’.

It was not a matter of seeing, — except for the Devil’s Nest, where gentlemen had the chance to ‘swipe’ the fancy ladies, there searching for a zero endeavour livelihood. It was a matter of hearing the theatre. The main focus was on language, in a close physical, and eyes, proximity. The latter being what still lasts today, as the one and only element of continuity, one season after the other.

The current artistic director — Michelle Terry, ‘brands’ the 2018’s one around that concept of a ‘wooden ‘O’’ within which Shakespeare made it possible for the world to encounter worldly matters. All of them. Despite the atmospheric conditions, with or without pigeons (or helicopters), standing or seating. The director — Elle White, adheres wholly to the logic of one of the Shakespearean stories specifically thought for this set itself.

Unfortunately, the result is — as much as impeccable on a semantic level, a bit strenuous. There’s something in the practice of an obstinate ‘cross-genderality’ that endangers it to be dispossessed of its being mysteriously destabilising, and transformative. That is the case of Rosalind — the tall and slim Jack Laskey, and of Orlando — the petite Bettrys Jones. It simply does not fit.

Need to confess the ‘femininist’ inhabiting me might be here tampering, but Rosalind a man? Nope. Especially if ‘en travestie’ when already in disguise. It ends up confusing and ‘schizophrenising’ possibly the most interesting female character of the whole Shakesperean canon. She, who is the mouthpiece of an assertive sensibleness in the matters of love, which is the most radical topic inhabiting the land of imagination.

Encore, she, who consciously, and corageously, enters into the ‘green space’, — here a mysterious, and hardly to geographically locate forest, where wild animals, and occasional, glib, talkers live. She, who has to become a ‘man’ to tell men that to love is a matter of survival of the species. And ultimately she, who is capable of doing so, laboriously, and honourably, as a ‘woman’.

That is not the case (meaning: they do operate, out of fluidity, though), of Celia — the deaf actress Nadia Nadarajah, impeccably supporting her friend-sister, and neither of Touchstone — an extraordinary Colin Hurley, in his mise à la Falstaff complete with trumpet horn, and unforgettable timing, and luxuriating ‘in’ a Junoesque Audrey. Perhaps neither of a ‘hippie’ Jaques — the however excessively seraphic Pearce Quigley.

Long story short, the audience sniggers, a plastic pint in one hand. In the ‘global’ era, though, it seems to be a missed opportunity not to collect stories from the other side of the river, so to bring into the ‘globe’ something more, and more currently smelled human. That would give the audience a more Shakespearean chance to reflect, and be reflected. Entertainment does not seem to be enough. Not even in a semantic impeccable musical.

On the other hand, it is the policy of this establishment — that does not receive a penny from the government, to support the literacy of the ‘groundlings’ on the subject of the Bard. Sure, most of them are tourists. But it is magnificent. If you ever will have the chance to plan a visit, get off at Blackfriars, yes, but do not trust Google Maps. Get there across the Millenium Bridge, and you will gather an even more essential glimpse on the two worlds.

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Enters, Valda

The Queen Elizabeth Hall is not overcrowded, quite the opposite. Mostly dancers, friends of the performing arts, non-Londoners. The sunny blue sky kept many others in the outer space of the Southbank Centre, despite the unmissable presence — on one date only, of a contemporary dance icon. The beautiful 84 years old Valda Setterfield. Each wrinkle, a story. From Merce Cunningham, to Woody Allen. Presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017, her Lear is recent, though not new, and entered fast in the female interpretations’ history to settle quite high in terms of appreciation.

John Scott’s choreographic direction for the Irish Modern Dance Theatre, ‘minimilizes’ the plot, focusing on the relationship between Valda/Lear and her progeniture ‘beyond-gender’. There’s an across-the-board performative linguistics in action here, defining a peculiar theatre-dance made of both speech, and athleticism. Some white prints of Shakespearean fragments are set on the black backdrop, floating around a rectangular map — perhaps a realm to be split, most likely the disordered thoughts of an old lady.

Enters Valda, from the right side of the stage, a pace as much assertive as it is possible, a white paper crown on her head, house dresses. She begins to contemplate it, her inner land. She strolls on a white floor cloth, and seems to be pondering with her whole body. She stops before long, face to the audience, and she entrusts the search of a meaning she struggles to find, to some delicate tai-chi postures. Some ‘sharp’, acute notes deepen her confusion, and shadows too, come to wear further any attempt to reach a cognitive order.

Enter Regan/Mufutau, Goneril/Konan, Cordelia/Kevin, and through an increasingly rapid promenade the daughters/dancers come to complicate the above endeavour even more. Some sort of ‘chorus of the derangement’ words out loud Valda’s/Lear’s mind: ‘kingdom’, ‘royal’, ‘degree’, ‘sisters’, ‘loyalty’, ‘condition’. There’s one, however, that prevails over the others: ‘consideration’. It is the core of the relational topic, transcending any parental, or delusional, bond to open up a reflection upon the need(s) of ‘the other’.

They all search for a settlement, but it ends up being just a run, wearing and scant. The throne is a wheelchair. From a golden bag, sparkling with precious gems, Valda shares sweets with ‘the little girls’, and the audience too. The ‘affectionate depositions’ are almost acrobatic figures, a pantomime evoking a kiss on the hand, a who-is-jumping-higher game. Shakespeare is read ‘as scripted’, but the music/noise is more and more deafening. Valda/Lear has by now lost her (self) power.

It is interesting to note how this project relates to the plot suspending it as in about re-entering choir-room: Valda returning to be Valda, acting as director, especially when it comes to the interaction with Cordelia. The latter very much confused too, not just because of what Shakespeare compels her to state on stage as an actor, but also because she is French!, and cannot understand all these stories of English kings and queens… The exile is hilarious, almost en travestie… Literally rolled out of the stage, she exits singing ‘Allez venez, Milord…’

The blood feud between Regan and Goneril follows a similar evolution: from a parade of fools with flowery helmets all around the old lady, who can just spend her days begging for attentions on the phone — much more as a lucid Yiddishe Mame than as a Lear, up to a second rehearsal intermezzo. The comedy mood does not last much, though, as a physiological resentment, almost a repulsion, about an old mother’s ‘neediness’, murders by nature any filial love — ‘You are old!’.

So this is how ’The Tempest’ in this Lear goes also through a consideration of Valda on herself, perhaps as an agée dancer: ‘This is not Lear, who is it who can tell me who I am?’. The light turns into lunar, then blue. Blowing winds, in Lear’s mind, and all of the fragments of her inner land are scattered on stage, up to the dramatic reconciliation with Cordelia. That is, a needed sacrifice in order to accept the need(s) of the other.

Madness is the ultimate land of forgiveness. Daughter-mother and mother-daughter searching for a lullaby to be recovered among ancient memories, some lyrics of poetical imageries so to let go of power, family, worldly folly. Then, the peace of mind, the ending sweetness of an extremely caring, and moving gesture: Valda/Lear wrapped up as in a cocoon with the remains of her cloth/map. To fall asleep, maybe.

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