Theatre in Wales

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Shakespeare The Director's Cut

Theatre Director Book

Michael Bogdanov , Capercaille Books , May 21, 2017
Theatre Director Book by Michael Bogdanov “Shakespeare The Director's Cut”, dating from 2003, is a slim book comprising eight essays over 160 pages. The issue of how to treat Shakespeare has not lost a jot of topicality. This season Daniel Kramer has had a critical kicking. Michael Bogdanov was irreverent. He had a young Montague entering on the bonnet of a red sports car, the model (geddit?) an Alfa Romeo. But his treatment was irreverence-with-attention and there is all the difference from radicality-with-inattention. Michael Pennington, long-term collaborator, describes the task as to “cut through the crust of convention and theatre tradition to get at the material itself and render it fresh. “These essays brim with wisdom and acuity.

There is no need to strain after topicality. Peter Stead's preface sees in Shakespeare a world of dynastic imperialists and financial imperialists. In Bogdanov's hands “ we are expertly and succinctly guided through the power nexus in all the plays discussed.” First, there is the aspect of scholarship of rigour. Bogdanov knows his difference between Quarto 1 and Quarto 2 of “Hamlet”. The 1608 version of “King Lear” is known as Q1 or the “Pide Bull Quarto.” As for the material great art has the capacity to latch onto current anxieties. “Plays go in and out of focus” Bogdanov writes “different aspects are suddenly highlighted by contemporary events.” For three hundred years “Lear” was not highly regarded and now it is seen as a peak. Bogdanov ascribes its ascent to our greater proximity to nihilistic mayhem.

Hamlet may well be a figure of existentialist doubt. Bogdanov cites Brecht and the “Organum” approvingly. The centre of the play is the war. Norway has to cross the territory of Denmark to make war in Poland. A speech by Marcellus is too frequently cut. The subject is “the daily cast of brazen cannon/ and foreign mart for implements of war.” The histories as a whole “are a litany of fraternal and paternal slaughter.” As for the lean figure in black Gertrude says of her son “he's fat and scant of breath.” The prince is aged thirty. The actor Richard Burbage weighed seventeen and a half stone.

In Verona Bogdanov's first concern has a timely prescience. He is not interested in romantic death. “Any production of “Romeo and Juliet” ” he says “must begin with an analysis of the social responsibility for the death of the two young people” He is rigorous on context. “Marriage is an affair of negotiation over power and property, the two a threat to the order of things.” The first adult years in Ireland were crucial, said Pennington in a tribute last month. Kings in exile were real. In a toilet in Neary's bar Bogdanov met a claimant to the Kingship of Connaught. In the Ireland of the 1970s matchmakers were active in marrying old farmers to young girls in order to secure an heir.

The point of pungent criticism is not to command agreement but to urge the reader to see in a more complex way. Bogdanov assaults centuries of conventional treatment of “Macbeth.” No more good-bad, right-wrong” he says. “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour on the stage” is a cry of existentialist individualism. He finds support for this in the fact that Macbeth gets no death speech, no recantation. In his close reading Duncan may be not much of a king anyhow.

The key to “Taming of the Shrew” is in the first scene. Bogdanov notes it is too often cut- he gets a swipe in at Greg Doran for a “Bridget Jones production at the RSC.” Without Christopher Sly and the huntsmen the play that ensues has lost its focus.

This book is light and sharp, a good companion to any future production. Peter Stead in plain language says that Bogdanov is identifying the bastards. “There is nothing gratuitous or fanciful about this exercise for Bogdanov's utterly convincing argument is inspired by his familiarity with the fullest versions of the texts.” The books endure- there is a companion volume on the histories- and the persona surges through every paragraph.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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