Theatre in Wales

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Directors & Actors on Shakespeare

Theatre Director Book

Richard Eyre , Nick Hern Books , October 7, 2009
Theatre Director Book by Richard Eyre “Talking Theatre” comprises 42 interviews across the spectrum of theatre. That spectrum includes nine directors. Richard Eyre focuses in particular on the influence of key figures, Shakespeare, Brecht, Beckett and Edward Gordon Craig.

Richard Eyre himself has a talent with words. Encountering Peter Brook in Paris he observes “his self-exile appears to have inoculated him against the infection of self-doubt, the vagaries of fashion, the attrition of parochial sniping, the weariness of careerism, and the mid-life crisis that affects most theatre directors (not always in midlife), which comes from repetition, from constant barter and compromise.”

Peter Brook homes in on Shakespeare. “All his plays, which is what makes them so remarkable, correspond to the ancient Indian definition of good theatre, which is that plays appeal simultaneously to the people who want entertainment, people who want to understand psychology and social reality, and people who really wish to open themselves to the metaphysical secrets of the universe.”

Peter Hall elaborates on this aspect of this plasticity. On the verse he comments “Shakespeare inherited a very formal method of writing with the iambic pentameter and broke all the rules, and therefore made it sound human and flexible and extraordinary.”

“Shakespeare becomes something different to every age. He has this negative capability of becoming anything and anybody. It depends which angle you look at him. You can say that's because he's comprehensive or broad-minded, he's conservative, he's radical, he's revolutionary, he's reactionary, and he's progressive. Any label you choose to set on Shakespeare will in some sense be valid. That's partly because he is so extraordinarily comprehensive in his sympathies and understandings, but mostly because he revels in contradiction.”

Ian McKellen elucidates a range of themes and includes the interests of different ages. The eighteenth century liked the nobility and the Victorians went for the heroics. “Today we are at least as interested in the in the minor characters, who are much closer to our own lives.” Eyre putd to Judi Dench the question “is Shakespeare all-inclusive?” “He tackles things”, she says, “like love, jealousy, envy, greed, meanness of spirit- there's no end to that list, in fact. And he tackles them in such a complete way, in such a contemporary way.”

Eyre asks Deborah Warner “what does Shakespeare do that no other writer does?” She replies “touches on every emotion, every possible human feeling, every possible human story. And a complete love of the theatre, for those reasons.”

Robert Lepage pursues the theme. “The stage seems to be the place of transformation. All of the best plays are about transformation- whether it is Bottom being translated into a donkey, or Medea, after having done her deed, being transformed into another Medea. I think that's probably the basic reason why the audience goes to the theatre- to witness transformation and to identify with that transformation, or try to invite it into their own lives.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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