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A Postmodern Director Speaks

Posted by acdtest on November 24, 2003

A Postmodern Director Speaks

t will come as no revelation to any regular reader of this weblog that I’ve here often expressed my extreme displeasure with — my contempt for — so-called Eurotrash productions of the great Wagner masterpieces and other masterpieces of the stage by other creators, and laid the impetus for such at the feet of self-involved, self-serving directors who thought their “vision” more important and more pertinent than that of the geniuses responsible for the creation of those deathless masterpieces. It never once occurred to me, however, that the motivation for the outrageous vandalism and displays of the grotesque “vision” of those directors could in fact have stemmed from basically well-intentioned if egregiously wrongheaded, self-delusional thinking on their part. Seems I perhaps may have been a bit shortsighted in the matter generally.

Or was I?

The breakthrough in my thinking on Shakespeare [writes stage director Michael Bogdanov] came with a lavish production of Romeo and Juliet in 1974 at the newly opened Haymarket Theatre in Leicester….


In rehearsal the story had been coming over hard, clear and very exciting.


When the production moved from the rehearsal room and arrived on to the stage, somehow the clarity and the hardness, the linear quality of the story, had gone. What was more, audiences weren’t responding to either the production or the play. At the last moment, after the very final preview, I cut the whole of the end scene, where the Friar recaps the story for the benefit of Escalus and, after the death of Juliet, I switched to a press conference around the unveiling of the two gold statues that Capulet and Montague erect to the memory of each other’s child.

Rock music built to a climax during a blackout and, when the lights came up, the entire company was assembled in modern dress in front of Romeo and Juliet, now dressed in gold cloaks and masks standing on the erstwhile tomb. Muzak played: “Fly Me to the Moon” . . . Escalus, the Duke, read the prologue as an epilogue from a cue card, as if inaugurating at an unveiling ceremony. The main protagonists were photographed in front of the statues, shaking hands, the Nurse holding up a rope ladder, Escalus attempting to bring about the familial reconciliation with a three-way hand clasp. The smile of Jimmy Carter handing over the presidency to Reagan.

The transformation had an extraordinary effect. People in the audience shouted, people walked out, people cheered, people bravoed, people booed, and I thought: “For three hours they have been bored out of their minds and suddenly something has challenged them. A moment of real theatre.”

The above was taken from a reprint in The Guardian of a discursive, edited extract from Shakespeare: The Director’s Cut, by Michael Bogdanov, published by Capercaillie Books. On reading it, one hardly knows whether to laugh, rail, or weep. “Suddenly something…challenged them. A moment of real theatre”(!)? What is that? Some sort of joke? Is Bogdanov being self-delusional, simpleminded, or just plain lunatic? Or is he simply self-servingly offering up a veiled apologia for his own self-involved, self-serving corruption of a masterwork?

Seems to me that any honest, conscientious director who found that when his production of a work by Shakespeare (Shakespeare, for chrissake!) “moved from the rehearsal room and arrived on to the stage, somehow the clarity and the hardness, the linear quality of the story, had gone…[and] audiences weren’t responding to either the production or the play,” would look for the fault elsewhere rather than come to the astonishing conclusion that Shakespeare or his centuries-acknowledged, timeless and universal masterpiece was somehow at fault for not speaking to a contemporary audience. After all, we’re here talking about a play that in its unadulterated form has captured the imagination and riveted the attention of countless numbers of audiences for more than four centuries now. What strange and anomalous circumstance could possibly account for its sudden failure to do so at the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester in 1974?

Golly. That’s a tough one to suss out. I’ll take a stab at it, though, by suggesting that perhaps the failure was neither Shakespeare’s nor the play’s, but entirely that of the director and his actors. I mean, that doesn’t sound an at all unreasonable suggestion, does it?

Well, perhaps to Mr. Bogdanov it would.

We’re in mortal peril today, boys and girls, of seeing, at the hands of such as Mr. Bogdanov, the disappearance of all that’s important and meaningful in our great legacy of stage masterworks from times past. By the attempts of such auteurs as Mr. Bogdanov to peddle their own piddling and inconsequential “vision” at the expense of those masterworks, and in place of the vision of their creators, and by their resorting to mass-market prole pandering to attract a larger audience for their productions, we’ll not have to wait for Armageddon to bring an end to our great legacy from the past.

Should we be even the least bit concerned about that? I mean, they’re only entertainments, after all.

Uh-huh. And the blood that courses through our veins is merely a salty, liquid reminder of our unimaginably ancient ocean-borning, and nothing more.

Should we be the least bit concerned?

Not exactly.

Afraid is what we should be. Very afraid.


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