Am I Guilty of Favouritism?
One of the advantages of reviewing in the Birmingham area (there are many) is to be able to review productions at the RSC. I note that I have given 5***** to the last three productions I have reviewed there – Tamburlaine, Tartuffe, Troilus and Cressida. Few companies are resourced as well as the RSC, from both public and private funds; this being so, am I merely rewarding privilege (aka perhaps wealth) and falling victim to favouritism?
Each of these plays has its own challenges. Tamburlaine because, for a start, it is actually two full length plays fused into one. Secondly it can appear little more than a celebratory pageant about an obscure tyrant from the Middle Ages. Tartuffe, late 17th Century French, is a comedy, from a master of comedy; we know this because we have read this in learned tomes; however in performance, the reality, these days, is rather different. Our moderate laughter may be stifling our immoderate yawns. Troilus is one of the more impenetrable of the Shakespeare plays. It is long and there are hundreds (I exaggerate) of characters so you don’t know whose side they are on and then they swap sides some of them and they are fighting then getting together for a party and then fighting again. Do we really care?
And there is an underlying Big Problem too. Live theatre is not, and must never be allowed to be, a museum. If the dramas cannot reach across the ages, then they should be carefully folded away in tissue and perhaps viewed on special days in glass cases.
However . . . .
Each of the directors of these plays – respectively Michael Boyd, Iqbal Khan, Gregory Doran – has developed a tough, coherent vision of what the play should say, and seen it through in detail. Moreover each of them has clearly inspired their team, for all sing from the same hymn sheets – three of them.
While on the way to Stratford for Tamburlaine I mused to my companions: ‘I don’t know why Marlowe wrote this play; Marlowe is usually so subversive.’ Michael Boyd’s production answers my question with his thrilling presentation. Marlowe is making a scathing attack on the notion of monarchy. On rulers who see countries as possessions, interested only in their self-aggrandisement and bugger the thousands who die in the resulting wars. Now we understand why Marlowe wrote the play, but, we wonder, how on earth did he get away with it? Clearly his targets were not nearly as intelligent as he was.
In the transformation of Tartuffe the director is much assisted by the adapters, Anil Gupta and Richard Pinto. These two excellent watchers-of-humanity were the creators of the fabulous Goodness, Gracious Me. (Also of Citizen Khan, but then you can’t get everything right can you.) This Tartuffe the play about religious bigotry and con-men, is removed from 17th Century Catholic France, via a time vortex,into the middle of today’s conservative Muslim community in Birmingham. The religious con-man Tartuffe becomes a phoney Imam type originally hanging round a local mosque in Small Heath. In an instant, Moliere’s play explodes into life, the satire bur and crackles dangerously in front of us, and, most importantly, the comedy fizzes and pops for our delight and laughter.
Gregory Doran’s production of Troilus divides the people not into Greeks and Trojans (separated by race), but into real and vulnerable human beings (the two pairs of lovers) and the rulers with their military cronies. The characters in this group strut around all phoney body-language and posh voices; they are a self-centred and self-perpetuating political and ruling elite. They squash love out of existence. The appositeness of this message to the world today cannot be missed.
There may be those who question why the country should be funding (from public and private sources) a company which is so clearly attaching, ridiculing, mocking, subverting its structures and its beliefs. The answer is straightforward, and I happily set it out here. Artists must be the mirror, the watchdog, and the critic of society. That is the arts’ raison deter,, their job.
In other words, they are there, and need to be encouraged to be there, to bite the hands that feed them.
Tamburlaine Review: https://reviewsgate.com/?s=Tamburlaine
Tartuffe Review: https://reviewsgate.com/?s=Tartuffe
Trooilus and Cressida Review: https://reviewsgate.com/?s=Troilus