O cunning enemy, that, to catch a saint, With saints dost bait thy hook!

What: Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company

When: July 2019

“The poetic atmosphere is one of religion and critical morality. The religious colouring is orthodox, as in Hamlet.”[1]

“There have, however, been others, notably in the last century, such unlikely yoke-fellows as Gervinus in Germany and Walter Pater in England who have seen the play neither as expressive of cynicism and disgust nor as filled with the spirit of the Gospels and yet believe it to be no ‘meaningless’ entertainment but serious and coherent exploration of certain moral issues. It is in support of this view that the following pages are written”.[2]

I have two touchstones, benchmarks if you will, when it comes to Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and the above quotations are examples of their understanding of the play and the differences between those understandings. Gregory Doran’s production of the play in Stratford-Upon-Avon may have become a third.

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I Never Thought it Possible or Likely…

What: The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

When: 19th March 2019

The Royal Shakespeare Company when announcing their 2019 season said that they were going to show the relevance of Shakespeare’s writings to the modern era. There is no question that they have attempted this – although they could be accused of majoring only on one contemporary issue.

Like a percussionist surrounded by many instruments but beating on only one drum, they have taken up only the issue of gender. This meant that in the seldom-performed “Timon of Athens”, they left us wondering what the value of the change of gender was – although it did give some opportunity for strong female character actors in the principal roles. Very few of the audience would know the original play well enough to appreciate the difference that making all the lead characters female had made. Then there was As You Like It where the gender swaps caused a complete meltdown in the second half of the play as an already complex plot became just too untidy.

But with The Taming of the Shrew, by George, I believe they may have added in something worthwhile.

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Well, I say Troilus is Troilus,… this is… Cressida, this is not Cressida

What: Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon, England

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

When: 18th October 2018

As always, in recent years, I have titled my assessment of an RSC production with a quote or two from the play itself, but I must admit, even to myself, that this title is a little hard to understand and consequently it won’t help you to get to the heart of what I’m trying to say in this review unless I break it down a little.

To explain I must digress a little…

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Thou basest thing, avoid! hence, from my sight!

What: Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

Who: Royal Shakespeare Company

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

When: May 26th 2016

Mmm… first of all you’re asked to delay your night at a Shakespeare play then your hotel manager tells you that the play has had somewhat “mixed reviews”. Then you hear the story of how the first night’s audience were given a refund because the play was running well behind in its mad dash to be ready for press night. As you take your seat in the theatre perhaps you’re right in not having too high an expectation of the night’s proceedings.

On the way in you had handed over your £4 for the programme. Back in the day, the programmes were fully of scholarly essays about the play itself. These days, it has become customary for the programme to be full of pieces about the themes that the director and producer have decided to emphasise in this performance. There is an essay about the European Union and the danger of Britain breaking away from it. There is an interview with the director about the gender changes in the Dramatis Personae.

At least you know what’s coming. The married couple next to us who didn’t buy a programme (having paid £110 for a pair of tickets) left at the interval mumbling that “it wasn’t worth watching”.

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…Our Whole Kingdom to be Contracted in One Brow of Woe…

What: Hamlet

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon

Who: Royal Shakespeare Company

When: March 31st 2016

The RSC’s new production of Hamlet has some excellent actors – and has the first black Hamlet and the RSC’s first predominately black cast for Hamlet in its history. It is brave and lively and interesting.

But something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

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