Friday, 17 April 2015

King Lear - Northern Broadsides

It is astonishing that Jonathan Miller is so little used as a director in British theatre. If I ruled the world, he'd be opening a new production every week, (it sounds a lot, but he's no spring chicken so we need to wring the most we can out of him, while we still have him).

In my experience, the plays performed under his direction are intelligent, surprising, entertaining and moving. But others seem to disagree. There is some vague idea abroad - started I think by Stevie Smith, who wrote a mean little short story about Miller as a child (a spoilt child, as she saw it, or a, heavens forbid, precocious child; too often a "precocious" child is really a child who has not been thoroughly and effectively squashed) - that he is egotistic, whereas, at least as a director, he is the least egotistic person alive. His approach to plays is to read the script closely and try to animate it, without the use of gimmicks.

Meanwhile, the likes of Rupert Goold are feted. They are good at hysteria and pyrotechnics. They are good at the kind of productions Hermann Koch describes so well in his rather horrid novel Summer House with Swimming Pool:

"It was the first time I'd been invited to a Shakespeare production. I'd already seen about ten of his plays. A version of The Taming of the Shrew in which all the male roles were played by women; the Merchant of Venice with the actors in nappies and the actresses wearing rubbish bags for dresses and shopping bags on their heads; Hamlet with an all-Down's-Syndrome cast, wind machines and a (dead) goose that was decapitated on stage, King Lear with Zimbabwean orphans and ex-junkies; Romeo and Juliet in the never-completed tunnel of a subway line, with concentration camp photos projected on the walls, down which sewage trickled; Macbeth in which all the female roles were played by naked men - the only clothing they wore was a thong between their buttocks, with handcuffs and weights hanging form their nipples, performing against a soundtrack consisting of artillery barrages, Radiohead songs and poems by Radovan Karadzic. Besides the fact that you didn't dare to look at how the handcuffs and weights were attached to (or through) the nipples, the problem once again was a matter of how slowly the time passed. I can remember delays at airports that must have lasted half a day, easily, but which were over ten times as quickly as any of those plays."

Miller meanwhile understands that a director is not a primary creative artist but an interpreter. He studies the text, he works with the actors, together they read the playwright's words closely. Thus they are able to bring life to a script, while remaining faithful to it. This is integrity in theatre. There is too little of it on the stage these days.

Anyway, I went to see Miller's production of King Lear, performed by the Northern Broadsides company. It is touring Britain. If you get a chance, go and see it - tour dates here. It is really, really good.

No comments:

Post a Comment