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08 November 2015 @ 10:54 am
I can't quite figure out how I feel about this review of Branagh's production of The Winter's Tale (and Harlequinade):


For example:

This time, Branagh’s following in the footsteps of Michael Grandage and Jamie Lloyd, whose West End seasons have proved a new working model for commercial theater. But where those projects hung off an individual director’s style and vision, Branagh’s sits in the actor-manager tradition. It shows. Playing triumphs over purpose.

…What does that even mean? Because it sounds like the reviewer is saying that Branagh cares more about putting on the play than making it about his "vision" or whatever (I tend to be skeptical of "vision"; Cumberhamlet had one of those, presumably - it's not always a good thing), and if I have to choose, I am way more interested in the "playing" part. If you give me a production that does a good job with the play, then it will, through that process, reveal new things about the play - and that's purpose enough. (Maybe I would feel differently about this if my entire job were going to see plays. But the thing about traditional stagings is that they don't feel traditional if you have little to no experience with the play. They're just stagings, then.)

But then the reviewer says,

Too often, though, the actor’s vanity becomes visible, and key handovers and reconciliations are played out in slow motion. Branagh pulls focus like a barman pulls pints — that is to say, for a living. Everything he does just seems so earnest.

…Are vanity and earnestness the same thing? I don't think they are. The production may well show signs of both, at different times, but it feels to me like the reviewer is mixing up his terms somehow. (Also, you know, I have a hard time understanding why I am assumed to be able to see the inherently pejorative nature of "earnestness." I'm gonna need more details on that one, because I don't automatically see earnestness as a flaw.)


The buttoned-up Victoriana and its family values, from which Leontes laments this “bawdy planet,” neatly flags up the play’s sexual politics. Bohemia, by contrast, is a place of dancing and delight, where Jessie Buckley’s breezy Perdita can grow her hair down to her waist. Women are in control here, whipping off their partners’ shirts at will, whereas in Sicily, Miranda Raison’s dignified Hermione can only plead her case and wait her husband’s verdict.

This sounds like he's basically objecting to the logic of the play itself - which is fine, but not really a review of how the production handles the play. I mean, okay, it sounds like Branagh's production is pretty traditional - it's no Young Vic Measure for Measure with blow-up sex dolls all over the stage, that's for sure - but I feel like this review is written from the perspective that traditional can't be good, as opposed to making a case for whether or not this production is traditional and good. If the Victorian setting makes sense for the play's sexual politics, then isn't it a reasonable choice even if it isn't the most outré? At the beginning of the review, the reviewer suggests that the Victorian setting is "only" pretty - allusions to mulled wine and Christmas cards - but the rest of the review gives me the impression that the reviewer probably wouldn't ever see a Victorian-set production as worth doing, anyway: that any Victorian production would only ever be "pretty" to him. So I can't tell.


In sort of related news, the praise in this review of the National Theatre's As You Like It sort of sounds like the reviewer hasn't seen As You Like It in decades: at this point I have seen more somber Forests of Arden with "subdued palettes" than anything else; do they even still do "Robin Hoodery"? (This isn't entirely a complaint, as I happen to believe that the Forest of Arden is about communal effort to create a joyful space; you shouldn't just get the happy larks for free because people are in a forest. I have seen some As You Like Its that forgot to create the joy, though.) But the ending of the review made me happy I already had my ticket for the NT Live screening, because I adore Celia more than reason:

At the centre, Rosalie Craig and Patsy Ferran are a combustible duo. Craig has a fervent, poised androgyny as Rosalind: no swagger, all silk. Agile and bugle-eyed, as sceptical as she is supportive, Ferran makes Celia one of the most vital of Shakespearean roles. Together they illuminate a vital truth about As You Like It. One of the loves it celebrates is not a romance but a marvellous, complicated sisterly affection.