Friday, January 18, 2008


Earlier this week I went to the latest Deckchair Theatre performance of Shakespeare in the Park; a production of 'As You Like It'. Studious readers will recall my somewhat negative comments the last time I saw one of these Deckchair Theatre productions, and wonder why I voluntarily attended again. In response, I can only quote Shakespeare himself: "Pray now, forget and forgive," (King Lear, Act IV). Who am I to argue with the Bard?

I'm reasonably happy I did go. It was still smutty, but it was less smutty, and it was still heavy-handed, but it was less heavy-handed. So they're moving in the right direction.

The look and mood of the performance were a lot of fun. The production design had been dunked in a big barrel of liquid 1968, with snatches of period songs incorporated into the narrative and groovy period influences in the over-the-top costumes. The court of the corrupt Duke, who has assumed the duchy after exiling his brother, were dressed as The Establishment, in plastic minidresses, acid-coloured flares and body shirts. The usurped brother and his people, who had been exiled to the Forest of Arden, were dressed as The Counter Culture, gadding about in kaftans and afros as they communed with nature. It was a rather clever style to drape over the original script.

However some of my original problems with these productions persisted. While I appreciate the idea of Shakespeare in the Park, the actual practice of it is not beholden to any idealised notions of what it should be like. Most parks, being full of air and foliage, have terrible accoustics, which tends to mean that the actors need to cast off any subtlties of delivery and just holler out their lines as best they can. The lack of decent lighting also limits the opportunities to focus attention on one part of the stage, which encourages overacting.

Shakespeare in the Park is also vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. In this particular case what began as a calm and pleasant summer evening gradually evolved into a wild and windy one. Given that the later parts of the play are set in a forest, the leaves that fluttered onto the stage were appropriate and rather evocative. However as the wind rose and larger nuts and twigs started raining down on the actors, one had to start worrying for their safety.

And then there was the far more important consideration of my safety. My party was sitting under a large gum tree, and for the entire second act I was horribly aware that there was a large, dead branch right above me, bending and creaking in the wind. When one the tree's nuts fell off and hit me in the head, as happened on at least three occasions, it stung like hell. A whole branch would be quite possibly deadly. It sort of marred my appeciation of the play... the prospect of horrible and imminent injuries will do that.


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