There is always an element of suspense for audiences to any production of Measure for Measure – even for those who have seen Shakespeare’s most problematic play many times. How will the director and company reconcile the pessimistic depiction of corrupted power, sexuality and relationships with the play’s supposedly comedic elements, including the final flurry of marriages, two of which are meted out as punishments?
First published in The Times, Tuesday June 27 2017
Last year, Bard in the Botanics, Glasgow’s long-running outdoor Shakespeare festival, launched a new strand, Writing the Renaissance, showcasing the work of the bard’s lesser-known contemporaries. The inaugural production was a radical adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, whittled down to a fleet 90 minutes and performed by a cast of just three actors.
First published in The Times, Monday November 7 2016
Was there ever a more contradictory figure in literature than Lady Macbeth? On the one hand she is an enthusiastic accessory to murder whose avowed readiness to commit infanticide has made her a byword for perverse maternity. Yet, by the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy she has become a pathetic figure, taking refuge from assorted torments in madness and suicide.
First published in The Times, Friday August 18 2016
Of all Shakespeare’s problem plays, Measure for Measure is the one that leaves the sourest taste in the mouth. Though the story ends in the usual flurry of marriages demanded by the rules of comedy, two of these unions are meted out as punishments, while all the characters – even the saintly Isabella – have become compromised in some way. Theatre directors are increasingly unwilling to summon up a festive mood for such an unremittingly pessimistic depiction of corrupted power and human sexuality and relationships.
Staging outdoor theatre in Scotland is a risky business. Just ask Gordon Barr, the artistic director of Bard in the Botanics, who has been anxiously watching the skies above Glasgow’s west end every summer for the past 15 years.
The weather gods were smiling on the opening performance of his new production of the Scottish Play, however. As the city sizzled in a heat wave, the crowd gathered in extraordinary numbers on the grassy embankment at the back of the glasshouses in the Botanic Gardens. For once, the extra clothes, the blankets and sleeping bags, proved surplus to requirements.
First published in The Times, Thursday June 30 2016
While cross-dressing is central to the plot and resolution of a number of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night occupies its own league as a comment on gender construction and elastic sexuality. The female protagonist spends most of the play dressed as a pageboy, inadvertently stirring the passions of a woman who has forsworn all male suitors while simultaneously harbouring a secret love for a nobleman. Talk about progressive.
Sometimes the power of theatre to transport its audience can be instantaneous. As we make our way, still dripping from a June shower, into the auditorium of Dundee Rep, Ken Harrison’s set of rusticated gold pillars and wrought iron archways, made to gleam by Mike Robertson’s lighting, produces a palpably warming, comforting effect. People can be seen basking their faces in the glow. It’s like the start of a much-needed summer holiday.