Use these links to go

Back to Contents



Some Recent Shakespearean



- 388 -


    For the convenience of the reader I have collected details of productions in chronological order under headings of the various plays.  If no reference to a review article appears at the mention of a particular production, the views expressed are my own.


The Comedy of Errors

In Adrian Noble's 1983 R.S.C. production, the relationship between Antipholus of Syracuse and Luciana was 'sometimes stressed as a fragment of romantic comedy in what is otherwise a heartless Roman farce ....  A tide of slapstick washed their humane endeavours away'. A1.1


The Taming of the Shrew

Ultz produced the play at Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in 1985: here 'the wooing of Bianca [had] all the romance of a cattle auction, and any trace of artifice to be found in Petruchio's subduing of Kate [was] displaced by a braggart's unreasoning cruelty.  Kate herself [was] quickly reduced to a kneeling suppliant weeping tears of frustration, in a clear symbol of premature capitulation'. A1.2  On the other hand, Di Trevis' R.S.C. production treated the taming 'with seriousness and sympathy', A1.3 while the Haymarket production of Toby Robertson and Christopher Selbie gave Katherina little 'real opportunity for violent or comic business [-] she seemed more brow-beaten and down cast than wounded and shrewish'. A1.4  In Jonathan Miller's 1987 production 'the housebound life of an unloved as well as unmarried girl [was] crazed with unhappiness, rather than wicked'. A1.5  Petruchio's 'torturing of his wife clearly [cost] him much ... and we [were] never in danger of mistaking him either for a sadist or for a genuine oaf'. A1.6  'The play's ending was subdued, emphasizing Lucentio's and Hortensio's discontent with their wives' behaviour'. A1.7


The Two Gentlemen of Verona

John Burton's 1981 Stratford-upon-Avon production was double-billed with Titus Andronicus, and 'the scenes involving Eglamour and the Outlaws were able to make humorous allusions to the treatment of Titus earlier on': A1.8 the forest scenes were 'marvellously funny ... perfectly appropriate to Shakespeare's burlesque of Robin Hood outlaws'. A1.9  In 1984 Leon Rubin made the outlaws 'an aggressively ambidextrous rock group' at Stratford,

- 389 -


Ontario. A1.10  This 'helped to suggest the adolescent emotional confusions of the lovers', A1.11 and the play ended darkly, 'with no easy resolution'. A1.12


Love's Labour's Lost

Barry Kyle's 1984 production 'neglected the more intricate verbal wit of the play but achieved, none the less, a buoyant sense of physical and emotional fun', A1.13 while in 1985 Elijah Moshinsky's BBC2 production put the play into an eighteenth century setting: 'this approach [proved] unable to accommodate whole sections of the play: a problem Moshinsky [resolved] by discarding or reworking them'. A1.14


A Midsummer Night's Dream

A picture of harmony was presented in the final act of Bill Bryden's 1983 National Theatre production, in which Theseus and Hippolyta 'waltzed together in elegant harmony'. A1.15  The Cheek By Jowl version in 1986 used a contemporary setting in which Lysander and Hermia were 'a couple of absconding adolescents and the awkward Helena ... [showed] commendable spirit by felling the object of her desire ... with blows of her handbag'. A1.16  'Oberon [tweaked Puck] for his pains.  This world of faery [had] a menace that [took] the edge off any tendency to farce'. A1.17  In the same year Bill Alexander's R.S.C. production projected 'a devastatingly unerotic ambience for a play that is so concerned with love and desire, poetry and imagination'. A1.18  The Open Air Theatre production of 1989 in Regent's Park was set in 1967, with a 'Maharishi-style Oberon'. A1.19  Helena was played on a 'single note of rage throughout' emphasising 'the vital reference to a discord in nature'. A1.20


The Merry Wives of Windsor

Bill Alexander's 1985 production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, was set in the 1950s, and made use of considerable violence: 'Falstaff functioned as a villain rather than a rogue, and was best in his most brutal moments'. A1.21  In the buck basket affair, Ford 'in a sudden frenzy ... threw himself bodily into the dirty linen for a wild and vicious search'; A1.22 he was 'a jealous husband whose plight [was] comic to others but desperately serious to himself'. A1.23


The Merchant of Venice

In 1981 John Barton 'achieved a real sense of harmony' at the end of the play by the use of 'humour, music, lyricism - and characteristically

- 390 -

[return to note 3.99]

[return to note 3.140]


using birdsong and dawn light to cue "It is almost morning"'; A1.24 his Shylock was 'a loud, coarse joker who could still make the menace beneath the "merry" bond unmistakable'. A1.25  Radically different was Bill Alexander's 1988 production at the Barbican, London: there was intense conflict throughout, underlined by touches of violence, such as Antonio's throwing of Shylock's knife to the ground when he is sentenced to become a Christian.  Jessica was rejected by the whole Christian community, who shunned her during the final scene in Belmont.  This was made particularly poignant in the closing moments of the play, when Antonio held Jessica's golden cross and chain, dropped in her pursuit of Lorenzo, just out of reach, above the distraught, kneeling woman's uplifted hands.  Peter Hall produced the play in 1989 with a 'most genial Shylock ... a good man driven beyond endurance by his bestial treatment from the Christians'. A1.26  When Antonio negotiated for the loan, he deposited 'a practised spray of saliva on his beaming creditor before kicking him to the floor', A1.27 and Wardle found the production 'visually beautiful ... with some discordant things going on inside'. A1.28


Much Ado about Nothing

In Terry Hands' 1981 R.S.C. production John Carlisle was 'a gaunt, sinister, and utterly disillusioned Don John.  With a real sense of inner fire burning beneath his stock malice, he seemed half malcontent, half sketch for Milton's Satan'. A1.29  Stuart Burge combined 'grimness and gaiety ... ferocity and courtliness' for BBC2. A1.30  The relationship between Beatrice and Benedick was 'tense and tentative ... invested with ambiguity to the end'. A1.31  Di Trevis' 1988 R.S.C. production presented Benedick as 'a likeable middle-aged twit' and Beatrice as 'an overbearing but good-natured socialite'. A1.32  Elijah Moshinsky's 1989 production made use of 'a background that [changed] from bright blue when everyone [was] having fun, to jet black when the story [took] an ugly turn'. A1.33  Beatrice was 'a reluctant bachelor girl [who took] refuge behind her combative teasing', A1.34 while in the church scene, Benedick fell 'on his sniggering former cronies like a ton of bricks'. A1.35


As You Like It

The first act of Adrian Noble's 1985 production in modern dress 'was notable for its harsh weather and harsher social distinctions', A1.36 and portrayed the 'symbolism of chaos ....  Its plot and action, like its famous set speeches, all deal with diversity and disparity'. A1.37  The

- 391 -

[return to note 5.34]


friendship of Rosalind with Celia in Nicholas Hynter's Royal Exchange production of 1986 'was fully and carefully observed, her cross-dress courtship of Orlando alive with real erotic tension'. A1.38


Twelfth Night

Three productions in 1987 attested to the play's popularity: Cheek By Jowl at the Donmar Warehouse presented 'a frantic comedy of sexual errors' in which the malice of Malvolio's threats was 'more than enough ... to justify ... retribution'; A1.39 Bill Alexander produced the play at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1987, and subsequently at the Barbican in 1988, and he saw Malvolio as a solemn, sour figure, to the extent that the letter-reading scene hardly raised a laugh because of the intensity of his belief in his own merit; in Kenneth Branagh's Riverside Studio production, Illyria was 'a place somewhere between laughter and tears' with 'family rows and disagreements, barely suppressed jealousies and resentments'. A1.40  In another 1988 production at the Royal Exchange Theatre Malvolio was 'a sour-faced Puritan in stiff black and white ... he could have stepped out of a production from twenty or thirty years ago'. A1.41  In the 1989 Regent's Park production, 'the dark side of Shakespeare's most equivocal comedy [seemed] less than usually substantial', A1.42 with Sir Toby having 'no serious malice in him', A1.43 and Malvolio never a very 'serious menace to cakes and ale'. A1.44


All's Well That Ends Well

In Trevor Nunn's R.S.C. production of 1981 'the sleepy sense of eternal afternoon which hung about ... rural Rossillion made it possible to feel a degree of sympathy for Bertram [who] appeared as an overgrown adolescent desperate to escape from home and mother, and to live in a world of men'. A1.45  Parolles 'survived a genuinely disturbing interrogation (spoons scraped against the estaminet's tin trays cruelly suggesting instruments of torture)'. A1.46


Measure for Measure

In 1983 Adrian Noble used a harshly, predominantly grey set, and added the novelty of an electric chair to the properties in the prison scenes.  In 1987 the R.S.C. used gaudy costumes for the low-life characters, 'clashing both with the style of their betters and with that of the buildings around them, ... [increasing] the general aura of anarchy'. A1.47  In 1989 David Thacher produced the play at the Young Vic, with an Angelo

- 392 -


'genuinely moved by Isabella's pleading', A1.48 while in the final scene, 'the players [assembled] round [the Duke] in perfect symmetry.  The concentric circles in which they [stood] and the clasped hands of Mariana and Isabella [were] striking images of harmony'. A1.49



Richard Ouzounian produced this play in Stratford, Ontario, in 1986.  Antiochus' 'fearsome authority' suggested that the suitors 'couldn't face admitting the truth to so ferocious an adversary, even at the cost of their lives.  The difficulty of the riddle lay not in deciphering what it meant but in finding a way of telling the king'. A1.50  'The brothel scenes were vilely funny but dangerous too: these brothel-keepers meant business.  ...  Marina was in real danger, and needed every syllable of her eloquence to defend herself from ... Lysimachus'. A1.51  This violence was extended to Pericles, 'another predatory man ... [who] alternated between an animal-like state of despairing self-abasement and violent outbursts, initially roughly pushing [Marina, in the final act,] away and later seizing her equally roughly to interrogate her'. A1.52



Robin Phillips in 1986 at Stratford, Ontario, stressed the violence of the princes - 'the violence and brutality, even bestiality, which [emerged] in phrases like 'we are beastly ... warlike as the wolf', and  which [culminated] in the killing of Cloten'. A1.53  In 1987 Bill Alexander projected the 'manic bluster' of Cloten 'energetically', A1.54 and the reparative aspects of the conclusion were emphasised when the whole company was 'brought into an inward-facing and harmonious circle' at the end. A1.55  In Peter Hall's 1988 productions of Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale and The Tempest, 'disturbing and disruptive passions [were] encouraged to make their full effect'. A1.56  Of these productions Wall notes, 'The cross-casting of Tim Piggott-Smith as Leontes and Iachimo (with their shared chauvinism) and of the effective Peter Woodward as Polixenes and Postumus [sic], certainly alerts us to Shakespare's [sic] recycling of the motifs of sexual rivalry and conjugal distrust'. A1.57


The Winter's Tale

In 1981 Ronald Eyre featured 'a terrifyingly gigantic bear' in his R.S.C. production. A1.58  He also made use of 'a violent lighting change and slow-motion mime [to express] how Leontes's view of the world changed between

- 393 -


one line and the next'. A1.59  David Williams put on the play at Stratford, Ontario, in 1986, and also used a change of lighting to indicate 'a gap between what was actually happening on stage and the view that Leontes takes of it.  ...  Once the jealous obsession was established, his fantasies assumed a terrifying certainty and clarity in his mind'. A1.60  When Hermione came to trial, 'She presented a shocking sight.  In the most absolute contrast to her elegance earlier, she was barefoot and in prison rags, her hair crudely cropped and her hands manacled, and her face was ashen'. A1.61  The R.S.C. version in the same year portrayed Leontes as 'a child ... not fully responsible for his actions', A1.62 and in the trial scene he ended up 'looking like a dunce, with an over-large crown preposterously tipped forward on his brow'. A1.63


The Tempest

Ron Daniels directed this play for the R.S.C. in 1982, with an 'admirably youthful, energetic and angry' Prospero. A1.64  In renouncing his magic, there was 'a kind of relief mingled with the resignation in his voice'. A1.65  In Peter Hall's 1988 production it was clear that 'Prospero's years on the enchanted island [had] not improved his temper ... fuelled by a simmering resentment; his treatment of Ariel [was] irritable'. A1.66  In the 1988 version by Cheek by Jowl, Caliban was made Miranda's half-brother: on finally discovering this, 'her face [twisted] in a last flash of anger before they [embraced] in reconciliation'. A1.67  The R.S.C. production of 1988 moved to the Barbican in 1989, where the storm scene was played 'in deathly quiet, as though one false move or raised voice would sink the ship'. A1.68  John Woods played Prospero as a 'smilingly unassuming figure transported by violent emotions: shaking with passion in his opening story to Miranda, as though it had only happened the day before; springing into frenzied activity against the Caliban plot, and then, marvellously, halting the action for a rapt farewell to the solemn temples'. A1.69



- - -  NOTES: APPENDIX ONE  - - -


A1.1  Nicholas Shrimpton, 'Shakespeare Performances in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, 1982-3', Shakespeare Survey, 37 (1984), 168 (hereafter cited as Shrimpton, 1982-83).  return


A1.2  Alastair Goolden, 'A Woman's Place', Times Literary Supplement, March 29, 1985, p.358.  return

- 394 -


A1.3  Nicholas Shrimpton, 'Shakespeare Performances in London, Manchester and Stratford-upon-Avon 1985-6', Shakespeare Survey, 40 (1988), 171 (hereafter cited as Shrimpton, 1985-6).  return


A1.4  Ibid., p.137.  return


A1.5  Katherine Duncan-Jones, 'Psychologically Speaking', Times Literary Supplement, September 18-24, 1987, p.1019.  return


A1.6  Loc. citreturn


A1.7  Stanley Wells, 'Shakespeare Performances in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, 1986-7', Shakespeare Survey, 41 (1989), 170.  return


A1.8  Roger Warren, 'Interpretations of Shakespearian Comedy, 1981', Shakespeare Survey, 35 (1982), 143 (hereafter cited as Warren, Interpretations).  return


A1.9  Loc. citreturn


A1.10  Roger Warren, 'Shakespeare at Stratford, Ontario: The John Hirsch Years', Shakespeare Survey, 39 (1987), 189 (hereafter cited as Warren, Hirsch Years).  return


A1.11  Ibid., pp.189-190.  return


A1.12  Ibid., p.190.  return


A1.13  Nicholas Shrimpton, 'Shakespeare Performances in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, 1983-84', Shakespeare Survey, 38 (1985), 212 (hereafter cited as Shrimpton, 1983-4).  return


A1.14  Peter Kemp, 'Mellowness Is All', Times Literary Supplement, January 18, 1985, p.64.  return


A1.15  Shrimpton, 1982-3, p.169.  return


A1.16  David Profumo, 'Antics and Intrigues', Times Literary Supplement, April 11, 1986, p.394.  return


A1.17  Loc. citreturn


A1.18  H.R. Woudhuysen, 'Stylish Touches', Times Literary Supplement, July 18, 1986, p.788.  return


A1.19  Jeremy Kingston, 'Flower Power Washed up', The Times, June 5, 1989, p.21.  return


A1.20  Loc. citreturn


A1.21  Nicholas Shrimpton, 'Shakespeare Performances in London and Stratford-upon-Avon 1984-5', Shakespeare Survey, 39 (1987), 198 (hereafter cited as Shrimpton, 1984-5).  return


A1.22  Ibid., p.199.  return


A1.23  Stanley Wells, 'Larking at the Garter', Times Literary Supplement, April 19, 1985, p.438.  return


A1.24  Warren, Interpretations, p.142.  return


A1.25  Ibid., p.141.  return


A1.26  Irving Wardle, 'Hoffman the Modest Shylock Strikes a Discord', The Times, June 3, 1989, p.39.  return


A1.27  Loc. citreturn


A1.28  Loc. citreturn


A1.29  Shrimpton, 1981-2, p.152.  return


A1.30  Peter Kemp, 'Ambivalent Amiability', Times Literary Supplement, January 11, 1985, p.38.  return


A1.31  Loc. citreturn


A1.32  Katherine Duncan-Jones, 'Fun To Be with', Times Literary Supplement, April 22-28, 1988, p.450.  return

- 395 -


A1.33  Irving Wardle, Playing it Straight from the Heart', The Times, May 13, 1989, p.39.  return


A1.34  Loc. citreturn


A1.35  Loc. citreturn


A1.36  Shrimpton, 1984-5, p.199.  return


A1.37  Eric Sams, 'Pastoral Passions', Times Literary Supplement, May 3, 1985, p.497.  return


A1.38  Shrimpton, 1985-6, p.174.  return


A1.39  Duncan Wu, 'After the Real Thing', Times Literary Supplement, January 23, 1987, p.86.  return


A1.40  H.R. Woudhuysen, 'Melancholy Pleasures', Times Literary Supplement, December 18-24, 1987, p.1405.  return


A1.41  Grevel Lindop, 'An Impression of Openness', Times Literary Supplement, May 27 - June 2, 1988, p.585.  return


A1.42  Harry Eyres, 'Jolly Joking Weather for Shakespeare', The Times, June 16, 1989, p.20.  return


A1.43  Loc. citreturn


A1.44  Loc. citreturn


A1.45  Shrimpton, 1981-2, p.149.  return


A1.46  Ibid., p.151.  return


A1.47  Keith Brown, 'Forms of Tyranny', Times Literary Supplement', November 20-26, 1987, p.1280.  return


A1.48  Duncan Wu, 'Papering over the Problems', Times Literary Supplement, April 29 - My 4, 1989, p.456.  return


A1.49  Loc. citreturn


A1.50  Roger Warren, 'Shakespeare's Late Plays at Stratford, Ontario', Shakespeare Survey, 40 (1988), 156 (hereafter cited as Warren, Late Plays).  return


A1.51  Ibid., p.158.  return


A1.52  Loc. citreturn


A1.53  Loc. citreturn


A1.54  Stephen Wall, 'Becoming the Voyeur's Accomplices', Times Literary Supplement, December 4-10, 1987, p.1354.  return


A1.55  Loc. citreturn


A1.56  Stephen Wall, 'Ending the Revels', Times Literary Supplement, June 10-16, 1988, p.649 (hereafter cited as Wall, Revels).  return


A1.57  Loc. citreturn


A1.58  Warren, Interpretations, p.147.  return


A1.59  Ibid., p.148.  return


A1.60  Warren, Late Plays, p.166.  return


A1.61  Loc. citreturn


A1.62  John Pitcher, 'A Kindergarten Monarch', Times Literary Supplement, May 23, 1986, p.563.  return


A1.63  Loc. citreturn


A1.64  Shrimpton, 1981-2, p.154.  return


A1.65  David Nokes, 'The Magician Meditates', Times Literary Supplement, September 3, 1982, p.945.  return

- 396 -


A1.66  Wall, Revels, p.649.  return


A1.67  Keith Brown, 'Text-bending Tactics', Times Literary Supplement, December 2-22, 1988, p.1345.  return


A1.68  Irving Wardle, 'Prosperous Role', The Times, May 27, 1989, n.39.  return


A1.69  Loc. citreturn



Proceed to Appendix Two

Back to Contents