OK, so we didn’t actually ask which of Shakespeare’s plays makes people want to propel themselves out of the nearest window, but as we continue to showcase contemporary perspectives on Shakespeare and his world, we did ask the lovely people at Canada’s National Voice Intensive, a training and research institute for actors and performers, which Shakespeare play they deemed most difficult to direct or perform. Here are their answers…
David Smukler, Artistic Director, Canada’s National Voice Intensive
Timon of Athens is certainly one of the more difficult plays to perform or direct. Unpleasant people, unpleasant events, unsatisfactory ending: thick heavy text, lots of raging and a limited palate. Do we actually become interested in Timon’s journey? The poetic imagery remains in dark heavy colours with little chance of variation or shading. It is a story about middle aged businessmen and politicians. I’m sure that it will appeal to those who follow Wall Street, Washington D.C., Ottawa and London politics, but I am concerned that they are a limited audience.
Dawn McCaugherty, Faculty, Canada’s National Voice Intensive
All’s Well that Ends Well is surely one of the more difficult plays to present in our era. Described by George Bernard Shaw as a “bitter play with a bitter title”, the premise that so long as the end result is good, everything that happens along the way is perfectly fine is questionable to say the least. Add to that a heroine that loves to distraction not only a cad, but a cad who detests and goes out of his way to avoid her at all costs even after the royal decree that they must marry, whom she then pursues across the continent and schemes secretly to lose her virginity to through the contrivance of the ‘bed trick’. When Bertram discovers the lengths Helen has gone to win him, he supposedly relents and commits to be a good husband. Now, that’s the recipe for a good and lasting marriage. As I see it, anyway.
Lisa Beley, Faculty, Canada’s National Voice Intensive
A Winter’s Tale offers particular challenges for directors and performers alike. It exists in a universe where moods swing violently and seemingly without cause; Hermione’s sixteen-year absence ends in her appearance as a statue that miraculously re-animates; coincidences abound – none more so than Perdita and Florizel’s unlikely encounter and let’s not forget the random bear encounter. All this set in a particularly unspecific locale that can tend to confuse, rather that solidify our sense of place, potentially alienating an audience further. It is, perhaps uniquely in the canon, ‘un-believable’. I suspect it is the very nature of credibility itself that Shakespeare is exploring here. Indeed, the characters themselves seem to be in on the ruse, often commenting on the unlikeliness of events. In this instance, our challenge as artists must be to create a world that, though calculatedly ‘incredible’, is nonetheless satisfying on another level.
Gary Logan, Faculty, Canada’s National Voice Intensive
Out of the hat full of difficult Shakespeare plays to perform in or direct, The Taming of the Shrew stands out as one of the hardest to reconcile, for both the actor and director. How does one resolve the issues of the parity of powers and sexual equality in a play that is bent on asserting that Man must have dominion over Woman; that it is his natural right? In my experience, modern audiences are more likely to rationalize why Jews are to be converted, why innocent women are to be extorted for sex (as long as a brother’s life can be saved), and why a baby girl’s likely death is the prerogative of a suspicious father, than they will stomach the idea—in this day and age and in our western world—that a woman should be subject to a man’s will. Perhaps the problem is that there is no comeuppance; it is the climax and denouement.
The Voice Intensive is a Toronto based performance institution offering a range of acting programmes, which combine the exploration of body and voice within the layered text of Shakespeare. The experienced faculty lead the participants into the work, where they explore and play in an environment of continuous support and stimulation. The courses run from May-June, and this year’s plays include The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Twelfth Night and Richard III. (But hurry, the deadline to register is March 16th!)
For more information, please visit their website www.voiceintensive.org/index.php