Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Seeing things anew

As one gets older it is easy to slip into thinking that life holds nothing new, that one won't recapture that thrill of seeing, hearing, watching something for the first time. I'm a keen theatre goer- especially Shakespeare- and I often think how wonderful it would be to go back and see plays for the first time again, not knowing how it turns out. Some plays I know so well after seeing them many times or studying/acting in them at school that I can recite them in my head as I'm seeing them on the stage and I notice where the cuts and changes have been made in the text and this can make a poor production even worse. I've seen some very disappointing productions this year, disappointing for all sorts of reasons. Some plays I have vowed never to see again as I've seen so many bad productions of them over the years I really don't want to see any more. MacBeth is one such- I've seen two really wonderful productions and most of the rest have been some of the worst evenings I've spent at the theatre. I broke my MacBeth rule this year as it was the opening season for the RSC at their new theatre...it wasn't the worst I've seen, (a real humdinger at the Old Vic many years back) but it was desperately bad. But then, I also broke my 'never, ever again' rule for the Merchant of Venice ( one good production, one almost good, the rest intolerably bad) for the same RSC-related reason, coupled with the casting of Patrick Stewart as Shylock. This was a fabulously enjoyable production, I know now I really don't need to do the Merchant again- I've seen a wonderful production, I know the chances of another are slim.
One play that constantly delights and interests, is Hamlet. Seen double figures worth of Hamlets over the years- two were real turkeys on a monumental scale, some were interesting but not particularly good, others have been fabulously good. Until today my top 3 were David Tennant for the RSC, Kenneth Branagh , also RSC and ( years ago now) Robert Lindsay in a tiny tent for the Manchester Exchange. A pretty hard trio to beat. Today I went to see Hamlet at the Young Vic. Michael Sheen. I wasn't at all sure about Michael Sheen. I went with two theatre going chums- between us we have notched up over 30 Hamlets and the oldest of us has experienced some 60 plus years of theatre going. We all agreed that, despite knowing the text so well, despite knowing the story so well, despite seeing so many fine performances, Mr Sheen was simply the best Hamlet we had ever seen and that the play felt as if it was our first time of seeing it- fresh, new, exciting- but true to the text and with no messing around. It is a production that has polarised audiences- quite a few people left at the interval. But for me- oh the pleasure of discovering that, after all this time, after all the productions I have seen or been in, there it was, brand new, as fresh as the first time I saw it: exciting, deeply moving and thoroughly, thoroughly absorbing. Catch it if you can...

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