Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Stratford’s “Mary Stuart”, Again
All reviewers had offered a uniform interpretation of the play—its theme, they claimed, was religious zealotry—and such nonsense suggested two things: they had never read Schiller’s play; and they had relied upon a Stratford Festival press kit proffered to reviewers in order to interpret the play.
The reviewers had praised the direction of Antoni Cimolino. Cimolino had assumed the leadership of The Stratford Festival this season, and “Mary Stuart” had been his first production as Artistic Director. I suspect the reviewers had been hesitant to offer meaningful and accurate assessments of Cimolino’s work—Cimolino’s work was not good—because “Mary Stuart” was Cimolino’s inaugural production.
Perhaps attempts to reintroduce the works of Schiller to English-speaking audiences should be abandoned. Every time I have seen a Schiller production in North America or the U.K., the effort has been manhandled by directors and actors both.
English-language critics have proven themselves to be equally clueless on the subject of Schiller. Ben Brantley’s New York Times review of the 2005 Donmar Warehouse production of “Mary Stuart”, staged on Broadway in 2009, had to be seen to be believed. A Kenneth Tynan review of a 1958 Old Vic production of “Mary Stuart” described the play as “a Spanish tragedy composed of themes borrowed from Hamlet and Phèdre”—words that trailed Tynan to his grave.
And the issue of the ridiculous runway thrust at Stratford remains. Mercifully, we saw only two productions at the venue with the runway thrust—“Measure For Measure” and “Mary Stuart”—and I doubt I shall ever again be enticed into such an unsatisfactory playing space. Watching the awkward placements of actors around the large and impractical arena—first a scene over here, then a scene over there—made it hard for us to take anything seriously.
To our amusement, my brother proved amazingly accurate in predicting where each succeeding formation of actors would occur. (He is, after all, an engineer.)
My mother said that watching “Mary Stuart” was akin to watching grade school pupils being shepherded around a gymnasium during some peculiar elementary-school pageant.
Joshua said the whole thing reminded him of marching band practice in high school.
My father said the arena should be flooded and used for the presentation of mock naval battles.
Myself, I would refuse to work in such a space, as director or actor. So many compromises are involved—scenic compromises, lighting compromises, blocking compromises—that any production other than a spectacle is destined to fail.
In such an unsatisfying venue, in any given scene, roughly 75 per cent of the audience is frozen out of the action—in which case I say: “Why bother?”