Lavender and Tucker lay claim to totally different "Shakespeares."
documents the rarefied world of post-modern production, specifically, three
Hamlets produced (and in two cases, starring) icons of the international
theatre community:: Peter Brook, Robert Wilson and Robert Lepage. For
these three directors Hamlet is no longer a text to interpret, but rather
"pre-text" for reinterpretation. The play, with its iconic and
canonic status, possesses "several resonant post-modern fancies...:
a refusal of closure, a taste for mind games, a liking for play and a penchant
for metaphor rather than literalism" that make it a prime target for
the rehearsal processes of Brook, Lepage and Wilson,
beginning with Brook's Paris workshop of Qui Est La, a meditation on theatre
and threatricalism that included not only snippets from the play, but
quotes and exercises based on the works of several major Twentieth Century
directors, including Brecht, Stanislavski, Artaud, Meyerhold, Gordon Craig
and Zeami Motikoyo, the medieval Japanese Noh master. Lavender is, as
is much of the theatrical world, in awe of Brook, not only because, when,
shaking his hand at a first meeting, he realizes that "the hand you
are shaking has shaken then hands of Barrault, Brecht, Craig and Grotowsk...",
but also because of Brook's disciplined approach to his craft.
Brook demands of
himself and his actors, over and over, that they question
what they are looking for in a text: "When you do a play, what is
you actually want to appear? What do you want to bring to life? If there
an end, it is obviously not just putting on a play."
For Lepage and Wilson, that just might indeed be the end. In the body
their work as directors, as well as in the two Hamlet pieces in which
appear as "solo" performers (the term in each case is somewhat
given the numerous collaborators and assistants, as well as the huge
financial and technical support their productions demand), are much more
captivated by the physical and mechanical aspects of putting on a play
than is Brook, with his Zen-like, ascetic playing space.
Lepage, for his Elsinore, builds, or rather has constructed, a massive
monolith, a disc that can rotate, rise and become a variety of backgrounds
with which to interact. Wilson, in Hamlet: A Monologue, constructs (or,
again, has constructed for him) a "Craigian" pile of rocks which
throughout the evening. Wilson, like Lepage, is better known for his
direction than his acting, and they both allow themselves (or the British
actor Peter Darling, who eventually replaced Lepage) to become puppets
in their own constructs.
Lavender spends a lot of time, perhaps, too much time, detailing the
rehearsal processes of the three uber-directors, but he does succeed in
showing us how culture is made on an international scale. These are works
(including the final chapter on Brook's Hamlet, which he staged several
years after the Qui Est La workshop) for "high culture consumers
cognoscenti," (what I call the "art-in-black" crowd) who
already know (and
are probably bored by) the play, and who "are in the market for Shakespeare-made-strange."
The plays' financial success depends on festival directors and booking
managers who can sell futures in the brand names of Brook, Wilson and
Lepage, let alone Shakespeare, on the world's cultural exchange, like
so many hog bellies or bushels of wheat, to be gobbled up
by a privileged cultural elite.
Despite Lavender's sharp eye (and occasionally sharp tongue) and the
brilliance of the three men at work, the book leaves us with the vaguely
sad feeling that all this time, talent and effort will never a reach a
large, popular audience; that these artists are working in an increasingly
irrelevant art form.
Director Patrick Tucker has no Boswell like Lavender to document his work
with the Original Shakespeare Company, his London-based ensemble, so he
has taken the task on himself. Tucker, originally trained as a scientist
launching a successful directing career in theatre and television in England,
reports on his findings in a detailed (too detailed, really) way, providing
us with all we want to know about what he does.
Now, what does he do? Patrick, whom I know and like personally, is a firm
believer in the validity of the 1623 First Folio as an acting text, and
of "cue scripts" (where the actor only has his part and the
word or two that cues him in) as the way to gain insights into acting
Shakespeare. Tucker argues, passionately and with wit, for faithfully
following the playwright's intentions, which he claims can be found by
close, nay, scientific, scrutiny of clues and tips embedded in the text.
And there is method in his madness.
If you only have your part, you, the actor, have to be fully focused and
alert on stage, totally present, so yes, scene work, and even one or two
performances of a play done this way, brings a kind of energy that you
might not get after six weeks (let alone several months) of tinkering
with the texts. (Of course, the freshness goes away after several performances
in a modern theatre). And, yes, Shakespeare did give plenty of staging
clues within the texts of his plays, but these can be found through careful
reading of the whole play as well. And his admonition not to trust to
editors, as a comparative reading of several editions of any one play
will prove, is well founded. But, here's the rub.
I believe, that
if Shakespeare had had indoor plumbing (perhaps not post-modern plumbing)
he would have used it. There is value in interpretation, in examining
variant critical options, and, yes, in rehearsing. Patrick's method seems
to stop one step short of actually interpreting the plays, as if "doing
it as Shakespeare liked it", a) could be proven, and b) justifies
the sometimes amateurish results his method gets (a respected teacher,
Tucker uses many current and former students in his work). While his book
is hardly easy going (too many productions and workshops given in too
much detail), it does contain tips for the actor or acting student looking
for a fresh and challenging
insight into Shakespeare's plays. Besides, given the prevailing cultural
today, just daring to assume that we can infer what Shakespeare intended,
makes Tucker's a book worth looking at on those over-crowded shelves.