I was very confused watching Ale House Theatre’s production of Twelfe Night, Or What You Will, which plays as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival through July 12th, 2015 because I am unsure why this group of performers are tackling Shakespeare at all.
On their website Ale House Theatre states that part of their mandate is as follows, “can an audience laugh or be moved without understanding Elizabethan culture, fashion, language, and tastes? ….ya.” They state that they are attempting to stage these productions using Original Practices, yet we are inside, women are playing women, the audience is seated and silent, so it’s clear that giant contemporary liberties are being taken with that concept. The biggest challenge this production faces, is that in trying to make Shakespeare funny for those who don’t understand Elizabethan culture, fashion or language, the concept seems to be to ensure that the actors don’t understand these things either.
A truly skilled actor performing Shakespeare, whether dressed in the play’s historically accurate clothes, in Elizabethan dress, or in blue jeans, whether at the Globe Theatre, in the park or at the pub, whether the play is set as Shakespeare set it or in Outer space in the future, the actor is able to communicate Shakespeare’s language to the audience. Even if a joke is an obscure Elizabethan reference, a skilled actor knows how to translate, a skilled actor knows how to make Shakespeare’s text easy to understand. In this production of Twelfe Night the actors recite the words of Shakespeare, without infusing them with much beyond false, “I’m acting!” voices, and the comedy is all silly business that often doesn’t correlate with the words at all, lacquered on top, like someone dubbing the wrong words over a movie. Perhaps the false voices are an attempt to recreate the way Elizabethan actors may have spoke, but they were outside in vast theatres talking over rowdy peasants seducing prostitutes and needing to be understood by the upper classes in the boxes very far away from them. We are at the St. Vladimir Institute so close the actors are nearly tripping over us. It’s also worthy of note that Shakespeare and his actors were using the most contemporary acting style known and wearing the contemporary clothes of their day… so in that way the best way to replicate Shakespeare using “Original Practices” is to do the same.
Arguably the most impressive and revered aspect of a William Shakespeare play is his use of language; if a theatre company is going to deliberately disregard it, I wonder what the point is of them performing Shakespeare at all?
Twelfe Night, or what you will plays at the St. Vladimir Institute (620 Spadina Avenue) as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival at the following times:
July 09 at 07:00 PM buy tickets
July 12 at 04:30 PM buy tickets