A Midsummer Night’s Scream

With just six actors and a five-person crew, the idea of staging any Shakespearean drama with so few people can only be described as ambitious, and it would require something a little different to separate this performance from the insipid surplus of banal Shakespeare plays circulating in Oxford. The latest of the BT’s rare forays into Shakespeare seemed a menacing prospect, what with the cast’s suggestion that the title be amended to The Tragedy of Richard Duke of York: It’s Not For Girls. And menacing it certainly was. The cast exudes an edgy verve which lends disturbing realism to an already violent plot. Rob Crowe is commanding as the imperious Duke, combining arrogance with dependence upon Raj Gathani’s sepulchral psychopath, Jack Cade, and George Norton’s Machiavellian pantomime-villain, Warwick. Their coup d’état for the throne the pathetically ineffectual Henry VI, played by director Tom Richards, culminates in the decisive Battle of St Albans. The audience is subjected to a sensory onslaught as a percussive beat and low lighting create a dark, sordid battle scene infused with genuine poignancy, as Dave Opperman’s Clifford mourns his dead father. Richards had envisaged “a naturalistic presentation of violence”, and the choice modern dress, rather than period costume, allows the stunning fight choreography to express raw emotion which transcends its historical setting. Yet in terms of sheer malevolence, Becky Hug’s brutal portrayal of Henry’s wife, Margaret, puts the Battle of St Albans shame. The sneering disdain the she-wolf of France’ for her well-meaning husband combines with a vicious desire for vengeance against York, and unsettling performance by thirteen- year-old James Utechin York’s young son makes his murder even more shocking. Despite a consistently high standard of acting and presentation, however, his death heralds sort of ‘pity fatigue’. Whether the fault of the play or the players, so many people die within such a short space of time that the audience are left teetering on the brink of apathy. York’s frenzied death scene is more disturbing than tragic, but Crowe’s stage presence remains powerful and sustains the poignancy of the dénouement. This is the sort of play that can into one of two traps, through being either hopelessly over-played or distorted by modern theatre’s mania for innovation. Instead, it skims the edge of both pitfalls without succumbing to either. A well-staged production with a decidedly professional sheen, its eclectic blend originality and conventional performance are sure to overcome the shortcomings of an emotionally draining plot.
ARCHIVE: 2nd Week TT 2003