By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Mendes
Company: Old Vic Bridge Project
Venue: Old Vic
Date: Wednesday 30th June 2010
This was a bizarre mixture. The Bridge Project brings together British and American actors for joint productions – this year’s offerings are As You Like It and The Tempest – but we expected they would rehearse in one group. Today’s effort looked liked they’d rehearsed separately, and were still trying to figure out how to put the two halves together. For the most part, the Brits were good, with clear delivery of lines and some animation to their performances. For the most part, the U.S. team were OK, despite noticeably weaker delivery, but with Christian Camargo as Orlando the standard of performance nose-dived. His delivery never rose above the mechanical, his demeanour was lacklustre, his expression deeply depressed, and I even wondered if he was on some form of medication, he seemed so out of it. This obvious weakness brought the whole production down, and it was all the worse for us because Edward Bennett was in the cast, playing Oliver, the younger-looking older brother to Orlando – ‘unless the master were the man.’ One quick cast change would improve this production enormously; as it is, the better performances saved it from a miserable 2/10 rating, and judging by the empty seats which appeared after the interval, we weren’t the only ones suffering. I did nod off a bit in the second half, but according to Steve, I didn’t miss much.
The set was pretty good, though. The stage had been brought forward again, and there were exits through the first boxes on either side, as well as stairs at the front left of the stage. A couple of tall skinny tree trunks sat one on either side of the forestage, and there were stacks of chopped wood nestling in each of the boxes. A long garden bench sat further back on the left for the opening scenes, and during the play all sorts of furniture, carts, etc. were whisked on and off, so efficiently that I really didn’t notice them.
For the opening scenes, there was a full length wooden wall not far behind the bench, with a door in the centre. Once into the forest, this wall rose up and exposed the rest of the stage, with lots more tree trunks and a ramp up to the central exit at the back. In the summer, the undergrowth was rampant, and there were plenty of locations for an ardent romantic poet to stick his oeuvre. The costumes were modern.
Last year there were lots of interesting aspects to the productions; this time I found little to excite me, but there was one gem nestling amongst the straw. When Touchstone was describing the seven degrees of quarrelling, he involved the Duke and Jacques, encouraging them to act out the various stages. When he came to the end and made the reference to a quarrel being patched up with an ‘if’, he looked meaningfully at the Duke. I caught the reference to the two men being ‘sworn brothers’ afterwards, and at first I thought the Duke’s reaction was his recollection of how his own brother had treated him. But then his words to Touchstone were accompanied by a gesture, touching his nose I think, which made me realise that Touchstone had been referring to something in the past between the Duke and his brother. We enjoyed that idea very much.
I wasn’t so taken with Jacques imitating Bob Dylan for his verse of the first song in the forest. It was a good enough impression, especially with the mouth organ, but it distorted the words so that I couldn’t hear the ‘Ducdame’ line. Since I know the play well enough I still got the humour of Jacques’ next line, but it was weakened for me.
Touchstone was pretty good, Audrey, Phoebe and their swains were fine (William headbutted Touchstone, good for him), Celia was OK, and LeBeau was fine if a bit too affected with his very slow delivery. Antony O’Donnell was fine as Corin, and Michael Williams as both Dukes did very well. I liked the changeover, although it took a little time. Duke baddie discovered his daughter’s flight at court, standing in a square of light. The scene ended, the wall rose, and the Duke and his men walked back to where some boxes sat, took out the extra clothes they needed and put them on, while the boxes were repositioned for the next scene. It worked quite well, and at least we were clear that the same actor was playing two parts.
Charles was the skinniest wrestler I’ve ever seen, not much bigger than Orlando. The fight scene was played out under a swinging light, à la Callan, which made it harder to see what was going on. Perhaps they weren’t confident in the fight director, as the little I could make out wasn’t very convincing.
I’ve already put the boot into Orlando, so that just leaves Juliet Rylance as Rosalind. It sounds like faint praise to say she was fine, but with such a limp Orlando I don’t know that she could have done any better. I did like the way she ran the lines together into unintelligibilty when questioning Celia about Orlando – it got the point across even better than clear enunciation of every word. She’s certainly a good actress to make us believe Rosalind was actually in love with the big lump. Better luck next time.
© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me