Reviewers are our Friends
Time for part 2 of our series on Getting into Shakespeare! Last week we looked at how Shakespearean Movies are our Friends. But let's face it, just about everyone who wants to get into Shakespeare doesn't just want to watch movies. We all want to go to the theatre and see it happen live, before our very eyes!
Problem: it is sadly true that sometimes a director will get an attack of the Bizarre-Interpretations and thus occasionally Shakespeare plays are not fun. On the other hand, a good play can be a memorable and wonderful experience. You would love it! So I’m going to try to help you find a good one.
First: I’d very much recommend attending a live production, if there’s one in your town that has gotten good reviews.
If everyone else hates or loves a production, you probably will too, so before you plunk down your money, just go to google and type in the name of the play, your town and the word “review.” Helpful stuff will tend to pop up.
Read pretty carefully through what the reviewer says. Watch out for terms like “highly innovative,” “risque,” or “a new interpretation.” These usually mean that this production is designed for those who are already very familiar with the play, and that it will likely be a sort of spoof, or have a lot of atypical interpretations in the delivery of the lines. In other words, the production will probably be confusing.
I also think "confusing," when I read reviews telling me that the play is a “gender-bending” or "gender-blind casting" version. Given that Shakespeare often has women dressed up as men as a plot point, this can really add mental trauma to an otherwise lovely evening: “Wait - that’s a girl dressed up as a guy, who is really supposed to be just a guy. And that’s a girl dressed up as a guy who is now supposed to be a girl dressed up as a guy. And that’s a guy dressed up as a girl, who is supposed to be a girl. And that...” Honestly, I think Shakespeare already deals with gender issues a lot in his stories, so adding more can dilute the strength of some of those plot points, but I digress...
If the reviewer uses words like “traditional” or “classic,” that is a very good sign that it will be a pretty straight-shooting, comprehensible version. Try to go to such a show.
One tip: with a few exceptions, I’ve had fairly good luck with the Shakespeare in the Park productions in my locale. They’re usually fun shows designed to be understandable. And, because they're free productions at parks, the risk is low - if you don’t like it, have a picnic instead!
When you’ve found a promising show, if it's not Shakespeare in the Park, it may be expensive. So check the theatre's website or call to see if they have cheaper rush tickets. There are also often matinee or weeknight deals. Call the box office and ask what the cheapest tickets are.
Once you're safely at the theatre, remember that It’s normal to not understand what’s going on at the beginning of the play, so relax, and see how things unfold.
Read the program to check what characters are listed and where the scenes are supposed to be set. This helps keep track of who is who and where we are (I would not advise reading all of the actor bios in the back of the program during the show, like I tend to do).
You can also check the program for a plot synopsis. This can be a great way to be sure you will not be totally confused. If you want the end to be a surprise, you could try reading just the first half of the synopsis before the play starts, or even ignore it altogether (!).
Enjoy the show!
Next Time... Getting Into Shakespeare: Editors are our Friends