Thursday, 23 June 2016

On Politicians rather than Politics (Perhaps)

There are lots of sayings about politicians. I googled and quickly found 'Politicians are like sperm; one in a million turns out to be a human being' (I haven't found the origin of that one yet). Or from Nikita Kruschev, 'Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.' I don't know how it was phrased in Russian, but evidently it translates to 'politicians are globally useless'.

General thoughts along the lines of 'Those who want to govern shouldn't be allowed to' pervade my understanding of politicians. The behaviour of the Republican party in the US, and Donald Trump in particular, would have most of the Founding Fathers spinning in their graves, should there be any substance there left to spin. When elected representatives have to resort to a sit-in to have an important topic discussed, and are then threatened with arrest, something is badly wrong.

Our own Esteemed Leaders aren't a whole lot better. Promises that are rarely kept, 'facts' that turn out to have rather a lot of small print that undermines them completely, and statements that could be interpreted as incitement to violence as a legitimate next step for the dissatisfied. It's enough to make one weep. Or at the very least, become extremely cynical.

I could never be a politician myself. Hopeless at confrontation, I don't take rejection well (I've even stopped sending out Facebook friend requests in case they're turned down!) and I couldn't put up with the boorish behaviour that appears to be all too common these days.  I know deep down there must be some decent politicians, but they are few and far between. The death of Jo Cox is a great loss to British politics, as she appears to have been principled and with the mental strength to put up with the metaphorical crap that flies around, but I can only hope that others step forward to take her place defending the weak and standing up to corporate bullies.

Fingers crossed for good results (from my perspective) of both the key political events going on today. The young people of the USA desperately need gun reform laws and the young people of the UK need a future unblighted by belligerent neighbours. The politicians seem to have little to do with either outcome, caught up as they appear to be in personalities rather than democracy.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

To Change or not To Change, that is the question

The first play I ever directed was a school production of Macbeth. Luckily, there are very few stage directions in Shakespeare, so directors don't have a little voice telling them how they should be doing the play. We staged it in a way that worked for us, cut out a large section of Act 4 that was more for the benefit of the 17th century audience anyway, and the kids did a stonking good version of a well-known piece. (A number of the cast had an exam the following term in which they had to write an essay on a play they'd studied; they did brilliantly because, having performed it, they now understood the play very thoroughly.)

I've looked at scripts that specify 'no cuts or alterations' (this included Oliver!, in which some of the chorus numbers are, frankly, a little long, especially for a cast entirely of pre-teens; is it possible we forgot to do a verse or two? But we didn't specifically make any cuts). From an amateur director's point of view, they're annoying. The chance of ending up with anything more than a clone or a pale shadow of a professional production is pretty slim. I know in cinema there are homage films that recreate their subjects frame by frame, but generally movie remakes try to do something a little different with the initial topic.

On stage, it's more fun for a director and cast, and better for an audience too, if there is room for interpretation that can throw an interesting light on the key points of a dramatic piece. Carmen set in 1936 instead of 1820 emphasises the unchanged attitudes to women in 20th century Spain, for example. A reinterpretation of a dramatic piece is just a different form of textual intervention.

Most writers know that once a piece of writing has been handed over for performance, it is likely to change, and it's something they just have to deal with. I've had a few pieces performed, most close to the text, one radically different that I personally felt spoiled it, but once a cast has it, it's the property of the cast and audience - because of course they also influence the performance. And it may end up being nothing like it was on the page.

So I was bemused by the reviewer on IMDb who didn't like the recent Midsummer Night's Dream on BBC because the text had been changed. He had studied it at school, loved the play, had seen many versions of it over the years, but took exception to a couple of the changes (I won't specify in case you haven't seen it yet!), on the grounds that "this wondrous play has all the magical ingredients in its original form which already provides plenty of scope for a variety of interpretations; so this work need no updating or unexpected twists to bring it to a new audience." (Given how little Shakespeare is actually studied in schools nowadays, I think it *precisely* needed updating to bring it to a new audience. And jolly good updating it was too - really, if you haven't seen it yet, you should. Whether you're a Dr Who fan or not.) I find it hard to believe that the reviewer hadn't encountered other changes in all the multiple versions he claimed to have seen.

Let's face it, if you know anything about Shakespeare, or even if you've just been watching Upstart Crow on TV, you'll be aware that Shakespeare originally wrote Titania to be played by a man. Everything on the page can be transformed by the time it reaches the stage - just do it for a reason. If it's a good one, the audience will get it. And if they don't - maybe you weren't bold enough with your changes.