|Posted on December 27, 2014 at 9:00 AM|
Written by Christina Storey
Shakespeare scares me. I am an English student, hoping to do English at university but the thought of analysing Shakespeare scares me. But the premise of these poetic plays having been performed for the last 400 years fascinates me, so when I had the chance to go and see the traditional performance of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ at Shakespeares Globe and the ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ version of ‘Richard III,’ I was very intrigued. Seeing Shakespeare’s plays in the flesh bought his works to life and made me see a new side to it rather than just poetic words plastered onto a page.
I never thought Shakespeare could be funny but the use of two sets of twins and props had me smiling in my seat during ‘The Comedy of Errors’. ‘The Comedy of Errors’ is based around twin brothers (both called Antipholus) and another pair of twin brothers who are servants (both called Dromio), however, both brothers (Antipholus) are unaware that they are a twin, therefore confusing the audience, other characters and themselves. One Antipholus is ‘astonished by his foreign hospitality’ and the other ‘enraged by the hostility of his hometown.’ The twin servants are also unaware that one another exists so are baffled but the varying orders and subsequent beatings from their masters. When reading about this play before, I was utterly and completely confused. I didn’t understand how each twin could not know of the other one and did not understand how it would be funny. However watching this on stage enhanced Shakespeare’s comical flare. There is slapstick exaggerated by props; in one scene there is a food fight of just lettuces! This part was so random that it shocked me but I ended up laughing at the sheer prospect of it. Seeing the play in Shakespeare’s Globe, where it would have been originally performed, was really interesting. As it is a round theatre it feels inclusive and it feels like the actors are always acting to the very ends of the audience, even when they’re at the side of the stage. The use of renaissance costuming enhanced this whole atmosphere as well, it really made you feel like you were watching what Shakespeare would have wanted you to see.
Shakespeare creates a series of bathos moments that enhance the depth of his play, these show that it isn’t just a ‘farce’ like some contemporary critics said. There are multiple unsettling subjects like the broken families, the threat of execution, frequent violence and slavery. However all these moments were followed by a comical scene releasing the tension that had been created. This is in fact one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays however the varying storylines ensure this does not take away from it. This play uses all three unities; of place, time and action. The time is what I found the most intriguing, as the whole of the action took place in just 24 hours! This unrealistic element made it a whole lot funnier. This performance of ‘The Comedy of Errors’ was a traditional performance and I felt that I was seeing exactly what Shakespeare would have wanted me to see, which is much more than just words on a page.
The ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ performance of ‘Richard III’ was performed in London at Trafalgar Studios for three months last summer with Martin Freeman as Richard III. This was a complete contrast to ‘The Comedy of Errors’ as it is set in the 1970’s and was performed in a studio so the audience were on staggered seating and were looking down at the actors. I knew about the history of this play and Richard III because I had previously briefly studied it so had more general knowledge before the play than I had of ‘The Comedy of Errors’. It is based around King Richard III ascend to the throne, and his murder at the battle of Bosworth. It follows Richard III killing of the two princes in the tower, his brother George, and his other brother's wife; Elizabeth.
Shakespeare has created a really interesting villain that was brought to life by Martin Freeman. Richard is an entertaining villain who the audience actually enjoys, his humour creates him as a likeable protagonist. The fact Richard uses the audience as confidants enhances the relationship between the audience and the hero. However after Richard orders to kill the princes, his humorous tone becomes grotesque and villainous. This change in character tone stood out to me in this production. Freeman’s portrayal of the whole character; the hunchback, the limp and the intense humour, created an intense atmosphere that almost made me feel uncomfortable.
In contrast to ‘The Comedy of Errors’, ‘Richard III’ is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays. Although I was on the edge of my seat most of the play I couldn’t help but want the interval sooner so I could clarify the storyline. Watching this play really helped my knowledge of the Tudor ascend to the throne and crystallised this villainous character that Shakespeare has created.
Watching both of these juxtaposing plays on the stage this year has really helped me understand Shakespeare more. It has helped me realise that Shakespeare’s works can be performed in so many different ways and that these famous works are much more than just words on a page.