Bringing Shakespeare’s plays to the big screen is nothing new. The results range from superb (Laurence Olivier’s Henry V) to somewhat mediocre (Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender), cross-references below.
This just-released series of productions from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival are not so much film adaptations of the Bard’s work but actual stage performances captured by cameras.
Having seen Chris Abraham’s take on The Taming of the Shrew at last year’s festival (and finding the overall tone closer to Monty Python’s Flying Circus than wry, biting satire—cross-reference below), I was intrigued to see how film director Barry Avrich would bring Abraham’s vision to a theatre near you—an encore assignment, having produced and directed other Stratford productions.
In live theatre, of course, viewers are also the cinematographers, selecting every shot. Directors and actors can draw attention to specific stage events, but it is the audience that “selects” the action. In film, viewers do not have that option: every frame is pre-ordained. Accordingly, a viewing of this Shrew is highly recommended due in large part to the ability of the medium to present marvellously detailed displays of the cast—particularly facial expressions.
Watching Deborah Hay’s truly incredible journey from devilish Katherina to dutiful Kate is a revelation that few patrons will ever see in such close proximity, even if perched in the front row. Similarly, Ben Carlson’s double duty as Christopher Sly (blogger of the worst rank) and Petruchio (woman tamer extraordinaire) is a master class of employing the entire body in the service of characterization. Their expertly staged battle scene is a classic example of physical and spoken comedy yielding side-splitting results. You’d almost swear they were married!
Because there is an audience, the shtick for “The Induction”—with Sly’s hilarious monologue and the players happily talking to “us”—has the look and feel of a late night talk show before the main event gets underway. The only blemish comes from the female chorus whose top notes are a tad shy of pitch perfect. And kudos to the onstage band where the purposely garish trumpet and smashingly loud percussion reinforce the shrew’s temperament to a T.
In the audio department, there is most certainly never a line lost, but the one-dimensional volume/depth becomes a little wearing—especially for those who’ve revelled in the Festival Theatre’s superb acoustics during seasons past.
Theatregoers of all stripes are encouraged to savour the Stratford experience both in person or on all manner of devices. There’s much to learn from both. JWR