32 Short Thoughts about "The Glorious Moment"
Montreux, V. V., Shakespeare Bulletin
When the spectator sees words acted, it is immediately apparent that something beyond the words, the primacy of the occasion, is paramount.
J.L. Styan, Drama, Stage and Audience, vii
This piece is an attempt to respond to the Editor's call for reviews in "a variety of shapes, sizes, and modes." Rather than offering a pseudo-comprehensive description of direction, design and acting "choices" in each of the eight productions that comprised "The Glorious Moment," my interest is in providing some record--however spontaneous, informal, and stubby--of an experience of four consecutive days of Shakespearean theatregoing in March 2008. Here, then, are thirty-two of the thoughts it was possible to think in response to the Royal Shakespeare Company's latest history cycle. Readers frustrated by the absence of description of stage incident will find immediate relief in any number of excellent reviews of these very well-documented productions. For academic reviews, see: Stuart Hampton-Reeves, Shakespeare 3 (2007): 213-16; Eric Griffiths, TLS 23 May 2008: 17-18; Bill Gelber, Early Modern Literary Studies 13, no. 3 (2008): 22: 1-5; Alan C. Dessen, Shakespeare Bulletin 26, no. 1 (2008): 63-75; Jon Dawson, A Groat's Worth of Wit 19, no. 1 (2008): 16-19; Will Sharpe, Shakespeare 3 (2007): 253-55; Helen Tidy, A Groat's Worth of Wit 18, no. 1 (2007): 37-38; Cahiers Elisabethains Special Issue: The Royal Shakespeare Company Complete Worn Festival, 2006-2007, Stratford-upon-Avon, (2007) passim. Cast lists and production credits will also be found in these reviews.
1 "The Glorious Moment": Thursday 13th--Sunday 16th March, 2008, The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Eight of Shakespeare's history plays in order of the lives and deaths of kings: Richard II, a brace of Henriads, Richard III. Approximately 1,389 minutes of Shakespearean performance in which 34 actors played 264 parts, spoke over 200,000 words, wore over 800 costumes and 40 wigs, wielded 120 weapons and, consequently, spilt over 15 liters of stage blood. In the 71-hours that encompass these performances, the average member of the Courtyard audience wears 2.7 costumes and 0.02 wigs, drinks 3.6 liters of coffee, chats up two-thirds of an actor in the Dirty Duck, and tosses 2.1 carnations
at the stage in the tumultuous standing ovation on Sunday afternoon.
2 The Courtyard Theatre has accrued an air of permanence. It no longer smells like the inside of a new sneaker. The walk down Waterside takes the theatregoer through a landscape in dramatic flux: in a Chekhovian touch, the cherry blossoms have been axed, the Bancroft Gardens dug over and fenced off. Towering above the mess, the slim facade of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre propped up by thick blue girders. Behind the facade, an empty space, a ghostly rubble where once stood the RST auditorium. Such spectacles of mutability and abrupt change are rare in Stratford, a town where the front page of the local newspaper is wont to read: "Fresh" Soup was Two Weeks Old or Heavens! Squirrels Fall Through Holy Trinity's Ceiling.
3 In both the Richard H and Richard III programs, Claire Shadowplay Asquith writes of the "coded" politics of the History plays. Asquith was also invited to speak to the cast during rehearsals. Her double-entry in the programs effectively makes her the dominant critical voice in the cycle's paratexts. I'm now on Shadowplay alert and primed to receive the weekend's coded messages.
4 What is the story this event wants to tell? On one level, it is the story of a century of conflict for the crown of England and territory in France. On another, this weekend tells a story about the regeneration of a theatre company after the collective trauma of the latter days of Adrian Noble. The message: Look! We have come through. This is theatre as institutional, even parochial ritual--the staging of a history cycle as rite of passage, part-initiation, part-investiture of the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. …