In the last month I've been to see two plays at the RSC: Vice Versa at the Swan and Titus Andronicus at the main theatre.
As you can see from the programmes, they were a bit different. 'Vice Versa' is a new play, written by Phil Porter and described as a 'side-splitting comedy romp', inspired by the Roman playwright Plautus. On the other hand, 'Titus Andronicus' is famously the Shakespeare play with the highest body count (which is saying something). I leave you to guess which one I was looking forward to most ...
... which just goes to show how wrong you can be. 'Vice Versa' has had good reviews and most of the audience seemed to love it but it left both me and my son cold. There was no plot, no character development and the jokes were tediously predictable. For those of you of a certain age, think of a combination of 'Up Pompeii' and a 1970s panto. The production was excellent as were the actors but oh dear, what a play! We were still glad we'd gone as it gave us hours of conversation, trying to work out why it was so bad.
Now for 'Titus Andronicus'. This is one of the plays I don't know so I read it before going to see the play. Well ... there are three hands and one tongue cut off, a double rape and so many murders I lost count. By the time I finished reading I was feeling slightly sick. I knew that the play would be better though; for anyone who thinks Shakespeare is difficult, do go and see it live - it will all make sense in the theatre.
It's always interesting to see how each play is staged. Having seen 'Julius Caesar' and 'Antony and Cleopatra' this year which were both in Roman dress, I had assumed that this one would be too. Instead, Rome's Capitol was distinctly reminiscent of the White House, complete with podium, microphone and Secret Service men talking into their radios. The microphone itself almost stood in for the Emperor's crown (or should that be laurel wreath?) and the Emperor Saturninus himself was brilliantly played by Martin Hutson as an immature and needy politician.
Yes, there was a lot of blood, but what was most chilling was the build up to the various murders with the actors becoming increasingly frightened as their fate became apparent. Hannah Morrish's performance as Lavinia crawling on to the stage after her brutal rape was incredibly moving. There was complete silence from the audience as she flinched away from her uncle and brother.
And, as is always the case with Shakespeare, there was humour, often involving members of the audience as the actors broke the tenison by speaking to them directly (word of advice - if audience participation isn't your thing, don't sit in the front row of the stalls at the RSC). We were also amused by the man in the front row who, each time he was handed the 'baby' by the actor playing Lucius, hurriedly passed it on to the woman sitting next to him! It was quite a realistic baby but even so ...
All in all, it was a fantastic play and gave us lots to think about. As my son pointed out, with all those deaths there wasn't a single suicide which was interesting given that it was a Roman play. There was lots of pleading for mercy which, in many other Shakespeare plays, would have had some effect but which never did here. And that led to more murders as each one served as revenge for the last.
So, that's the two most recent plays I've seen. We've booked our tickets for the Winter season now and will be going to see Coriolanus and Twelfth Night, as well as Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage and Kingdom Come which is a new play set in the English Civil War. Next month we're going to see Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare's poem, performed with the help of puppets. Lot's of interesting stuff there.