January 14, 2011

The erosion of Shakespeare and Beckett

In British theatre, Shakespeare and Beckett have cult hero status. Shakespeare is frequently seen as the source of all archetypal narratives in theatre, and arguably Beckett has done the same thing for the theatrical form. Jonny Heron’s script for Discords remains loyal to Shakespeare’s characters but slices lines from Macbeth and King Lear into a deliberate, poetical order, but without any clear narrative intention. I believe he does this very well; to the extent that a Shakespearean scholar could recognise each line and its source and still not be distracted from the performance in front of him. Lines are repeated, the sense is deliberately drained from them. New characters are created from these lines, ghosts of the old.

This has two results. The seemingly invincible stigma wrapped around Shakespeare’s characters – almost every modern day character can be seen as derivative – begins to leak. We also become very aware, as an audience, that the characters we have so aggrandized in our minds are derived by readers and actors from their text. They are not the characters of a novel; they are assumed and interpreted from what they say. Now, the interesting part of this is that it is almost exactly the same for the plot of Shakespeare’s plays. His stage directions are sparse, and we generally get all our inspiration for movement from the words of his characters. These words, the words that the ghosts in Discords speak, contain as much of Shakespeare’s plots as they do of the characters.

Discords detaches the language from these plots to create a new piece. By doing this, for me, Shakespeare’s characters are deconstructed; they become the sum of their parts, slaves to their own voices and words. Here, again, Beckett starts to re-appear. Instead of real people, Discords takes Shakespeare’s characters and shows them as slaves to their bodies; but this time, they are slaves to their embodiment in a theatrical space.

To turn Discords into a piece of meta-theatre, the machine we reside in is perhaps ‘language’, viewed from the 4th dimension, as an embodiment in space rather than just in time. Hopefully that bit of interpretation is too convoluted to allow Discords to be written off there. There certainly seems to be more in it for me.


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