October 21, 2007

Casanova @ WAC

The point of this blog entry is to respond to Pete Kirwan's review of Casanova. I thought of stamping my foot to signal that i disagree with said review, but then thought a blog might be a more appropriate way of explaining why I thought Told by an Idiot's Casanova was something special.

Before seeing the play, I was already thinking about it thanks to Alex's excellent blogentry: "What is wrong with being sexy". To me the answer was at first an obvious: "nothing", i was shocked by Carmichael's assertion that the original sex scenes in the play (subsequently removed) made her feel and look "like a victim". After reading the guardian interview this was taken from, I felt a lot more ready to both watch the play and adopt a "i might not agree with what you say but i'll defend to the death your right to say it" attitude (to quote carmichael in the play).

This is why I do get annoyed when I read such comments as this: "Casanova is stripped of the guile and sexual manipulation that one imagines, and instead becomes largely passive". Having a female Casanova who spent the whole play simply bonking everyone she met wouldn't have justified the sex change in my opinion. As Carmichael says: guile and sexual manipulation are the domain of Don Juan who "probably hated women" not of Casanova. Whether male or female, this is a character who loved everyone he/she dealt with and provided each with their heart's desire. I might add that being "passive" is in a sense somewhat to the point.

I am not the greatest fan of Carol Ann Duffy, but i nevertheless think she sums up the ideas behind the play rather neatly here: "She wants to please and she wants to be kind, but she never sees the consequences of what she's done. It's only when she falls in love and is badly hurt herself that it all comes home to roost. For me, the whole thing is about how and who we love, and about how love can't be bidden - it must be true even though that sometimes hurts."

Mr Kirwan might not have cared what happened to Casanova, but I did. Her feminity gave added pathos to the don giovanni representation: "she!" Casanova cries in vain. I can't speak for the rest of the audience but Casanova's juvenile vulnerability and generosity are what made her to me that "interesting and sympathetic" character he could not see. The moment that marked me more than the birth and subsequent abandonment of the child was the meeting between Casanova and her sister - conducted entirely in Italian. The humour created by the translating narrator intensified the gap between the siblings, to me it was heart-wrenching.

This is not to say that the production as a whole was flawless. I expected the worse after the rather dodgy start to the play (which included the worst staging of a faint i've seen in a long time) and at first i rather felt that the action was drowned by the set. However there was still a lot to get excited about: the abundance of languages flying across the stage (some translated to humorous effect) as well as accents, the company's playful approach to props and effects of narration are stand out examples.

I will stop ranting now. I hope Mr Kirwan will not take any of this personally, he just seems to be the only person posting on Warwick blogs on WAC productions and I don't want an outsider to think his is the only opinion.

- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. In response to the last part of your comment, I really wish I had time to blog on the WAC productions I see. In this case I’d have to agree with Pete. I thought that the potential for a sexy and strong female lead was wasted and we got an emotionally weak character who for some reason was able to inspire the likes of Mozart and Voltaire – it just didn’t sit right for me. There were moments when I saw potential for it, like when she was staying with the old man at the start, but that was wasted and it meant that when she was hurt it had less impact on me than it should have.
    All that said, I enjoyed the play. But I enjoyed it as a piece of storytelling rather than anything deeper and more meaningful.

    22 Oct 2007, 09:18

  2. I agree again, there are far too few people writing on or reviewing Arts Centre productions. Mind you, there are also far too few people going to Arts Centre productions these days, and it’s always very sad sitting in a half-empty theatre when tremendous companies like Filter, Told by an Idiot or Forkbeard Fantasy are here.

    Your views on the character are very interesting, and thanks for the link to that interview in the Guardian. I love Told by an Idiot, and other productions of theirs that I have seen have been incredible (did you see The Firework Maker’s Daughter at WAC some time ago?). I’m also really glad this production struck a chord with you, because even though I didn’t like it I feel very bad for the company- the production has had a lot of bad press, which I don’t think does justice to the wonderful ideas in it.

    I do stand by my review, though. I went into the production without having read up on it as I like to be as neutral as possible, but I did have high expectations based on the company’s previous form. Regardless of the lack of ‘guile and sexual manipulation’ (I freely confess that I’m not familiar with the Casanova story, and your comments on this are very helpful), I found myself continually frustrated by the lack of fulfillment of the set-ups. I was told she was accomplished, yet saw very little evidence of this apart from the testimony of other characters. I was asked to engage with her plight when she fell pregnant, and for two minutes was thoroughly emotionally engaged with what had become a hugely interesting story, and then the baby and subplot were dispensed with in seconds. The whole play seemed to be implying an active and independent woman, which is what they kept talking about, yet the woman I saw on stage was passive and emotionally dependent on the people she ran in to, and her essential goodness was tempered by the devious streak that occasionally appeared (such as during the initial jailbreak). As I said: I felt there was so much potential, and so much waste.

    However, the fact you got something out of it shows that they were doing something right, and that’s (as ever) the great thing about theatre, that it does different things for different people. The only thing in your criticism of my review I would object to is that in no way did I feel I was speaking on behalf of the rest of the audience- reading my review back closely, the only thing I can see which might have given you that impression was a single use of the word ‘our’, which in that event referred to myself and the person I saw the performance with. It’s something I’ve talked about at great length on this blog, the fact that there is no such thing as a definitive review and that my reviews represent no more than a single person’s opinion of a single performance of a production. I certainly have no desire for my reviews to represent the ‘only’ opinion, so hopefully more people will start writing!

    Anyway, cheers, and glad you liked the show. And in response to your last comment, I don’t take it personally at all- it’s a blog, it’s there to be agreed with or criticised. The worst thing in reviewing is when people blindly accept someone else’s opinion.


    P.S. Apologies if my comments on Twelfth Night caused offence, and I certainly never intend reviews to be personal. For what it’s worth – and in my mind it’s an important distinction – it was your Viola I called unlikeable, not you!

    24 Oct 2007, 11:31

  3. Hi Pete,

    Thank you for your comment, I’m going to try and reply in the order of your points….

    I’m not sure why students don’t go to the theatre more, especially when it’s on their doorstep, as the WAC is, i definitely agree that it’s a great shame. I feel guilty for not writing reviews of shows more often, i enjoy doing so for Noff at NSDF but i somehow lose the habit once i’m back at uni. More often than not i just don’t have the energy to organize my thoughts properly, this entry’s an example of that, it was meant to be a review but i just got sidetracked by Irigaray (as is too often the case…)

    I don’t think there’s a wrong or a right way of approaching a performance and so obviously it is fine that you saw the show with a clear mind. I think you understand that’s why i felt the need to blog though, just so there was a contrasting opinion (especially as i think the Boar review mostly agrees with you- and I do too in some ways, I thought the beginning of the play was very gauche indeed).

    Also, I know it doesn’t always come across in writing, but i was joking about the Viola bit. I honestly didn’t take offense, I wouldn’t have agreed to act if i didn’t have a thick skin and the criticism seemed more aimed at the production as a whole anyway. But thank you for clarifying all the same.

    Reading back my blog entry i’m finding it rather hot-headed so i’m especially glad you didn’t take offense. I do enjoy reading your reviews (even if i don’t necessarily agree with them) I even quoted one for a Shakespeare essay last year, so there you go…

    24 Oct 2007, 14:30

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