Culture & Conversation

Postmodern Shakespearean Buzz

Hold on to your hat. There is not a single gizmon gimmick or technological buzz that is left out of this trilogy of plays based on Shakespeare’s Roman plays. There is a moment when Antony seems to be playing with an iPad. There are multiple screens onstage where actual news is being played to remind us how apropos and timely these plays are.

The proscenium is half covered with a giant screen which showed the English and French translations of the Dutch the actors were using. Sometimes this giant screen showed intimate moments of the actors who were constantly monitored by cameras, and sometimes in a freeze frame it was the perfect medium for death, in the grainy picture style of Allo Montréal.

This post post-modern interpretation of Coreolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra touches on all the political subjects of a modern thriller. Power, politics the individual and the state, and the questioning of morality and ethics against a background of endless war, are issues which plague us today.

The seating was so optional that the audience was encouraged to change places and even sit on the stage. The set was a waiting room in hell crossed with a conference room in inferno, decorated in a sleep inducing grey and adorned with very up to moment glass writing boards, multiple televisions and, when needed, couches in uncomfortable fabric and shapes. The modern dress was not new, but Cleopatra’s slip was strangely old fashioned. When war was announced in the final scene, a bank of lights was turned uncomfortably on the audience, bruising our eyes and accusing us of complicity in the themes of the plays.

There were fantastic moments, like the first announcement of battle when the drums and strobe lights and chaos on stage really worked, although the sixth or seventh time it was really de trop. The acting was astonishing. Not even a hand held camera in their faces and really mediocre translations of the text—you can’t really paraphrase Shakespeare, and I was sorely missing the iambic pentameter of the lines—could take away the remarkable and extraordinary work of these actors.

The performance of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar was breath taking. Even a jaded audience member was moved to applaud after the flawless and remarkable delivery. When Enobarabara leaves the theatre and goes out to St. Lawrence Boulevard, he is followed by his videographer and we see the passersby astonished at this street theatre performance of Shakespeare in Dutch. He never lost his focus, and that is truly amazing. Cleopatra was also magnificent; her passion and over the top sensuality were enchanting, in spite of the fact that she was not particularly the stereotypical beauty queen of the Nile.
Her Charmion was not only delightful, but when a champagne bottle popped out of control and doused her costume, she made it part of Charmion’s shtick in a truly professional and humourous way.

I like my theatre simple and mostly unadorned, with equal parts humour and emotion, but here I was either lulled to a deep REM sleep or blasted out of my seat for over five hours. has created an event. Certainly Coreolanus and Julius Caesar do not stand well by themselves, but by the time we got half way through Antony and Cleopatra, a number of audience members had left.

It was an experience which was more television reality show than theatre, and audience members were encouraged to twitter their reactions to the work as it progressed, and their sometimes illiterate comments got posted on the ubiquitous grey screen. Shakespeare is enduring and his themes are eternal to all audiences. This production by Amsterdam Toneelgroep was a truly amazing experience and Montreal is privileged to have the opportunity to experience it.

Roman Tragedies continues today and Sunday at 4 pm. Dutch with English and French surtitles. National Monument. Regular price: $68; 25 and under, 65 years and over: $ 50.

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