Italians love Shakespeare – almost every theatre company in the country is presenting at least one of his plays this season. And its not just the popular ones: as well as your Amleto you also get your odd Tutto e bene quel che finises bene. And here in Roma there is a summer theatre devoted entirely to Shakespeare in Italian.
In one of those wonderful quirks of Italian logic the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre, a replica of Shakespeare’s famous playhouse, was built in a grove of trees in Villa Borghese and various companies present their takes on Shakespeare – sometimes traditional often experimental from June to September.
Following the Elizabethan tradition the theatre is open air and there is a pit in front of the stage space for groundlings – or seats on benches (more expensive of course) in the galleries. In either case bringing a cushion is recommended – the ground is hard and I swear those wooden benches harder. And something I hadn’t thought of – pretty much wherever you sit in the galleries in an Elizabethan theatre there is an obstructing post holding the gallery or roof above you.
The language or the slightly obstructed view didn’t at stop me from enjoying a raucous and rather bawdy production of La comedia degli errore (The Comedy of Errors) last summer – though admittedly its more Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum than Long Day’s Journey Into Night, so was much easier to understand. I’m not sure how I would handle three hours of Hamlet or King Lear in Italian but I may give it a try when the season starts in June.
So what brings on this sudden post about Shakespeare and Italians? Two things! Well actually three but I’ll post about the other one separately.
First: For the next 15 weeks the daily newspaper La Repubblica is including a DVD of a Shakespeare play with its weekly magazine L’espresso. They launched the series last week with an extremely good Othello starring Anthony Hopkins, Bob Hoskins and Penelope Wilton recorded in 1981. This week its Hamlet with Derek Jacobi and Claire Bloom. All 15 are part of a BBC series of the complete works presented from 1978 until 1985. Some of the finest actors of the period were involved including John Gielgud, Helen Mirren and Anthony Quayle, to name just a few. And as DVDs go they aren’t that expensive so I’m planning to collect all of them.
Second: Propeller – in the company of men is in town presenting The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Teatro della Valle this weekend. This all-male 14 member Shakespearean company was founded by Edward Hall with the backing of the Watermill Playhouse in West Berkshire. Their ground breaking performances of Henry V, Twelfth Night, the Henry VI plays and, particularly, A Midsummer Night’s Dream have been lauded in theater circles around the world. The company doesn’t follow period practices – no hey nonny nonny or fatheringales – except that all the parts are played by men as they were in Shakespeare’s time. One thing is clear from all the reviews and interviews published since the company was founded – this is not a bunch of men in drag camping up the Bard but a serious troupe of actors using the text to revive the excitement that the audience at the original Globe must have felt.
I’ve wanted to see Propeller since first reading about their Henry V back in 1997, so here I am 11 years later in Roma and finally getting a chance. How strange is that? From the reviews and photos (above left: Antonio is prepared for the taking of the pound of flesh)their new production of Merchant looks very exciting but a busy weekend schedule means I’ll have to settle for the Dream (right: Titania is smitten by Bottom transformed into an ass). Mind you I am settling for a production of which a critic said: There was plenty of slapstick hilarity. But there was such human sweetness, too, and such generous virtuosity. The truest vision of love this play offers is the love the actors and the director show for its disturbances and contradictions. Yeah I guess I can settle for that.
*All the world’s a joke... – Boito’s adaptation of the famous Shakespeare quote for Verdi’s Falsaff.
28 febbraio – San Romano di Condat