My Shakespeare Epiphany

Warning: This post has nothing to do with scrapbooking.

King Lear at the DonMar Warehouse Theatre

How do you feel about Shakespeare?

I mean I know he is probably the greatest icon of western literature but do you like his plays?

You probably had some exposure to some of his plays when you were at school. Did you understand the language, the intent? Were you able to enjoy them the way you were supposed to? Do you get them?

Let’s face it, 16th century English is a far cry from the language we speak today. And reading or listening to a Shakespeare play can make you feel like you’re dealing with a foreign language. Don’t get me wrong. I’m actually a Shakespeare fan. Done the Stratford-on-Avon thing, watched Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe Theatre in London. Loved them both.

But I never could get how people could talk of going to a Shakespeare play for the first time and being completely spellbound and immersed in the words and the story.

Until last week.

Derek Jacobi as King Lear

I went to see a production of King Lear from the DonMar Warehouse Theatre in London. I wasn’t actually there, the production was broadcast to cinemas around the world and I was snuggled in my seat in the Sun Theatre in Melbourne, Australia.

The DonMar is a tiny theatre with a capacity of 251 but the quality of its productions attract top name actors. This production was no exception with Sir Derek Jacobi in the role of Lear.

There was no production set to speak of. The whole theatre, including the fascia around the audience circle, was covered in grey and white weathered looking boards. No backdrops and no props to speak of. This sent up alarm bells for me because I like my productions to be      . . . well productions. And the costumes were very low key and mostly black.

Add that to the fact that I’d started to read through the play and I was seriously struggling to understand the language and where it was going and I’m thinking “Uh oh, this was a bad idea”.

And then the play started. And right from the get go I was completely into it. The expressions on the actors’ faces and the tones of their voice made the stream of 16th century English completely understandable. I knew exactly what was going on. I could even understand the jokes. Lear is a pretty complex play and I was with it all the way through.

Because the theatre is so small and the audience sits so closely around the stage there’s a sense of participation in the story which can’t always be achieved in a larger theatre. And because there was no scenery the play moved very quickly, making it feel action packed. But all the time bringing you along with the story. And it wasn’t just about Jacobi. The whole cast was strong and totally convincing in their roles.

Are you getting the feeling that I loved it? Well you’re right. And now I can say that I’ve had my Shakespeare epiphany. And I finally really do get it.

Have you had a similar experience where you suddenly get that “ah ha” moment about something and think “I finally get what this is all about”? Why not share it in the comments below. I know I’d like to hear about it. Surely I’m not alone in “ah ha” land?

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2 Responses to My Shakespeare Epiphany

  1. SWJenn March 10, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Some plays are written to be read, but not Shakespeare. If you’ve never seen it performed well you simply cannot appreciate it. I was fortunate enough to work with the American Players Theater for a short while, and they brought the stories to life for me. I’m so glad you had this experience – I’d take every high school student to see a live performance if I could!

    • karooch March 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

      Part of my challenge is that I have poor contrast vision Jenn. So when I’m a little distant from the stage I can’t see the performers’ facial expressions. I didn’t have that problem with this production. And you’re right, Lear is definitely a play to be watched not read.