Edgy Shakespeare

“Shakespeare strikes fear into the hearts of many theatregoers because no one wants to leave one of his plays feeling stupid. And yet, so often, that point is not grasped by those who make theatre: they want to be seen as edgy and creative, and so play around with the plays until they resemble a disastrous mud pie-and-glitter experiment. This enrages me.

Shakespeare wrote mainly for us, the audience. Surely he provides enough intrigue without adding drag queens, cannabis farms, black plastic sheeting, grunge clothing, bungee-jumping stunts – not to mention endless dancing to hip-hop, grime, garage, trance, whatever-is-hip-now.”. (Ann Treneman in The Times)

I do so agree! But Ms. Treneman missed out one pet peeve of mine: muttering on stage. I used to do a lot of amateur acting. One venue was the Wimbledon Theatre in London, a massive barn of a place. Our fearsome director told us, “The audience has paid good money to see you and deserves to hear you clearly, every word you say or sing”. We would have to project and articulate every syllable until she could hear clearly at the very back of the gods that seemed a hundred yards away. Good training.

Nowadays actors mumble. Half their words are indistinct, especially on television. It’s as if they are in some live 19th Century impressionistic painting – you get the general idea – and the rest is up to your imagination. I hope this inexcusable fashion (for that is what it is) will pass, because Shakespearian audiences deserve to hear every word that is spoken or sung.. And this applies to workaday crime and other shows. Articulation, please! What do they teach you in acting school?