Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The sustainability of Shakespeare

The press haven’t given it a particularly warm write up and some people didn’t come back to their seats after the interval of A Soldier in Every Son - the rise of the Aztecs when we saw it at the RSC last week. So, saying I really enjoyed it may be going against the popular flow, but hey, I’m used to that. 

Solider is part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Nations at War season, which is part of the World Shakespeare Festival, which is part of the Cultural Olympiad, which is part of the London 2012 Olympics.

If you think that’s a lot to get your head around, don’t even start on the names of the characters! Some critics seem to have been overly distracted by them, or found the 3-hour play too long. Personally, I thought it flew by and the visual clues are an excellent aid to help you work out who belongs to which tribe.

As we were leaving the Swan Theatre last week, I overheard a gentleman say “I’m glad I’m not living in those time.” The thing is, we are! This may be a play with an historic storyline, but the themes of violence and greed and power struggles are as relevant today as they were 600 years ago. Sadly.

Having just attended the RSC’s first ever social media call and been privileged to interview some of the actors and the assistant director, I know this to be even truer than I first thought.

The play is a co-production between the RSC and the Compania Nacional de Teatro (CNT) of Mexico. CNT actor, Diego Jauregui, told us that in Britain we don’t have any feeling about what it’s like to live with the fear and violence that you get every day, just walking down the street, in Mexico and Latin America.

This is what Soldier does, just like Shakespeare did so often and so well: taking an historical setting that you can interpret from a contemporary point of view.  As Luc Kernaghan explained, it’s about everyone living every minute as survival. Everything is at risk at every conceivable moment. As he says, ‘it’s not very British’.

And that’s what I love about Shakespeare. He may be England’s greatest playwright, but his works are still performed globally, centuries later, because the themes are universal.

As a devoted recycler, I admire the way Shakespeare recycled stories and reused so many sub-plots, devices and characters. And I think it’s wonderful how the RSC and overseas companies continue to reinvent Shakespeare’s plays and techniques, making them relevant for audiences today, and for the future.

The stories, themes and the humour (fortunately) are sustained by new actors and directors breathing new life into the plays or through reinterpretation. As Ixtlixochitl (aka Alex Waldman) explained, he’s really enjoyed working with the Mexican actors - whom he finds far more open than the Brits - and inventing new ways of doing things together.  

I’ve always banged on about diversity being key to sustainability and the way Soldier has been produced - and the play itself – are great examples of the positive opportunities that can arise from bringing together people with different backgrounds and viewpoints to work jointly on something.

And, to my pleasure, I learned today that Solider is set for a sustainable future. After Stratford, the whole cast will be taking the play to Mexico. Performing in English with subtitles. Susie Trayling, who plays Tecpa, is really looking forward to seeing how a Mexican audience reacts to it.

From January 2013, it will transfer to the CNT where it will become part of their repertoire and be performed in its native Spanish. And the props and amazing costumes will all be reused too. It’s great to know that this play will have a lasting  post-Olympic legacy. It deserves to.  

Debbie Griffiths www.idealCSR.co.uk

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