Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company, now visiting the Brooklyn Academy of Music, will stage its last performances this weekend before moving on to Washington DC.
Everyman will be performed at the Majestic Theatre June 5 & 6 at 7:30 PM; June 6 at 2 PM; and June 7 at 3 PM. Cymbeline is being staged at the BAM Opera House June 5 & 6 at 7:30 PM; and June 6 at 2 PM. Following its New York visit, the RSC will travel to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., June 9-July 5.
Though the Royal Shakespeare Company of England has visited New York and United States many times, nothing matches in scope or ambition their current residency at the BAM. Beginning May 21, the RSC presented five different plays in repertory at the Brooklyn institution, thus replicating, for the first time in America, their usual modus operandi when at home at Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Two-time Olivier Award winning actor Alex Jennings, who was Oberon on Broadway in the 1996 RSC production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and whose boisterous Peer Gynt that same season beat out the likes of Michael Gambon and Daniel Massey for Best Actor Olivier honors, was seen in the title role of the RSC's Hamlet -- a controversial production directed by wunderkind Matthew Warchus that has a contemporary setting and makes use of unusual visuals including Bergmanesque film projections.
The troupe of 51 actors and sundry staff arrived stateside May 17, and are being housed at Manhattan's Pennsylvania Hotel and various lodgings near the World Trade Center. In addition to Hamlet, the RSC presented two other Shakespeares, Cymbeline and Henry VIII, the medieval morality play Everyman, and Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. Hamlet gave American audiences a look at Art director Warchus' approach to Shakespeare. Warchus has sheared the Bard's most famous play of all political meaning, fashioning it as a fast-paced revenge drama. Thus, Fortinbras has been eliminated. Furthermore, the tragedy opens not with the traditional sighting of the ghost at the guards' watch, but on a film depicting child Hamlet happily playing with his parents. The stage action then skips to the party scene at the castle and it is there where Hamlet first sees his father's spirit. Warshus has realigned some of the action and introduced into the sound design pop songs by the British groups Oasis and The Verve.
The company also took a contemporary approach to Cymbeline. Noble has borrowed Warchus' scissors, excising 1,000 lines, and added one sentence at the play's beginning: "There once was a king called Cymbeline." That opening aptly sets up the director's fairy-tale, Disneyesque approach to the work. The third Shakespearean offering, Henry VIII, took a more traditional approach, under the direction of Gregory Doran
The 16th century Everyman was last given a professional production in England in 1901. Here it is resurrected by Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni, members of the Theatre de Complicite, the same celebrated company which recently brought Ionesco's The Chairs to Broadway. The solemn allegorical tale of a doomed sinner is enlivened with the Complicite's usual visual flair and fleet pace.
Krapp's Last Tape was performed and co-directed (with David Hunt) by esteemed British veteran Edward Petherbridge. Theatregoers who took in all five plays will also see Petherbridge as the Ghost in Hamlet and in the title role in Cymbeline. Other members of the ensemble include Paul Jessor (who will play Henry VIII), Jane Lapotaire (Queen Katherine), Ian Hogg (Wolsey), Derbhle Crotty (Ophelia), Paul Freeman (Claudius), Joanne Pearce (Imogen), William Houston (Laertes), Joseph Mydell (Everyman), and Susanna York (Gertrude).
For more information or tickets to RSC productions in NY, $20-$50, call (718) 636-4111. For information on the Washington DC performances, call (202) 467 4600.
-- By Robert Simonson