The Royal Shakespeare Company, now visiting the Brooklyn Academy of Music, will stage its last performances of Hamlet, Henry VIII, and Krapp's Last Tape this weekend. Hamlet will be performed at BAM's Opera House on May 29 & 30 at 7:30 PM; Henry will be staged at the Majestic Theatre May 29 & 30 at 7:30 PM, May 30 at 2 PM and May 31 at 3 PM; and Krapp's Last Tape will have its final performance at the Majestic Theatre on May 29 at 6 PM.
The RSC will open productions of Everyman and Cymbeline in early June.
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 and running through June 6, the RSC is presenting 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.
Following its New York visit, the RSC will travel to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., June 9-July 5.
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, will be 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 will present two other Shakespeares, Cymbeline and Henry VIII, the medieval morality play Everyman, and Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. The company remains through June 6 and will also participate in a series of panels and educational events titled "Shakespeare at BAM."
Hamlet gives American audiences a look at Art director Warchus' approach to Shakespeare, and the production is certain to attract notice and possibly some controversy. 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 takes a contemporary approach to Cymbeline, which is mounted by RSC Artistic Director Adrian Noble and plays June 3-6. 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, which runs May 26-31, takes 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 is performed and co-directed (with David Hunt) by esteemed British veteran Edward Petherbridge. Theatregoers who take 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). All the productions, except Hamlet and Cymbeline, will take place at BAM's Majestic Theatre.
In conjunction with these performances, Shakespeare at BAM seminars will be held throughout the day on May 30 and 31. May 30 features the following sessions: "RSC Company Members Table Talk About Shakespeare," 11 AM; "Cicely Berry and the American Directors Project," 11 AM (Berry is director of the RSC's voice department); and "John Barton Playing Shakespeare USA," time TBA. May 30 features Part II of "Cicely Berry and the American Directors Project," 11 AM. Ticket prices for all seminars are $8.
The symposia of "Shakespeare at BAM" will feature a variety of English and American artists. For instance, a May 30 panel will include only RSC members discussing Shakespeare, while another seminar later that same day will allow dramaturg Anne Cattaneo and director Karin Coonrod, both Americans, to discuss their approach to the Bard. Other professionals scheduled to appear include actor Stephen Skybell, an American member of the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Company; actor Kevin Kline; New Yorker critic Anthony Lane; and directors Barry Edelstein, Scott Ellis, Evan Yiounoulis, and Anne Bogart.
Despite the moment of the occasion, the American residencies are sure to draw some criticism considering the RSC's recently revealed financial crisis. The Company's debt is expected to reach £2 million next month and a 12-week regional tour, originally scheduled for this autumn, has been cancelled in order to cut costs.
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