It seems I was right on the money when, a few weeks ago, I adversely commented on the work of the theatre world’s would-be wunderkind, Emma Rice.
Since then there has been a steady flow of mostly adverse comments about the work of La Rice, especially her treatment of one of the stagings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream currently doing the rounds.
In simple terms, the message from critics, producers and other theatrical luminaries is “Stop messing with the classics.” The RSC’s deputy director Erica Whyman has come out swinging against the Rice “Dream” and eminent critic Michael Henderson has said “only a dunce would mess with Shakespeare”.
The problem, however, is that Emma Rice has somehow become a cult figure. And, as is usual with cults, the subject of their adherents’ worship, can do no wrong. They lose perspective, will accept no adverse comment, no matter how constructive.
It is the fable of the emperor’s new clothes brought to life.
Rice gained her name with her quirky, offbeat and mildly entertaining creations for Cornwall’s backwoods Kneehigh Theatre.
However, much of the allure of these shows can be attributed to being staged in a vast marquee pitched in a generally muddy paddock. The makeshift auditorium was ringed by bars, street-food stalls and straw bale seating as the setting for an after-party shindig of mayhem and merrymaking to an eclectic mix of folksy bands and singers.
It was fun, often wild and all in good spirits. The after-party was a greater lure and more fun than the actual show.
But then La Rice began adapting other people’s work – notably Steptoe and Son (a plodding disaster) – before graduating to the indoor regular theatre circuit where she wreaked further havoc on the Daphne du Maurier classic Rebecca for no good, or pleasurable reason.
And now she’s aimed for the heights, mauling the Bard on all fronts and justifying her action for no good reason.
Adaptations are fine, as are fresh interpretations. But to strip all flesh from the classics (or any work, for that matter) and to present them under their original name and playwright is something the worthy of Consumer Standards’ attention.
Be quirky, Ms Rice. Be different. Give us fresh and exciting theatrical experiences. But please do it with your own or completely fresh material.
Please Emma, stop trying to spice up (and dumb down) thoroughly good drama and turn it into a disco night. There is already an over-supply of stagings aimed at the unthinking iPhone market without mutilating the classics.
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