I’m finding it difficult to pin down why I was so disappointed in the Brazilian production of Two Roses for Richard III. It isn’t really fair to compare it with the Iraqi Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad because the two productions were driven by entirely different concepts. The Romeo and Juliet was an adaptation; it didn’t pretend to be a faithful presentation of Shakespeare’s play although it was entirely true to the spirit of the original work. Two Roses was meant to be far closer I think, deviating from the original not so much in terms of the text used and the nature of the characters, but in the manner of presentation. Whereas Romeo and Juliet was theatre, the performance style of Two Roses lay somewhere on the boundary that extends between theatre and circus with those elements of the bizarre that belong to the world of the nightmare thrown in for good measure. Nevertheless, I find myself making that comparison and coming down fairly and squarely on the side of the Iraqi production.
However far the Baghdad troupe departed from the source text they still, despite the problems of language, communicated narrative, character and emotion to their audience triumphantly. The Brazilian Company, on the other hand, failed almost entirely to engage me in any one of those areas. I could see the point of having five different actors playing Richard, showing different facets of his personality, but it inevitably meant that my capacity to identify with any one of them was fractured. And surely, one of the most important elements in the character that Shakespeare wrote is his ability to win the audience to his way of thinking in those early scenes? Part of the horror of Richard III is the guilt we feel in having been drawn to such a Machiavellian figure.
Using flying equipment to launch the ghosts of Richard’s enemies into the air above the two camps was an understandable staging device, but playing it so that we could see all the mechanics behind the equipment took so long to set up and made the effect so cumbersome that any effect the company was trying to achieve was lost.
Perhaps a sense of alienation was part of what the Brazilian actors and directors were after. Certainly, they were intent on emphasising the point that we were part of something that was being staged, that the people we were watching we’re actors pretending to be characters and that the notion of a predictable stability of time and person was something we could no longer count on. But if that was what they wanted to achieve then I have to say that Brecht did it a lot better.
Interestingly, when I went to hear the directors discuss their work before the performance, I was in sympathy with what they said they were trying to achieve. I don’t have a problem with the idea of trying to break down boundaries between different art forms. But, you have to be able to bring it off and offer the audience at least as much, if not more, in the way of engagement as a tradition production would do. Maybe the problem was trying to adapt an existing work. Perhaps it would have been better to have started from scratch with something new. I think I would go and see them again doing something that was original, but not Shakespeare. For me their work diminished rather than enhanced the play.