I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.
Having arrived in Stratford-upon-Avon (“Well, this is the Forest of Arden”) only relatively recently, I suppose, initially, I felt behoved to attend the RSC as often as I could; but, as my hearing has faded – along with neurological deficits that mean I now struggle with tonality, with the pitch of music that is new to me – I have found drama overtaking the concerts and recitals that used to be my lifeblood. In fact, it would probably be no understatement to say that I am becoming quite addicted to the theatre – both to the place, and to the performances. Nonetheless, I do appreciate how “so very fortunate” we are in having such a cornucopia of high-calibre culture on our doorstep. (Having moved here from London – with its embarras de richesses – it would be all too easy to complain of the opposite: but, by way of illustration, Compton Verney’s hoard of great art is simply a stone’s throw away; and we have – should you need an injection of superior music-making – both the Orchestra of the Swan and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra within arm’s reach.)
So it was, last night, that I found myself seated close to the stage, full of anticipation, waiting to see The Jew of Malta again. And I was not disappointed. In fact, exactly the opposite. The production seems to have relaxed into a thing of great joy: even better paced; apparently more spontaneous; and featuring a company that is obviously at ease with itself. Of course, increased familiarity with the play, and being eyeball-to-eyeball with such confident characterization – enabling me to make fresh connections, and discover previously-unrealized subtleties – may have helped; but there are, as Mrs Bard shrewdly states, some works “that benefit from more than one reading”. And this, undoubtedly, is one!
I have to say that Rhiannon Handy, stepping unto the breach as Abigail (whilst continuing her non-speaking part as ‘Attendant’), contributed greatly to this: showing a maturity and sagacity in the rôle that I am sure augurs extremely well for her future (and for the rest of the season at the Swan). The range of her delivery and facial expressions – from self-conscious to coquettish; doleful to delightful – masterfully matched Jasper Britton’s increasingly lovable rogue at every move.
Again, though, the Swan was nowhere near full: so please help in sustaining one of the very best theatres in the country – with some of our very best actors – by grabbing a ticket (or six); or even becoming a member or supporter. The Jew of Malta is on until 8 September 2015.
A novel can tell you everything you want to know about what it’s trying to say, but plays are by definition incomplete. They are instructions for performance, like musical scores, and they need players to become music…. A play’s meaning is conferred on it by the act of playing it.