Friday, March 27, 2009

Quick Review of The Bridge Project's The Winter's Tale
- 26th March 2009, Esplanade Theatre

My schedule these next couple of days won't allow for a detailed entry till at least Sunday / Monday, so here's a short summary.

I attended the opening night performance yesterday. Great seats - 5th row dead centre. Expectations were high.

Sadly, I didn't really enjoy myself. And I don't think the fault lies with the cast or crew.

1) The audience kinda sucked.

Very sedate. I'm certain quite a few people didn't know the plot beforehand, because in the scene where King Leontes commands Antigonus to incinerate his baby daughter, there were audible gasps throughout the auditorium. ( There was also a little girl somewhere in the back row. Can a 9-year-old understand Shakespeare? )

On the whole, everyone was just extremely...quiet. Not much reaction to anything going on on-stage, and I was terribly distracted by those sitting in my vicinity - a couple in their 20s who kept smooching loudly ( please get a room ); another who couldn't stop touching each other ( please get a room too ); a woman to my right who's probably a reporter since she kept scribbling notes on a memo pad, even turning on a small light to see what she was writing during a dramatic scene ( I felt like whacking her ); and a family behind me whose father laughed at inappropriate moments ( the first half is tragic, where's the humour?! ).

Worst of all, there was no extra curtain call at the end. It's okay if there's no standing ovation, but everyone practically ran for the door the minute the cast took their bows and went backstage. ( Yes it was 11:30pm, but surely you could've spared another 5 minutes? )


2) The choice of play doesn't suit local tastes.

The Winter's Tale is an obscure Shakespearean work. Even King Lear is considered obscure, but this one is very much more so.

I think Singaporeans aren't ready for something like this. I wouldn't say it's "heavy" - Hamlet and Julius Caesar probably take the cake in that department - but when I read the play on paper, I noticed that there wasn't anything that really stood out, in terms of characters / plot / dialogue. King Lear had many great moments, but The Winter's Tale - not really.

I was wide awake the whole time ( 2.5 hours, excluding intermission ), but can't name anything particularly memorable. Maybe I'll have something to add this weekend when I write a more detailed review.

3) I hope The Bridge Project won't decide NOT to return to Singapore.

If the entire Esplanade run ends up like last night, I doubt we'll see such star power here ever again.

Of course, I'm trying hard to be optimistic, but it's tough.

Recommendation: choose a famous Shakespearean play next time round ( Hamlet, Romeo And Juliet, The Taming Of The Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, to name a few ). Singaporeans ( and possibly international audiences ) will respond much more favourably to material they know ( I believe such works are still covered in our secondary schools, right? ), and that definitely helps enhance the whole experience.

Alternatively, do a non-Shakespearean play that's light and fun. Personally, I'd love to see a revival of The Iceman Cometh ( which is NOT light or fun ), but I doubt the locals will be able to digest it. :)

The upside:

1) It's a beautiful production.

Everything from the sets to the costumes to the choreography is breath-taking.

2) The acting - superb.

Rebecca Hall is my favourite as the much maligned Queen Hermione. Statuesque and regal, she nails the role effortlessly. ( Unlike most, I haven't seen Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and am a fan of her work in the much less well-known Starter For 10, in which she costarred with the terrific James McAvoy. )

Simon Russell Beale makes a compelling King Leontes, though his character's madness isn't quite as engaging as Sir Ian McKellan's potent rage in King Lear. Plus, I'm a little bothered by the physical incompatibility between him and Hall - she towers over Beale and is much younger. Somehow, it doesn't work very well.

Josh Hamilton may have been a better choice as Leontes, at least in the aesthetic sense. His King Polixenes exudes an easy charm and grace that complements Hall's wonderfully, which is why it's easy to understand Leontes' suspicion that he's having an affair with Hermione. Hamilton strikes me as an actor who's fully capable of unleashing some serious dramatic power given the chance. It would've been nice to see him in action as Leontes.

A pleasant surprise: Tobias Segal as the "Young Shepherd" ( listed as "Clown" or "Shepherd's Son" in my copy of the play ). His shrill-voiced and hyperactive portrayal had everyone in stitches. I think he received a warmer reception than Ethan Hawke!

Ah yes, Mr. Hawke. Here's a man I've watched since his star turn in Dead Poets Society ( 20 years ago? ). As the singing rogue, Autolycus, he is more than adequate, and his effect on the audience was obvious, as everyone around me suddenly sat up the minute his singing voice heralded his entrance in the second half of the show.
At one point, he sat down at the edge of the centre of the stage, just 5 metres away from me. I got goosebumps, man. :)

Despite the excellent cast, however, I somehow failed to establish a strong emotional connection with any of the characters ( though I did feel something for Hermione ). Again, I don't fault the actors, and suspect it was more a combination of factors, predominantly an unappreciative audience, and a number of major distractions.

Another recommendation: should The Bridge Project return to Singapore, I hope the producers / director will attempt to secure Kevin Spacey, John Cusack or James McAvoy as a cast member. I realize such tours aren't popular because you essentially take a huge pay cut and sacrifice 6 months of your life ( time that could be spent making millions in movies ), but I applaud The Bridge Project's efforts to bring high-calibre 'live' theatre to the world.
Anyway, if I don't get to see their plays in Singapore in the future, I have the option of travelling overseas instead.

Would I recommend that you go see it? Yes, definitely.
But how much you enjoy the show depends entirely on the audience.

More this weekend.

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