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Monday, June 30, 2014

Martin Freeman's Richard III Without "Boring Bits"

Martin Freeman, speaking about his production of Richard III at London's Trafalgar Studios (which starts tomorrow) said that his version of the play has no "boring bits."

He said that he, and the director Jamie Lloyd, want to make the play more accessible to younger audiences.

He also said that the only people who tolerate these "boring bits" are the "very educated, very smart, very theatre literate" people, and that they are engaged in a "conspiracy of silence" over the parts in the play they themselves don't understand.

On the one hand, I agree with Mr. Freeeman. There are boring parts in every Shakespeare play. For my whole life I have struggled to understand these boring parts, and I consider myself an educated person.

Even in my favorite Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, there are boring parts. I don't really enjoy the scenes between Antonio, Solanio and Salarino. I don't really even like the casket scenes with Portia and her suitors.

There is a lot of boring parts in Richard III, which is the second longest play after Hamlet. If it were performed in full, it would probably run between 3 to 4 hours. I don't think anyone would argue that the entire play needs to be performed to be understood and enjoyed by an audience.

As much as I enjoyed Kenneth Branagh's 4-hour Hamlet, it was too long, and needed to be cut.

Clarence's dream is a great scene, but can be boring. Even my favorite scene, where Richard woos and wins Anne is too long. The nightmares at the end, when Richard is on the battlefield, drag on.

So, in general I agree that editing out some scenes and lines is fine.

But the problem is that it very difficult to figure out what the "boring bits" are. 

When I wrote my version of The Merchant of Venice, I discovered that every last scene and almost every last line has meaning, and could be understood as long the play itself was understood. It is not a tragic comedy, or romantic comedy, but in fact a very bawdy farce. Once you understand the farce in the play, you can understand everything in the play.

Also, one of the reasons why I think Merchant is the most misunderstood play of all is because it has been cut too often and too much.

The best production of Richard III I have ever seen, with Mark Rylance, cut out the character of Queen Margaret entirely. It also eliminated what I consider to be the funniest joke, when Margaret's curses Richard and he turns the curses back on her. 

Mark Rylance played Richard III for laughs

I saw another production, at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre. The director Robert Richmond argued that having Queen Margaret is very important because "her curse [against Richard] goes round throughout the play" and her curses "become wish fulfillment from Margaret's point of view, and from ours" meaning the audience.

So, by removing the character of Margaret, you leave out the audience.

So, which production is better?

They were both excellent, but as I wrote before with my review of Rylance as Richard, the production didn't play to the audience as well as it could have. 

Also, there is so much humor in Richard III, that if Mr. Freeman and Mr. Lloyd really want to engage a younger audience, or any audience for that matter, they should exploit as much of the jokes in the play as possible. 

Even Mr. Rylance, whose performance as Richard was ground-breaking because of the fact that he was playing for laughs, did not go far enough with the comedy.

Finally, one of the reasons why its a risky thing to cut out the "boring bits" is that it reduces the plays to something that has no meaning. If anyone struggles to understand any play, or any book, it shouldn't just be cut down to make it more digestible. 

If anything, young audiences should be encourage to read the play before and/or after seeing the play live. If they have any questions, that is a healthy thing, and they should be encouraged to seek meaning for themselves.

What do you think?


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