>SHAKESPEARE ON LOVE by The Stage Club

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 23 feb 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>rating: ***1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>A NEW VISION OF LOVE

In 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', Theseus says that lunatics, lovers and poets are of imagination 'all compact', that their mental states lead to various forms of transformed vision whereby they see the world differently. The task of love poets is thus, to find ways of describing this changed vision. And what The Stage Club has done in its first production for its 2000 season is to try to portray the various aspects of this vision, and to do so by putting together an ingenious and exciting hybrid of plays from one of the greatest love poets, Shakespeare.

SHAKESPEARE ON LOVE is a play that is framed loosely by the entangled web of relationships between Hermia, Helena, Lysander & Demetrius from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Inter-cut between the scenes of these lovers are scenes from 'As You Like It', 'Romeo & Juliet', 'Henry V', just to name a few. This brash and giddy mix of excerpts from various Shakespeare plays provide the audience with the tumultuous experience of falling in love, being in love and falling out of love. The play deftly explores love and its effects in all their infinite possibilities - desire, romance, jealousy, lust in the love-games of wooing, arguing, courting, marriage and even consummation.

A constant and heady mix of emotions, the variety of love in display demonstrated that Shakespeare's genius perhaps lies not only in the ability to condense ideas and feelings into memorable words and phrases, but also in animating a full range of these feelings into persuasive voices and emotive gestures. And it was this that allowed the large cast to give a wide range of sterling performances, the exceptional ones being Cordelia Fernandez Lee who was luminous as Isabella from 'Measure for Measure', Susan Owenby who was loud-mouthed, yet touchingly vulnerable as Helena from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', while Calum Docherty -- only just 14 years of age but displaying an incredible sense of comic timing -- gave a hilariously camp performance as Nick Bottom, the weaver from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.

>>'The play deftly explores love and its effects in all their infinite possibilities'

And like the way Shakespeare structures his play with dialogue between high and low, verse and prose, so too is SHAKESPEARE ON LOVE structured. This was seen in the way colloquial and slang and vernacular puns of a rap performed by an all white cast - who decides to put on 'Othello' as such to give it its 'racial edge' - is set against the more austere French setting of 'Henry V', where the king tries desperately to woo his foreign bride with courtly puns and witticisms.

Meanwhile, the excerpts that had been inventively re-contextualised suggest a transcultural, transhistorical Shakespeare. And so the lovers from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' are portrayed as couples from the American white trash culture, while the conflicting opinions ina scene between Kate from 'The Taming of the Shrew' and Emelia from "Othello"is posited during the birth of the sexual revolution. The best excerpt of the evening was the scene from 'Measure for Measure' - where Angelo demands sexual favours from Isabella in return for her brother's life - which being located in the Cultural Revolution suggested this system's hypocrisy.

Each excerpt was introduced by a cynic and a romantic who acted as a chorus figure, and they were performed brilliantly by Allison Lee & Barry Woolhead. Their playful banter and witty repartee had hilarious lines worthy of Shakespeare, while references to pop culture (with knowing winks to Burt Bacharach, Savage Garden and Cliff Richard) are intermingled freely and adroitly with Shakespearean verse. This allowed Shakespeare-philes among us the pleasure of not only guessing which excerpts are from which plays, but where some of the lines of the chorus were taken from.

But what SHAKESPEARE ON LOVE really does is to demonstrate Shakespeare's peculiar power of characterisation. It has been suggested that Shakespearean characterisation lies in the way his characters seem to be without purposeful motivations, and that instead of being pre-determined, identity is performed through action. And this is simply true of SHAKESPEARE ON LOVE, as its mish-mash of excerpts, its somewhat plot-less structure presents its characters as being without motive, their personality and characteristics being determined as they are being performed. This leaves a vacuum in the space belonging to motive, thereby allowing the audience to fill this very space, such that they perform their own versions of the play.

But it has to be said that while removing the supernatural elements from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' might allow the relationships to develop naturally and dramatically, for the audience who are unfamiliar with the text, the sudden turnabout of Lysander will leave them puzzled (the implicit reason that having been physically rejected by Hermia, he desires someone to satisfy his lust was hardly adequate). And it seemed at the end, the director perhaps somewhat realised that the development of the relationships could not be dramatically fulfilled without some form of a supernatural intervention, and had no choice but to use the chorus to intervene by spraying a mist of a perfumed happy ending on the lovers.

Together with the concept of performitivity in Shakespeare and the idea that happiness in love has to be forced, SHAKESPEARE ON LOVE makes an implicit claim that everything, including love, is just an act, simply a performance.