To be honest, I’m not familiar with this play. I’ve never studied it. In fact, I’ve never even read it. My sole knowledge of it comes from the Maddermaket production I saw last night. However, I have studied many other Shakespeare plays, being a literature graduate, and so am very familiar with Shakespeare’s writing and the different approaches to interpreting it.
Some people find Shakespeare a little difficult to follow, especially when seeing a play of which they have no prior knowledge (and I had none). However, the acting of this production was such that it prevented this problem – by using body language and gesticulations to infer meaning, without seeming inconsistent. This was most notably displayed in the portrayals of Lucio and Pompey, whose fool-like qualities suited such an approach.
Not only did this acting-style ease understanding, it also added to the comic nature of the play, while not interfering with the tragic aspects. Indeed, there were many literal laugh-out-loud moments and the play itself was as funny as it was thought-provoking.
The modern-style costume also worked well, adding an up-to-date feel to the play, which did not seem strange at all. Perhaps at first I was a little concerned about how they would use the contemporary dress and set, particularly in the second scene, but it soon became apparent that, not only did it fit with the play, it added to it.
What stayed with me the most, though, is the ending. Now, seeing as I am not familiar with the play itself and have not read it, I’m not sure how much of the ending was Shakespeare’s intention and inference and how much is the interpretation of this particular production. Either way, it left the audience with a definite sense of ‘what the-?’ that added a depth to the entire play. When the Duke proclaimed his love of Isabella, and requested of her to become his wife, not only did she not give the indication of happiness that you might expect, she seemed, not only as shocked as the audience, but rather upset. The very end highlighted this, by casting a spotlight on her solemn, perhaps miserable face, with the other characters turned away from her and the audience. Isabella will sacrifice herself and her body for her brother’s life after all.
So, did I enjoy the play? I’m guessing you know the answer to that one: yes. Would I recommend that you see it? This production: definitely (if you’re lucky enough to live in Norwich) another: well, the play itself was awesome (it is Shakespeare, after all) so sure, why not?