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Is there an over saturation of Shakespeare in theatre today?

ByJames King

Jun 4, 2018

Oversaturation is a dangerous concept and has, in the past, ruined economies and companies. Could it be possible that oversaturation of one playwright’s work could shake the theatrical world?

Shakespeare’s plays have been dissected, gutted, padded and experimented on to the point of exhaustion. Some productions simply decide to do a Shakespeare for the sake of not having done one in a while. Others still have become wildly ambitious, taking leaps with the source material that don’t so much blow the mind as much as they give the audience vertigo. How, then, do semi-professional troupes (not performing for those who don’t know the source material, i.e. students) justify their often bland or completely off target portrayals of Bard’s work?

Shakespeare’s works are inspiring, timeless and world famous. Many renowned stories have found their way by standing on the shoulders of Shakespeare: The Lion King, West Side Story, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, Ten Things I Hate About You, to name a few. What these examples are, however, is something entirely different from amateur dramatic productions of Shakespeare. These often add little to no new dimension or insight, often times running a by-the-book version to expand a company’s repertoire. Directors that do attempt to see what 400 years of analysis have not yet found often seem to be over-reaching and it doesn’t translate. This is the natural ending point of any material. When you cannot find any more interpretations or hidden meanings, any attempts to develop new productions will, of course, appear as superfluous.

It may seem unduly harsh to slam those productions, it is hard to be critical of such works. Others will praise the performances of the cast for challenging such tough material or will simply talk about the crew’s good work. However, this is a dangerous thing to do. This danger can be broken down into three points: First, it cannot be overstated that audiences become easily fatigued. Any look at the trend of superhero movies recently will tell you that. It must be recognised that theatre is for the audience; to get as many people as possible to think, to feel and to learn. It’s incredibly difficult to do this with a play that has run, in the exact same format, since the Tudor period.

Secondly, it must be remembered that another poignant theatre exists. In the pursuit of becoming the definitive Prince of Denmark, actors can forget that ‘thespian’ is not a fancy word for someone who has performed in a Shakespeare play. The glorification of Shakespeare at every level of theatre has always made it harder for modern playwrights to get their work to the stage and audiences, actors, crews and directors all deserve to try their hand at as wide a variety of theatre as possible.

Last of all is the RSC. Why would you ever go anywhere else? Especially now since their productions are available widely through cinema screenings, the value in a local troupe’s well-intentioned slightly one-dimensional performance of a play you studied to a greater depth at school suddenly seems entirely fruitless.

Shakespeare has been and will continue to be an incredible influence on British and international performance, writing and art. It should be the responsibility of the theatre community to make sure that Shakespeare remains an influence and not the alpha and omega of theatre in this country.

Image: Kat Cassidy

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