Maria Zărnescu [1]

Maria Zarnescu

International Shakespeare Festival in Craiova, Romania, 9th edition, April 23–May 4, 2014.

I don’t know of what “stuff” The International Shakespeare Festival in Craiova is made. I don’t know when the idea occurred to Emil Boroghină[i] to put up this event: whether it was night or summer, whether it was tempest or calm. But it’s certain that his Dream has come true and it has been around for over twenty years. He has never given up magic. His own personal sorceries transformed some financial and management nightmares into wonderful stage dreams.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Edward Hall, Propeller Theatre Company, Great Britain. Photo by Florin Chirea
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Edward Hall, Propeller Theatre Company, Great Britain.
Photo by Florin Chirea

Produced by The Shakespeare Foundation in Romania and The National Theatre “Marin Sorescu” Craiova, in 2014 the ninth edition of the festival celebrated the playwright’s 450th anniversary. While the previous ones showed a somewhat elitist character, this “Shakespeare for All” edition turned towards the larger audience, and the actors literally went down into the street. The event opened in “William Shakespeare” Square, with Much Ado about Nothing by Shakespeare’s Globe of London (directed by Max Webster), as a kickoff to their European tour. Almost a fortnight of theatre followed, with productions invited from areas with a strong tradition, such as Great Britain, Russia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary or Ukraine, but also from countries less known theatrically in Romania, including China, Armenia or South Africa.

The Magic

In my personal top the productions presented by the British companies occupied—indisputably—the first positions. Shakespeare’s Globe was joined by Cheek by Jowl with John Ford’s play ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (ca. 1630, directed by Declan Donnellan), and Propeller Theatre Company with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Comedy of Errors (both directed by Edward Hall). The experience, the high level of professionalism, the discipline and the special kind of humor displayed by the creators—both obvious and contained—turned the four shows into gems. To be preserved in one’s personal collection, in the box that you open in those moments when you feel that you are losing faith…

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Edward Hall, Propeller Theatre Company, Great Britain. Photo by Florin Chirea
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Edward Hall, Propeller Theatre Company, Great Britain.
Photo by Florin Chirea

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was an all-male show, which is customary to Propeller company. The story is transposed in the world of anywhere and anytime. The lovers quarrel first with the parents and escape into the forest, then quarrel with each other, because that’s what love is about. The leaders do not get along, and the country and the subjects are left to bear the trouble. Titania, queen of the fairies, almost describes to her consort king Oberon the global warming: “… the spring, the summer, / The childing autumn, angry winter, change / Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world, / By their increase, now knows which is which: / And this same progenity of evils comes / From our debate, from our dissension…”[ii] Sound familiar?! Director Hall discovers the actuality of these messages, outlining the conjugal animosity, the household storms and their implications, in parallel with the play’s magic element. The world is displayed on several levels (humans and spirits, rulers and subjects), and the performance is directed towards different audiences. Just like in Elizabethan England the spectators of anywhere and of anytime may be illiterates or kings, but each is supposed to find his/her own Shakespeare. Or, this is the clear and self-aware achievement of this Propeller production, a perfectly balanced mixture of poetry and magic, with updated Shakespearean themes and lots of humor (not gross, not vulgar, in spite of the text’s potential, often taken advantage of by directors looking for a laugh.)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Edward Hall, Propeller Theatre Company, Great Britain. Photo by Florin Chirea
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, directed by Edward Hall, Propeller Theatre Company, Great Britain.
Photo by Florin Chirea

Through the set and costume design (Michael Pavelka), and the lighting design (Ben Ormerod), the different levels are defined—so simply, but so elegantly—by a row of chairs hung up along the back wall. From the forest—which is a white net with green trees projections—voices spread out or sounds dribble (sometimes sweet, sometimes menacing). The sound universe is completed by the music of the fairies, celestial at times, sharp at other times, as if coming from harsh mouth organs. The sorceries emerge… as if from a magic box, or they just happen under the white veils that are waving and whirling under the flashes of lightning. White as a mask is the characters’ make-up; white are the fairies’ pajama-costumes. In contrast, black elements as tokens of the night in the attire of fairy queen Titania and king Oberon. The lovers Demetrius and Lysander resemble each other very much, as a proof of Jan Kott’s theory concerning their interchangeability. On the contrary, the “girls” Hermia and Helena are very different in stature and nature. The only character who is spared love’s traps is Puck, seen as a clown-ballerina, a trickster androgynous, agile and in charge of the fulfillment of his master’s nightly pranks. The actors quickly interchange parts, and there are huge surprises when we discover which of them is actually playing one particular character.

The Love

“What think you of falling in love?” is the slightly naïve, slightly playful question of Rosalind (the banished Duke’s daughter) to her cousin Celia (the usurper’s daughter). And this is exactly what happens in the pastoral play As You Like It, which tells the story of the two girls fleeing the Court and seeking refuge in the forest. The “spell” of various forms of love in which Shakespeare seems to be the expert is unbound by the Romanian magician-director Silviu Purcărete, who takes the road of deciphering the text together with the actors of The Budapest Hungarian National Theatre. In order to offer the complete labyrinth of disguises, he goes back to the Shakespeare’s Renaissance time and assigns all the parts to male-actors. Almost all.

Zsolt Trill (Rosalinda) and Tibor Fehér (Celia) in As You Like It by William Shakespeare, Budapest National Theatre, Hungary
Zsolt Trill (Rosalinda) and Tibor Fehér (Celia) in As You Like It by William Shakespeare, Budapest National Theatre, Hungary

The plot begins in a theatre dressing room, since “all the world’s a stage.” The actors prepare their masks; the human beings become characters in the three-fold make-up mirrors. The mood is gloomy, somber and ominous at the Court of the usurper Duke. Men in black (the eternal classic outfit of the security services) keep a lookout for a possible political conspiracy. Or is it just a theory of conspiracy? A quick explosion of fireworks shell on the roof changes the plans. In the background, behind the closed doors of the lofty palace, the forest emerges, not as a space of miracles, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but a sanctuary, a place where laws are re-written. The exiled Duke lives in the woods like Robin Hood, surrounded by a bunch of jolly young men of noble descent who are seemingly spending their time without a care in the world. However, this is only the appearance, since it is snowing in Arden, the cold is gruesome and the wind is wicked and harsh. The conclaves take place in the dim light of lanterns watching over reed-bordered lanes or in the village pub. It is the alcohol and the music that beat the cold.

As You Like It by William Shakespeare, directed by Silviu Purcărete, Budapest National Theatre, Hungary
As You Like It by William Shakespeare, directed by Silviu Purcărete, Budapest National Theatre, Hungary

There are more songs in As You Like It than in any other of Shakespeare’s comedies. Menacing at the beginning, then graciously dribbling, Vasile Şirli’s music welcomes different performers according to the respective location. In the forest, a look-alike of Queen Elizabeth II is playing the piano, accompanied by a saxophone player. The famous “seven ages monologue” is the hit in the pub, well-known by the customers and highly in demand. “All the world’s a stage” is what the melancholy Jacques is crooning into the microphone, to the applause of the humming audience. Everybody knows the lyrics, since “we are not all alone unhappy: / This wide and universal theatre / Presents more woeful pageants than the scene / Wherein we play in.” In the (almost) all-male cast of the production, the role of the cynical philosopher is played by the actress Dorottya Udvaros.

Purcărete’s “trademark” images—apparently familiar, recognizable—are, in fact, brand new. Dragoş Buhagiar’s costumes are timeless, with distinct features for each character, and Helmut Stürmer supplements the two planes of the set with a very personal third one, in the background: projections of his mind—in video displays—pure space poetry. Finally, it is there that the make-up mirrors will end up, facing the audience, so as to leave the stage mise en abyme. “One man in his time plays many parts” seems to be the key-line by which the director deciphers the play’s mystery. The gender reversal, the change spiral of the characters seems endless. And no mask seems to be the ultimate. The epilogue pronounced by the ever-changing Rosalind (man-woman-man) in a sad voice confirms the perpetual seeking, of the never to be completely found “self.” Animus and anima.

The Apocalypse by Shakespeare. Macbeth, directed by Janusz Wiśniewski, National Theatre Craiova, Romania
The Apocalypse by Shakespeare. Macbeth, directed by Janusz Wiśniewski, National Theatre Craiova, Romania

The Evil

A prophet is not without honor save in his own country. The Pole Janusz Wiśniewski came to Romania’s Craiova National Theatre to stage Macbeth. In fact, The Apocalypse by Shakespeare, a stage version of his own. In spite of his lifelong artistic rebelliousness, the director is marked by the inevitability of his Catholic substratum. The evil exists and comes from somewhere. In the show this assertion is confirmed by all the quotes that complete the original text, excerpts from the Bible or from other Shakespearean works, but also from W.H. Auden’s Advent, Adam Mickiewicz’s Forefathers’ Eve or Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. No matter how much we would like to deny it, Evil exists and sometimes drives our lives. All the tragic themes that are present in the tableaux of this visceral show display the inevitable canvass of the evil. The specters’ cavalcade moves rhythmically, at a dynamic pace, following the ironic pulse of an apparently cheerful music (by Jerzy Satanowski). The mechanism of the movements emphasizes the energy and the inevitability of the saraband of an absolute evil. Blood, lust, thirst, hunger, fear, envy are all passions that punish the same desires, leading to criminal acts.

Adrian Andone (Macbeth) and Gina Călinoiu (Lady Macbeth) in The Apocalypse by Shakespeare. Macbeth, National Theatre Craiova, Romania
Adrian Andone (Macbeth) and Gina Călinoiu (Lady Macbeth) in The Apocalypse by Shakespeare. Macbeth,
National Theatre Craiova, Romania

The text becomes a pretext, and so do the protagonists Macbeth (Adrian Andone) and Lady Macbeth (Gina Călinoiu). In an imperatively Christian mystical setting, with the constant reference to Redemption, the crowd of ghosts defies the priest’s power, sets the cross on fire and once again acknowledges that sin is a reality. It is only in the delayed cantilena, after the first roar of applause, that we are shown the way to Salvation. We are left to enjoy the pictorial approach to the characters, the inventiveness in the use of archetypes (from the Wandering Jew to the Widow Bride), sustained by the remarkable synchronization of the soundtrack with the inspired actors’ choreography. The Apocalypse has now been explained, since the one that was prophesied some time ago did not deign to happen.

[i] Emil Boroghină (b. 1940, Craiova, Romania) is an actor and theatre director, manager and initiator of The International Shakespeare Festival in Craiova, and also the president of The Shakespeare Foundation in Romania. He is the one who gave The National Theatre in Craiova a new face, while working as a managing director during the time of Silviu Purcărete’s productions and their international tours (Titus Andronicus, Ubu Rex with scenes from Macbeth and Phaedra).

[ii] All quotations are from The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Wordsworth Editions, 1999.


Maria Zarnescu

[1] Maria Zărnescu is a Romanian theatrologist and critic, PhD teaching associate at The University of Theatrical Arts and Cinematography “I.L. Caragiale” Bucharest. Her theatre and music reviews, studies and essays have been published in Critical Stages, Time Out Bucharest, Yorick, Teatrul AZI, Concept and Theatron. She has long experience as a radio journalist and manager, television editor, and events producer.

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