Thursday, 10 November 2011

The RSC, love and the space of reasons

In Stratford last weekend, I caught the RSC’s productions of Marat / Sade (in a less than full RST) and then A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a packed house. Both productions were typical of the main theatre of old. So it seems that despite sharing the Swan’s thrust stage, productions in it do not share the latter’s minimalism. Perhaps that makes good commercial sense and both the productions this weekend had excellent lighting and were generally visually engaging. But I suspect that less would have been more, overall, for Marat / Sade even though, or perhaps because, some of what was added was an attempt to move it out of the 1960s (smart phones, laptops etc).

By contrast, a full blown RSC production seems to be a good way to deal with A Midsummer Night’s Dream (though I couldn’t get on with Lucy Briggs-Owen’s performance - too much! – nor the very odd rockabilly interlude near the end). The foreknowledge that the mechanicals play within a play is yet to come always hangs over me. But a comment of Lois’ suggested what might be a deeper cause of dislike.

It is an infuriating play because of the way that love is presented as a kind of nomologically dangler or, rather, something utterly outside rationality or reason. The love-drug deployed by Oberon and Puck changes nothing about its victims but their love objects. So there’s nothing cognitive about their attitudes: just a brute affect. That seems odd because Shakespeare often persuasively and dramatically shows how love justifies and is justified. It is a standing, of sorts, in the space of reasons. Normally he enables us to see the breadth of that space when properly understood. But not here.