What a way to get Brexit done.
(What’s done cannot be undone … )
I spent this week in Madrid, a marvellous city I’ve never visited before, with the brilliant Teatro Kamikaze, working with a superb ensemble of actors at their 1920s art deco theatre, El Pavòn, on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. We explored four scenes from the play (1.1, 2.2, 3.1 & 3.2) spatially and psychologically, working on a new translation with an innovative approach to representing blank verse in Spanish metres; and we focused in on contemporary political resonance in the text, both Spanish and more broadly European.
In 1608, when Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus – which deals with the failure of a quasi-democratic system to provide for the competing demands of the people and the establishment – the English Civil War (or as it’s increasingly, and for our current moment more suggestively, known, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms) was just three decades away; Shakespeare evidently felt the tremors of the forthcoming seismic shock. The rhymes of history are everywhere to be heard in this explosively political play; and especially now. And those rhymes are just as distinct in Spain, with its recent history of Fascist dictatorship, and its contemporary democratic deadlock and secessionist movements.
Many thanks are due to the wonderful, creative, formidable actors who took part: María Pujalte, María Hervàs, Ana Cristina Bokesa, Laura Galàn, Fran Cantos, Ignacio Mateos, Pablo Béjar, Raul Prieto, Emilio Buale, Jose Fernández and Central alumnus Martiño Rivas (who organised the workshop); to translator and associate director (and Central alumna) Paula Rodriguez; to Artistic Director Miguel del Arco and the Kamikaze team for hosting us; and to Ross Brown and Maria Delgado at Central for backing the project. We had some interesting meetings following the workshop, and hopefully this won’t be the end of the story.
To turn to a story that has ended: on the evening of January 31st, as British flags came down across Europe, Paula and I went to the beautiful Teatro Infanta Isabel to see La Ternura, a hugely popular production approaching its 300th performance. Written and directed by Alfredo Sanzol, artistic director of the Spanish National Theatre, the play is an explicit and fantastical homage to Shakespearean comedy; and the performance, which showcased the exceptional craft of its six-strong company, was as credibly early modern in style as anything I’ve ever seen at the Globe. Of course, Spain has its own early modern theatre tradition, the voluminous and sophisticated work written for the outdoor corrales by Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Caldéron and others in a Golden Age pretty precisely concurrent with the golden age of Elizabethan, Jacobean and early Caroline theatre in London. That the two nations mirrored each other theatrically is both remarkable and inevitable: like Coriolanus and Aufidius, early modern England and Spain were locked in a deadly love-hate embrace, at war for the first half of Shakespeare’s career, then in the flush of a much wished-for but uneasy peace. Throughout my time in Madrid, whether strolling the 17th-century streets of the Centro district, working on Shakespeare in a theatre which briefly predates the Spanish Civil War, or gazing awestruck at the works of Velasquez in the Prado, I was mindful of this almost-forgotten early modern conflict; and being so, I was all the more sensible of the peace that has prevailed in Europe in my lifetime.
Leaving Infanta Isabel that night, in the final hour of the UK’s membership of the EU, I noticed these adjacent portraits adorning the foyer wall:
Shakespeare and Cervantes never met. But Shakespeare certainly read Cervantes, as he wrote a play, Cardenio, now lost, based on a story from Don Quixote. And maybe Cervantes heard of Shakespeare, after peace was restored to their nations in 1604. There’s this guy who’s making some really interesting work in London. Maybe you should try to get over there, Miguel? Well, why not fantasise? They shared a historical moment (Shakespeare died the day after Cervantes in 1616), and though they could not avoid its enmities and prejudices, they worked in very similar theatrical environments, stylistically and contextually; and they both applied to their art a similar worldly eye and wit. It’s our privilege to indulge in the theatrical fantasy of hindsight and imagine that perhaps, had Will and Miguel somehow encountered each other over an ale at the Globe or a copa at the Corral de la Cruz, they might have swapped ideas or inspiration; perhaps even made friends.
Now, more than ever, we need to keep the flame of international and intercultural artistic collaboration in Europe alive; to tend it carefully, and to amplify its beams wherever they alight on enmity or injustice. We’ll need to work hard to overcome the barriers to collaboration which the bureaucracies of intolerance and selfishness throw up; but the true proof of the humanity of our theatre will be in our resilience and persistence in doing so.