This production is a fine emblem of the
financial and artistic achievement of Jonathan Church since he took
over the artistic directorship of Chichester. When he arrived in 2006,
the Festival theatre and its Minerva studio needed to play to more than
healthy houses simply to survive that season; Church turned the
finances around and moreover managed to combine in his programming the
more traditional summer entertainment values of the theatre and its
principal constituency with a vein of adventurousness and challenge.
Rupert Goold’s lauded productions of Enron
both began in the
Minerva, and now Patrick Stewart, who played the title role in the
latter, returns under Angus Jackson’s direction to portray Shakespeare
in what may be the most un-Chichester offering yet.
Edward Bond’s brutal, astringent 1973 Marxist fable depicts not
Shakespeare the playwright, but rather the retired Warwickshire
gentleman, living off the rents of the smallholdings he owns and
threatened when other local landowners resolve to enclose the common
lands. In this respect, his artistic achievements (which are both
hymned and excoriated by Ben Jonson in a drunken scene in Act Two) are
no more relevant to the workings of the world than the bingo of the
title. Since the laws in place at the time are seen to condemn a young
woman to repeated whipping and ultimately hanging simply for trying to
move where she might make a living, material prosperity and legal
security seem almost as much of a lottery.
Bond writes in a deliberately lapidary style: characters do not so much
speak to one another as pronounce upon matters, and Shakespeare himself
says no more than a handful of words at a time until his final
death-bed scene, in which he repeatedly demands, “Was anything done?”,
encapsulating his well-meaning but ultimately ineffectual artistic
temperament in such a cruel economic world. Stewart is the still point
at the centre of the play, quietly racked whilst others around him
rail: Catherine Cusack as his daughter Judith, Richard McCabe as
Jonson, Jason Watkins as the driving force behind the enclosure, Alex
Price as a protester against it. It is unremittingly strong stuff, but
as is so often the case its very unremittingness diminishes its impact.
We, like the young woman, can take only so much.
Written for the Financial