Titus Andronicus, The RSC, 10/8/17

Titus Andronicus, The RSC, 10/8/17

There has been much controversy over Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus – Is it his worst play ? Did he even write it ? It is generally felt that alone, or in conjunction with another, Shakespeare was writing a revenge drama, full of blood and guts, high in emotion and horror, in an attempt to have a hit on his hands. It seemed to work initially as, at first, it was one of his more successful plays. Later it fell out of favour as our tastes changed and it was felt to be rather overwrought and over-gory, perhaps felt to be a relic of days passed, when a public execution was the competition for a performance of a drama.

 

It is clear that its bloody history was on the minds of the RSC when they staged this performance. A trigger warning was offered at the beginning and through the play great care was taken to avoid any excessive gore. It is odd that in these days of bloodthirsty television (C.S.I., etc), popular horror films in the cinema (Saw, Hostel, etc), and the ubiquity of the internet it was felt necessary to do this. It is also unfortunate that they did. The blood and gore are, in fact, the guts of Titus Andronicus. If they are removed there is very little left. If they are played for effect with appropriate histrionic aplomb and bravado they are less distressing than this clinical approach (We have to deal with it but we’d rather not).

 

Further, Titus Andronicus is a revenge drama dealing with violent urges. This was always a preoccupation with Shakespeare from Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, and the Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare looked into the darker corners of our souls and it is often insights he had on these murderous passions which stood the test of time. It was not a political thriller. To try and make it into such means that, in addition to losing all of the excitement, we also lose any of the possible insights.

 

It seems modern day concerns seriously damaged this performance, hopefully somebody else will be a little more honest and respectful of the text and do a better job.

Y Llyfrgell – The Library Suicides

Y Llyfrgell – The Library Suicides

“Y Llyfrgell” has received a great deal of praise and positive attention following its recent release.  Generally it was described as “outstanding” and “striking” and  rated four out of five stars. It was described as being in the genre of Nordic Noir which is so popular at present. So it was with quite considerable anticipation that I  went to our local cinema to see it. My expectation was tempered significantly when I arrived at the cinema; I did not need to use my second hand to count the audience. I knew half of the handful of people who had come to this first night of a three night run. After we watched the film I knew why there had been no crowds, the film was a disappointment.

This was no Nordic Noir. There was no dark brooding over eternal themes, no moral complexity, no ruminations of the nature of guilt nor any social criticism. This was a slight and simple tale.  In fact, one of the main characters, the night watchman, played to role for laughs (and was quite successful in this regard).

Indeed, generally the acting was good. The cinematography was excellent with many striking images which will stick in the mind. The direction, as we would expect from Euros Lyn, was superb and of the highest level and the sound track well crafted and one which greatly enhanced the film. None of these things were the problem, these were people on the top of their form, working well and delivering quality results.

The problem was with the text. I have not read the book on which the film is based so I am unable to comment on this. However, the screenplay (which was written by the author of the book) falls flat on many levels. There are two main ‘twists’ in the tale. The first is so obvious that all the audience know what will happen shortly after the character Eben has been instroduced. This is not a surprise on the Darth Vader level, more a shrug of the shoulders and “I thought he was” level.  The ultimate twist at the end is shocking. Not shocking in a good way, shocking as it destroys the whole film.

The final surprise  requires the watcher to ignore much of what has gone on before. It requires you to forget the dialogue between characters, forget the little character development that had been made and ignore many of the visual  images. In fact it robs the entire film of its worth.  It is a childish device reminiscent of stories which end with “and when I woke up it was all a dream .. .. “. It leaves the audience with a feeling of irritation.

This film arose from Ffilm Cymru Wales and organisation aiming to increase Welsh film making, and this may be the problem, it is a film created by committee. It was formed out of discussions from a group from the art world deciding how to promote Welsh cinema. There was no part played by the public in this, the book was chosen regardless of whether there was a demand of film of this type. The main criterion would have been it is a current Welsh language book and little more.

Had the generating impetus been to create a great film this team would have been up to the job but they would have chosen a story  which would benefit from being filmed, or chosen a story that was felt likely to have commercial success. By choosing this they end up with a film which doesn’t (I presume) add much to the book and will certainly have little commercial success (the paltry audience it gathered in the Welsh speaking heartlands is testimony to this).

It would be patronising beyond measure to praise Danish filmmakers for making their films in Danish, likewise I won’t pat the Germans on the back for showing their television in German. These artists go out to make good films, great television, or to write the great novel or a moving poem. They intend to move, to stir or to educate the audience they do not go out with the intention “I must write something in Danish”.

We clearly have the talent to make great film in Wales, we have to try and find ways to increase the demand for welsh language products. It is demand which will drive the market and drive up quality. Focusing on the supply side gives rise to poor quality products lacking a natural market. No matter how many well meaning awards, medals and positive reviews this film garners, a poor film playing to empty cinemas will not give birth to the new Welsh cinema.