Globe to Globe blog: Week one - Merry Wives of KenyaDate: 30 April 2012
Dan Poole and Giles Terera are the producers, directors and players in Muse of Fire, a documentary in which they travel the world to unearth everything they can about Shakespeare. In it they talk to Jude Law in Denmark, Baz Luhrmann in Hollywood, visit a prison in Ireland and spend time on the set of Al Pacino's King Lear.
Understandably these two Will-o-philes are more than a little excited about Globe to Globe, an ambitious project to stage each of Shakespeare’s plays in a different language courtesy of 37 visiting international theatre companies from places as far away as Afghanistan, China and South Sudan. It runs at Shakespeare's Globe as part of the World Shakespeare Festival until 9 June 2012.
Whatstonstage.com asked Dan and Giles to blog their experiences and here is their first report.
If Shakespeare were a drug there is a healthy chance we’d be considered way beyond saving. Dan and I are actors and in the last three years we have chased him around the world. It has been a wild ride finding out why some folks love him and some live in fear of him and what can be done about it.
So when Whatstonstage.com asked us to go down to the South Bank and cover the Globe To Globe festival we said "yes please" - 37 Shakespeare productions from 37 different countries in a variety of languages. YES PLEASE!
GILES: As we step into the Globe the American woman in front of us turns her face from her husband to the sky and says, “Jesus Christ, don’t let it start raining again.” And there’s me secretly hoping that it will. Shakespeare is all about the shit-flinging elements forcing characters to be human. Think of The Tempest. Or King Lear’s blasted heath, Macbeth’s “foul and fair day”, Twelfth Night’s “rain raineth everyday.”
Well, down at the roofless Globe those same elements force all of us who come to see the play to be as present as the Macbeth or Lear and to get involved. You can’t just sit back and be entertained. Only a fool would pay good money to sit passively watching a 400 year old play. No my friends, you have to invest - with your guts. So weather it rains or is faintingly hot or a pigeon shits on you, in the end the only real shelter is the play.
DAN: It turns out the American woman’s prayers are answered. Not a drop of rain. Instead the sky remains blue and gradually the moon peeps shyly over the edge of the roof to see what’s on stage at the Globe. Heri wanawake wa Windsor is what’s on - AKA Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives Of Windsor. This production is from Kenya, a country rich in folk tales and stories of hilarious scheming and people being played tricks on. And in the hands of the Bitter Pill company, Shakespeare’s play goes down a treat. The wives plot, scheme and delight in the knots they tie around their husbands and that fat old lech Sir John Falstaff.
“GILES: A quick lesson in Swahili out front before we go in! Two nice ladies from Hackney teach us how to say "Kuwa au kutokuwa". That means "to be or not to be" in Swahili.
DAN: A beautiful black woman walks on to the stage. Somehow we know to stand up. She starts to sing and we know we are hearing the Kenyan anthem. A few Kenyans in the audience join in and we all start to hum along. It just sort of happens and once we’ve all experienced this first victory we relax and think, "Yeah, we know more than we think we know. It’s gonna be alright".
There are monitors high up on either side of the stage with captions in English to let us know what's going on, but after a while we don’t need them. There are only eight actors in the troupe so a shit-load of doubling goes on which (believe it or not) adds to the fun.
GILES: Look around. The Globe atmosphere is a unique one. A glad mixture of Glastonbury, an air-raid shelter and a wedding. Young exchange students, Americans, couples with toddlers, artist types - we’re all in Falstaff’s gang. The company draw us in and we are happy to go with them. They joke, connive, confide, hurt and make merry scene by scene. As one woman said to us afterwards, “They served up a rich meal and we were well fed.”
Bitter Pill's The Merry Wives of Windsor
What would Shakespeare would make of all this? I played Horatio at the National couple of years ago and a man said to me, “Well done. Very good. Of course Horatio wouldn’t actually have been black but well done.” Not sure what you say to that. I had to laugh. But looking round the theatre tonight how could this be against Will’s wishes? He’d love it. He’d be smiling and nodding like a DJ. A rare thing in theatre is taking place in the building tonight: a sort of theatrical communism.
DAN: As it gets darker outside the theatre it gets prettier inside. We don’t know if they are speaking old Swahili or modern but we don't need to. We watch their bodies and their thinking, listen to their sounds, vowels, utterances and exclamations. And in doing so we begin to see people we ourselves know; people from our own families and lives.
GILES: Good story telling is good story telling. The language those story tellers speak isn’t the one of words and grammar: these guys use only four props - a basket, a dagger, a rug and a picture frame. When they finish the Globe goes crazy. It's a victory. The actors are proud, happy and so are we. We all understand that, without understanding a word, we understood every word. Dominic Dromgoole’s plan for the Globe season is gonna be a doosie. And the next production can’t come soon enough.