Monday, June 06, 2016

The pros and cons of getting drunk at the theater

Ten years ago I wrote a post about a performance of Ibsen's Ghosts at Stratford (link). The production was powerful, tragic and grim - but the seemingly-drunken audience tittered and laughed all the way through it.

Last week I had the opposite experience - a production of As You Like It that was so amped up on audience participation - being on stage during Pee-Wee's Playhouse would have been more sedate - that I suspected the only way to enjoy it was to be drunk.

At least, looking around at the third-full Festival Theater at the mostly blank faces of people being yelled at to wave pine boughs, hold up stars, proffer carrots, hold out lights, clap and sing, and even get on stage to dance - it seemed that the only person truly enjoying himself was the man seated directly behind me, who had obviously imbibed heartily from the theater bar.

(The production, when it was allowed to continue, was quite good. Petrina Bromley played Rosalind - and Petrina Bromley is a great, great talent. This is her first year at Stratford and if we're lucky she'll stick around for a long time. She brought a whimsical incandescence to Rosalind that I haven't seen since Maggie Smith was at Stratford in the 70s. Bromley is a naturalistic actor but has all the gravitas of a great Shakespearian. From now on, if she's in something, I'm going.)

For a couple of years now, Stratford has been aiming to involve the audience more in the play, and to make the play a more immersive experience. Actors talk to the audience before the play, people sit on the stage, actors talk directly to the audience at times during the play, and so on. This year's As You Like It takes this idea to an absurd degree and it distracted from the play... but I like the sentiment behind blurring the separation between fluffy musicals and Shakespeare. I like the idea of making the play a raucous experience, as it might have been in Shakespeare's day. I thought the setting really worked (Newfoundland in the 70s). It's just that I drive 30 minutes to get to Stratford so I can't get drunk enough to enjoy waving a pine bough over my head every 10 minutes.