Friday, 14 December 2012

Naked women: why?

To the Donmar Warehouse, for the heralded all-female production of Julius Caesar. As politeness requires, I’ll start with the positive and praiseworthy.

One It was short, two hours, with no interval. Not a minor point at the Donmar which must have the most uncomfortable seats of any internationally renowned theatre.

(This might also help stoke the slight but unmistakable air of smugness in the crowd. They have not just managed to get tickets for such a famous little house but they have suffered for their art. They exhale the same air of entitlement that plumes from the mouths of the people queuing outside this month’s most hippest no-reservations restaurant. Pitt Cue, say. Oh, I know, I am so early 2012. Slap my wrist.)

Two They did a great job of editing it down. The story shone through and was easy to follow, even if you didn’t know much or any Roman history. Again, not a minor point. It’s an unwieldy play. The guy in the title is dead half-way through. There’s not much in the way of sympathetic characters. There is no surprise about either the murder or the denouement. All that stuff about divination etc makes no sense to modern minds. Etc, etc (to drop suitably into a little Latin).

Well, it wasn’t very good. When asked at the end, I replied: one star. And, feeling poncey, added: jejune. Later, I also said: same kind of half-dead tropes there had been in guff like my school’s student production of Titus Andronicus. Neon lights! Paramilitary uniforms! Shouting! (Even! More! Than! Usual! For! A! Shakespeare! What is it about actors and Willie the Shake? Why do they have to shout lines that should be spoken? My first theory: they, like memsabs addressing foreigners, are convinced that volume enhances comprehension. My second theory: they know not what they do — or what the lines mean.)

Okay, okay, I hear you say. So far, so usual, what’s your point and can’t you get to it quicker?

So: nakedness. Naked women, in particular. One naked woman, in this case. She was wandering around at one point. It was a bit of a shock. Mostly because, well, it made no sense. At all.
Why, oh, why do directors persist in prevailing upon actresses to take their clothes off in the name of art? Obviously, it does make sense some times. I remember a production of Sondheim’s Passion in a theatre even smaller than the Donmar. The show starts with a couple rising from a bed where they have just had sex. We had front row seats. The singer-actors were naked. As singers, they were wonderful. They also had singers bodies. I couldn’t make up my mind whether their lack of beauty enhanced the humanity of the story or merely distracted the audience into physical critiquing.

I asked one of the two women who came to Julius Caesar with me about the naked woman. Yes, she said, I couldn’t work out what it might have signified either. Also, she added, it wasn’t as if the actress was the . . . Then she said something that if I’d said it, I would have had angry stares at least. She was, let’s put it this way, less than enthusiastic about the actress’s physique.
I’d thought that, too, obviously. I’d had another thought, too. That the director and the other actresses might well have pushed her into it. Its pointlessness whiffed of bullying. Women, almost invariably, are far, far more judgmental of other women’s bodies than men are.

So, for me, that was the only moment that the all-femaleness of the show made sense. Just as a gang of senators gang up on JC, so here a gang of gals gang up on another gal. That the parallel of this untethered emotional violence was unseen by its perpetrators made it all the more poignant but also genuinely tragic. Julius Caesar meets Mallory Towers.

PS I didn't want this text to be centred but there is something that goes wrong in blogger when you paste in an image. The text centres itself and you can't reset the alignment. At least, I can't. Any thoughts etc welcome.

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