admin On July - 17 - 2013

crankyI picked up that t-shirt quite a few years back at the Edmonton Fringe festival—for some reason they only ran that print for one year, but it remains my favourite. Because, you see, bad acting really does make me angry in some settings, though it rarely did so at the Fringe—annoyed? Sometimes. But angry? Never.

That all changed when I decided to venture out to the Shakespeare in the Park performances being put on this summer in Montreal. I’ve honestly been feeling a little bit out of the loops when it comes to theatre. Indeed, it had been the longest stretch I’ve gone in my entire life of not seeing a live show. What better way to get myself back into the swing of things then to go see a performance of the bard under the cooling hospices of a willow tree in Jarry Park?

I had Lucy in tow on a gorgeous Montreal summer evening, along with some francophone friends, both of whom speak excellent English; none of us were concerned about language barrier issues (except maybe Lucy). As we all know, when Shakespeare is done properly, even schoolchildren can understand it. And it was Midsummer’s Night Dream, admittedly one of the most accessible and ‘frolicking good time’ of all the  bard’s comedic iambic adventures.

Lucy was about as impressed as I was by the performance.

Lucy was about as impressed as I was by the performance.

It saddened me to no end that I left the park angry, and in need of a stiff drink.

The set design was quite lovely (particularly as it adapted to the dimming light of the evening), the costume design a little meh (this is not a play whose pallet should be tones of black and grey), but that to me, is a forgivable sin. What is not forgivable, however, is butchering the bard. More specifically, butchering it in one of few opportunities many have to access public theatre.

After what I saw I was completely flummoxed at what some reviewers had to say. One of the young actresses who literally screamed her lines (we actually had to plug our ears) was praised for her grasp of nuance and subtlety. But the greatest failing, for me, was that the play was rendered inaccessible to all but those who were already familiar with the play. I certainly couldn’t blame my friends for leaving halfway through—the performances were beyond the reach of native English speakers, let alone people for whom English is a second language.

Yes, it’s written in iambic pentameter—but the audience shouldn’t be able to actively notice that, the cadence should never have the audience recalling the rhythm of a nursery rhyme. But that is exactly what happened (the only exception was the actor playing Bottom who I was not surprised to learn is a Stratford staple).

But seeing a bad play (and I’ve seen my share) I realize is not really grounds for ‘anger’, and it might seem an over-reaction. But it’s not a matter of me being a snob because I’m demanding better, I honestly feel like they owe it an audience. Theatre is important. Accessible theatre is even more important. So when one of the few opportunities that some people will have to see live theatre lets down their audience so badly, it upsets me. Am I over-reacting? Possibly. But it saddens me that so many will walk away from that series and think that that performance is representative of what the experience should be about.

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go get that drink…