Reimagining reinterpretations

A thought on reinterpretations with special regard to “Henry 4th

Tea: Chamomile (currently sick…)

Remember that social chain I once referred to? Well, someone gripped it tightly again and yanked with all their might. This time to watch an indie re-interpretation of Henry 4th advertised as a reimagining of the source material brought into a modern setting. Being the critic towards small productions and much more social interaction that I am, I was, to say the least, a bit doubtful. But soon the realization struck me like a sack of flour, dropped from the highest window of bakery-empire: I was absolutely right to be. When I read that the play would be a reworking of a Shakespeare text I should have known what to expect. Shakespeare reimaginings are the white noise of theatre creativity. The sort of project the group comes up with that cannot be arsed to write their own decent script. So what do you do, you take a play by good old Willy, rewrite the dialogue with a modern tone, while cutting a lot of it out in the same breath and there you have it: Bait for the pseudo-intellectual crowd that will praise your new approach to the subject matter, the ones who will write an article in the local newspaper…. Or their small blog? I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite. Anyway back to the subject at hand: I would have been fine with seeing another boring reworking of Romeo and Juliet or Richard II. Yet I could not fathom the laziness put into this one. The setting was modern, or at least was made out to be. Clothes and scenery sure gave a modern vibe. The dialogues were not changed at all, only cut down to about half the amount. The war between the different factions was still a war with swords and pistols. So why, I ask you, was this a modern version? Characters were drinking from beer bottles and smoking cigarettes and most of them were dressed like a street gang, a really dark and edgy street gang of course. While at the same time chatting like 400 years ago. Maybe my intellect is simply not evolved enough to either comprehend or enjoy such a mess, but as I stand today the experience was atrocious. Let’s get out some praise, before I finish this beast off with a strike to the creativity-lacking heart. Some of the actors were really into their role and as a consequence gave a full-hearted and lively performance. And… then…. Well, done so far to be honest. I could mention that due to an apparent lack of male actors, most of the roles were played by women. I didn’t mind since they, for the most part, did a good job. And here we start the ripping and tearing. The new situations created by the women in the cast could have been used to put a new spin on the subject matter. “Why not make the ruler a lesbian tyrant? No, stay conservative, just pretend they’re all men.” The saddest thing about this play is that in a way it had potential. The actors were, for the most part, far from horrible and the subject matter would be well suited for a modern day perspective, but lazy writing will always win in the universe’s great game of attention. The entire play was so inconsistent in its tones the three hour runtime became almost unbearable. The poor ventilation of a room filled with approximately 100 people did not help much either. The dialogues just stretched out endlessly and by the time we got to the curtain closing for the first time I thought they had simply decided to skip the break, but oh no, there was still so much left. But this should not turn into a continuous bashing of the play, I feel like I have delivered in that department, it is supposed to be a broad view on the subject of reinterpretations in general. So how to do them properly. Well, let’s start off with an example: BBC’s Sherlock is probably well-known for being an outstanding use of established characters and placing them in a modern environment. The world is in itself consistent and characters are kin to their original counterpart, yet do not feel out of place in the present day environment. Some characters stray from their literary equivalent, like Moriarty for instance. Andrew Scott delivers a fresh and intriguing villain and while Moriarty was entirely different in the books, he was also a bit lacklustre. To be fair, he was the guy in the background that never took centre-stage. To sum it up, Sherlock is a proud of example of a reinterpretation of a classic piece of literature. Here are some thoughts I would like to share: There should be a point to the reworking of whatever subject you choose. If you will change barely anything it would be better to just leave it be. And if you really want to change something, don’t be afraid to think radical. Creativity is a slippery customer and you might think at some point that you are straying from your original plan, but a concept should evolve and not be edged in stone the moment you start. You might set out with an idea about the central theme being romance until you realize at some point that it is actually self-esteem. And should your story develop in another direction: Let it! Take that leap of faith. The modern setting is an almost overused setting. If you want to be creative, why not take a modern work and transport it into the past. How about CSI London 1650, or House MD during the Civil War? Sure, this would be a challenge, but isn’t this what creative reimaginings are all about? On the other hand, if you feel more comfortable taking something into the present, tackle something others deem impossible. A modern version of the German Nibelungenlied for instance. Make Siegfried a crack addict so high he thinks himself invincible after slaying an imaginative dragon. If you worry that you will alienate your audience with a reworking that is too far out there and you deem too weird for their tastes. Let this be said, some people will always like stuff like that as long as you put your heart into it. I’d rather watch something imperfect that someone spend months or years crafting that has some genuine creative drive than another boring copy and paste play. Be shocking, be captivating, be different, and be weird, but never be boring.

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3 thoughts on “Reimagining reinterpretations

  1. A very intriguing article about a topic that not only concerns the realm of theatre but also the opera! Today´s directors must have got it into their heads that opera is just and exclusively about the music, and thus for the ears, so that the eyes are left with “modern” interpretations that distinguish themselves only by spartan stage settings and plain clothing for their actors (unrefined black dresses for women and simple trousers and shirts for men). Perhaps all this talk about modern reinterpretations is just an excuse for the fact that they lack money to stage something that would mean that the actors couldn´t get dressed in their everyday things at home and be good to perform…
    I know what modernity looks like, I´m living in it! I want to see how a play looked like and was intended to be at the time (for which) it was created!

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    • Stagnation affects all of them, I agree. The more blant their stage is, the more intelligent it should be. While I see nothing wrong with a well down post-modern clothing and stage set-up it has been the norm for far too long. What happened to the good old days when actors wore hideous costumes on stage? Indeed that would be a nice thing to experience. I’d imagine the audience was a lot livelier with their criticism than our high-brow society.

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