Sunday, June 12, 2011

Editing Shakespeare

Who’s afraid of William Shakespeare? Not the adventurous Winnipeg thespians Shakespeare in the Ruins.

The 18-year-old theatre company has done a serious edit on a pair of the bard’s historical plays, condensing them into two hours of swashbuckling, punning fun.

Judging from Saturday night’s performance of Henry IV Parts I and II, I think Will would have endorsed their cuts and thrusts.

The company’s Sarah Constible trimmed the 53 characters of Part II (plus a handful more from Part I) and approximately six-hour running time to multiple roles for nine actors including herself.

The resulting performance maintains the high energy for which the company is renowned.

Constible’s edit deserves a lot of the credit for keeping the action coming while retaining space for the guts of Shakespeare: his rich language, especially that of poet-buffoon Sir John Falstaff.

This staging certainly fulfils the company’s ideal: “Our ongoing commitment to making the works of Shakespeare accessible and enjoyable for everyone (through clarity of text and unusual environmental staging).”

In the last couple of years SIR has withdrawn from the promenade-style performances that originated in the ruins of the St. Norbert monastery.

Now they stand and deliver under a tent on a parking lot in Assiniboine Park. It’s less adventurous than their earlier settings, granted, but I was pleased to see a dozen or so preschoolers clinging to the outside of the fence, giggling and shouting during the battle scene.

A 400-year-old adult play that grabs kids? Now that’s good editing.