As we trudge dutifully on through an extended lockdown period, our brains fuzzing over with exam cramming, heatstroke, loneliness, or a bizarre combination of all three, there may be one name that could save us from complete mental disarray: Shakespeare.
The streaming platform Marquee TV are currently offering a 14-day free trial, allowing access to 18 performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company, along with a plethora of other dance, opera and theatre performances. Shakespeare can seem intimidating and inaccessible, but this trial is a cultural opportunity that should be shared and celebrated by every kind of student, whether it be to admire the artful rhetoric or to enjoy the captivating performances that offer a welcome change from the typical Netflix series. With this in mind, I have recommended four of the RSC productions available that I believe offer a range of viewer experiences, but ultimately show Shakespeare at its best.
Albeit renowned for the extended scenes of rumination, stillness and deliberation, this performance of Shakespeare’s revenge-tragedy is packed with energy, flirtation and anger. This is mainly thanks to Paapa Essiedu’s award-winning interpretation of Hamlet, who delivers soliloquies like he is tearing a piece of himself apart and gifting it to the audience. The artwork that accompanies the youthful Hamlet and the surprisingly defiant Ophelia (played by Natalie Simpson) also revitalises the central themes of the play, so if you do happen to lose yourself in the clever rhetoric, the modern paint and graffiti offers a guide through the thrilling darkness.
This performance tackles themes of racism and discrimination in its military-inspired urgency that feels refreshingly relevant for today. It imaginatively and successfully maps new scenes onto old; through the depiction of torturing by waterboarding, a drunken rap battle that booms with vehemence, and the Duke of Venice played by a woman (Nadia Albina), the common misconception that Shakespeare may be outdated is completely refuted. A timeless story of manipulation, jealousy and conceit that provides all the deaths promised in an Elizabethan revenge tragedy, but also all the heart promised in an emotional and stirring thriller.
As You Like It (2009)
This is the only play of the selected four that is performed in Shakespeare’s famous Globe Theatre – the electric atmosphere is captured through the spirited performance of this pastoral comedy. Naomi Frederick’s Rosalind is fiery and witty, matched equally by Jack Laskey’s charming Orlando, and the pair muster up a chemistry that reverberates throughout the packed theatre. It is enjoyable to watch alongside the audience as the performance spills out into the crowd, be it with actors running through the standing spectators, or a wrestling match demanding the front row to stumble back. This unique feature could go a long way in making another night in quarantine feel a little less lonely.
The Tempest (2016)
If the thought of sitting through three hours of words, words, and more words doesn’t tickle your fancy, this adaptation of The Tempest definitely has everything you could ask for. Not only does returning legend Simon Russell Beale offer a layered, haunting Prospero, the RSC grabbed the idea of innovative digital technology for theatrical gain and ran with it. Live actors perform beneath colossal projected versions of themselves, soundscapes and moving backdrops capture the eeriness of the island, costume detailed to perfection adorns bodies moving with exaggerated physicality, ultimately filling the production with a magic that is normally reserved only for the cinematic experience. If this isn’t enough, the cast sing and dance, and the foolish Trinculo (played by Simon Trinder) has impeccable comedic timing. An experience not to be missed.
You can sign up to Marquee TV’s free trial here.
Image: Steve Oprey via Pixabay