Reinventing Shakespeare with Lenny Henry

Lenny_HenryI have just returned from a trip to the National Theatre in London to see Lenny Henry in The Comedy of Errors.

This is not going to be my attempt at a theatre review, as many others are far better qualified to do that than me.

Also, I had better get my confession to not being a great fan of Shakespeare out of the way early on too. However, I should point out that Lenny Henry himself was also in this camp until relatively recently as he revealed in his Radio 4 series, What’s So Great About…

In fact that show led to an invitation to appear as Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds directed by Barrie Rutter. The Daily Telegraph reviewer described his performance as “This is one of the most astonishing débuts in Shakespeare I have ever seen.” And resulted in Henry winning the best newcomer award at the age of 51.

The point I want to make is how this very contemporary version of the play creates an unexpected new angle on something dating from 1594. Who would have expected to be presented with a helicopter rescue with winch-men descending from above within the first few minutes.

The play was set in its original location of Ephesus, but updated to a rather sleazy present day by Director Dominic Cooke, with gangster bosses, pool halls, throbbing night clubs and racy prostitutes.

It felt really quite strange to listen to Shakespeare’s words coming out of the mouths of Essex bleached blonds with estuary accents. Or watching an ambulance with flashing lights swerve onto the stage and a gang of white-coated men emerge and begin pursuing our heroes Antipholus and Dromo around the stage in a Keystone Cops style chase.

From a comment I heard on the way out of the theatre, “soooo disappointing wasn’t it, none of the gentle charm of Shakespeare”, not everyone was happy with this interpretation. But, for me it not only made for an, at times, breath-taking spectacle, it also made the sometimes impenetrable Shakespearean language alive and vivid. Once again the Bard has been re-invented for another generation to enjoy.

Comedy_of_Errors

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