Categories - Theatre Shakespeare
One of the joys of York International Shakespeare 2021 is seeing productions that are both culturally different in their identities to our own, and far removed from anything we would ever think of buying a ticket for when glancing through a theatre brochure. These are the productions that stretch us beyond our comfort zones, perhaps take the most effort to assimilate and understand, but which, I would contend, we all need to discover once in a while to challenge our perceptions of what theatre is, and isn’t.
I Come To You River: Ophelia Fractured presented by Studio Kokyu from Poland, directed by Przemysław Błaszczak, is just such a piece.
It was developed in September 2020, a time when the Women’s Strike movement were filling the streets, with thousands of protests in defence of women’s rights, after a year in which the Polish government had pushed forward bills to make both abortions and sex education illegal, had cracked down on LGBT activists, and made threats to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, a regional violence against women treaty. The message women were receiving was that their rights to health, safety, bodily autonomy and privacy were secondary in the eyes of the state, and daily they were being abused, harassed and detained for suggesting otherwise. The protesters used banners, social media and the language of the popular culture to get their message across. Błaszczak uses Shakespeare’s Hamlet to talk about the position of women, a device that proves to be just as blunt.
In I Come To You River: Ophelia Fractured, Ophelia recovers her voice as a young woman of the twenty-first century, not only through what she says, but by the amount of what she says. In Hamlet, Ophelia has a total of 58 lines, most confined to the briefest, “Do you doubt that?”, “I shall obey Lord”, or “No more but so” demure answers from the shadows cast by the menfolk, and the longer ones either devoted to worrying about, and kowtowing to, her man or other men, or lost in madness. Blaszczak’s team have given Ophelia text that is delivered by three actors, in which she speaks about the injustices of generations of recurring stereotypes that women face in so many aspects of their lives. The monologues address the issues of treating the female body as an object, having to conform to beauty ideals defined by the fashion industries, and adapting to roles expected or imposed by societal, traditional or male-led expectations. There is reflection on what it is to be a woman fractured in the pieces of lover, wife and mother, but there is opportunity for the fractures to form cracks and fissures, allowing light to expose the loneliness, depression and longing, releasing what is held inside.
It’s easy to think of Ophelia drifting through Hamlet in her white nightie, her hair pulled loose and strewing herbs in her wake, and in the opening scene the three actors, Anita Szymanska, Marie Walker and Martine Vreiling van Tuijl, do indeed appear in white dresses, perhaps so that the link is made. The trio sit in front of bowls filled to the brim with water and plunge their faces into them, then straightening up and pouring water around them, the monologues begin. Ophelia was drowning, but now she has come through the waters and will not be silenced.
This modernisation of Ophelia makes her a universal figure, speaking through generations and across cultures, breaking the silence, challenging and demanding change for all women who suffer from inequalities and iniquities. The silence is often punctuated with screams (frustration, terror or both?), and a directness and blunt confrontation that will not be quelled. The Ophelia of few words has become a woman of many words, and every one of them endowed with power.
I Come To You River: Ophelia Fractured was presented as part of
York International Shakespeare Festival 2021.
The full programme can be seen here.
This part of my site isn't about me at all.
It is about watching, observing and reading the work of others. Those who know what they are about, who have honed their crafts over many years and for whom I have the greatest respect and admiration.
I have learned, and continue to learn, so much from each show watched, each book read, each art work discovered and each person encountered, and I am humbled by their generosity of spirit in giving so much.