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Moscow Shakespeare Speaks English

Article provided by:"Diplomat" magazine"Diplomat" magazine

1 June 2003
Moscow Shakespeare Speaks English

In the fall of last year, the Lime Light Theater, a new and hitherto totally unknown company, has emerged in Moscow. It quickly and naturally occupied a niche of the theatrical scene that nobody had the idea---for some strange reason---to occupy before. This newcomer became the capital’s very first English-language theater that immediately won the sympathies of numerous expats living or vacationing in Moscow: diplomats, businessmen, and their families, students, and so on. Because of their scanty knowledge of Russian, they don’t go to the “textual” theaters preferring ballet, circus performances and classical music concerts.

 

“The first cry of the newborn” was a play based on William Shakespeare’s legendary comedy Twelfth Night, or What You Will. It was first staged in London in 1602 so that the Moscow first-night performance in late 2002 coincided precisely with the 400th anniversary of the masterwork.

 

Irina Cordier, a remarkable woman, who heads the Figaro Producing Center, had the idea to create an English-language theater in Moscow and put her plan into life. A graduate of the Moscow University’s law department and the Movie Actors Faculty of the Academy of Art (Milan, Italy), she successfully starred in METEX-ITALY company’s films, but then quit her movie career and took up producing. The Figaro Producing Center she set up in 1997 carries out projects meant for children, develops advanced theater technologies and will hold (for the third time running this year) a summer festival in Novy Svet (Crimea) in memory of Fyodor Shalyapin. The establishment of the LimeLight Theater was a fairly daring, yet well-thought and success-oriented step. Irina Cordier inflamed many people with her enthusiasm, including Nina Chusova, a well-known stage director, Vladimir Martirosov, who became set designer, Vladimir and Artyom Panchikovs, Aleksandr Grishayev, Anton Eldarov, Sergey Muravyov, up-and-coming young actors of Moscow theaters, and others. Not to forget the Galina Vishnevskaya Center for Opera that became a full-fledged partner in the project. It not only provided soloists but also offered a brand-new auditorium fitted out with state-of-the-art equipment.

 

At the words “Twelfth Night” we recollect innumerable theatrical productions of bygone days and especially the iconic Soviet movie of the early 1960s featuring Klara Luchko, who played both twin characters. Everywhere there are ornate costumes, sumptuous exotic sets, wonderful old music and a genuine outburst of high-running passions. Nothing similar in the LimeLight staging, because the play creators were intent on returning to the Shakespearian theater, which may have existed 400 years ago. The result proved utterly unexpected.

 

…Imagine the suburbs of 17th-century London: dirty narrow streets teeming with suspicious people hungry for entertainment and scandals. A vagrant actors’ troupe is playing Shakespeare. There is a bare minimum of scenery: coarsely made boards, a wavy line drawn along the board that represents water, a plywood portico with columns is a palace and motley rags stand for court dresses. Men play all the parts, women are not admitted there. The refined language of the celebrated playwright is reduced to the slang; what is left from the plot is the main line of the action. Instead of a sophisticated high-life comedy, we see a popular booth show with clouts on the head, scuffles, vulgar tricks where “the ladies” fully match “the gentlemen.” The crowd is in sheer delight, copper coins fly into the hat put on the edge of “the stage.” The show is over and the comedians mingle in the crowd. A huge tankard with something stronger that water is going round.

 

The spectators saw a stylization of exactly such kind of theater on the stage of the Galina Vishnevskaya Center (of course, adjusted to the 21st-century’s civilized manners). The musical backdrop is provided by … The Beatles. Why not? After all, they are the playwright’s countrymen. As to the language, it is easily understood even by people who barely know English. There is a host of funny details, for instance, ladies’ shoes on huge ultrafashionable platforms, and all this amid an ocean of unfeigned enthusiasm and genuine merriment. The actors (only boys) are carried away by their job, they are having a great time, and the grateful audience bursts into applause

 

Once the play is over, the show still goes on. Just as in Shakespearian times, the actors mingle with the crowd, and white-winged angels (one of whom is Irina Cordier) offer ceramic bowls filled with cider and candied peel---ambrosia and nectar---the food of blissful Illyria where Shakespeare’s fantasy placed the twins Viola and Sebastian.

 

In May, the LimeLight Theater has premiered its second performance, a musical joke called “Mr. Chekhov’s Variety” and based on the playwright’s famous play, The Bear. The story is transferred from the 1880s to the 1930s, though. The Chekhovian characters speak their lines rendered by today’s English against the backdrop of Dmitry Shostakovich’s music to the ballets The Golden Age and The Bolt as well as the symphony suites Nos. 1, 2, 3. Gennady Abramov’s plastic group extends the plot limits with its dance numbers. Just as in the first staging, all the parts are played by young actors of Moscow theaters.

 

-Oleg Torchinsky

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