Matthew Kresal enters stage left...
Before film and television, there was theater. The original home of so many of the genres that we watch and enjoy today. That medium continues to have an allure to it. An allure that speaks to some of the most successful actors and directors in the film world. One recent example of that is the long run of Shakespeare's Richard III from director Sam Mendes that starred Kevin Spacey in the title role. Following that production from rehearsal to final performance, Now: In The Wings On A World Stage presents a unique look at modern theater.
The documentary follows Spacey, cast and crew on their journey taking the play around the world. Beginning with rehearsals and performances in London and Greece, we follow them to such places as China and Qatar to see what it's like to bring Shakespeare to life for an audience that is even more removed from the language in the play. It's fascinating to watch them not only performing the play but also reacting to the audience response, in a feedback loop of sorts. We also get to see them beyond the stage as well, traveling around, seeing the sights in the locations where they're performing.
In their travels, it's interesting to watch how they gel as a company. At the heart of both the play and the company is Spacey, who proves to be nothing like the character he plays as he is instead supportive of his fellow actors both on and off stage. For example, it's interesting to watch the evolution of the scene early in the play when Richard accosts Lady Anne as Spacey and actress Annabel Scholey settle into their roles and become more comfortable performing until you get the final product on stage. Off stage, we get to see Spacey take them out on a boat while the company is performing in Naples, Italy, as well as an excursion into the Qatar desert after finishing their run there. Coming from different backgrounds, different countries and performing the play on four continents, the documentary presents an interesting portrait of what it's like to be in a modern touring theater company.
It's also fascinating to watch the sections of the play itself that are presented here. Having just been in a recent production of the play here locally where I live, it was fascinating to watch them go through the play and see the choices they'd made with scenes I've become so familiar with. There are some interesting discussions to the potential political elements of the play, which are given even more relevance due to the time and places they happen to be performing in (such as Qatar in the midst of the Arab Spring). If nothing else, the documentary shows just how much one can draw from Shakespeare's writing and find an angle to present to a audience more than four centuries after he wrote the play.
For anyone that has even a modicum of interest in the stage world, I highly recommend this documentary. It's a fascinating look at being a part of that world with both the thrills and occasional frustrations that go with it, from some of the most talented people working both on and backstage today. In short, it's well worth a watch for anyone interested in theater or in how to bring Shakespeare to life for a modern audience.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.