The Gods Weep – Dennis Kelly

Posted: January 15, 2011 in Reviews, Theatre
Tags: , , ,

I missed the performance by the RSC, but thought I’d read the play anyway. I’m not sure why writers feel they need to swear so much on stage, I find it a bit embarrassing… My language is fairly profane in person, but in my writing I rarely swear, it becomes less believable I think and also restricts the expression and renders if less effective… Interestingly I do think there’s a difference between swearing on stage and on film… As film is (in many cases) supposed to be a visual representation of ‘a life’ or ‘lives’ it sits better, and generally I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if a character came out with a long line of profanities, but on stage it just looks like the writer is trying too hard.

Literally every second word in The Gods Weep is a swear word. Which is most definitely overkill. I found it distracted me from the plot with the result that I didn’t notice it was a reworking of King Lear until the death of the mirror character of Cordelia at the end. On the whole it was a good piece of work, but I wonder how it would have sat with the hideously middle class RSC audiences? Would they have embraced each ‘c word’ as ‘valid vocabulary in the execution of art’? or winced with horror every time? Maybe I’m straying perilously close to being classist. I’ll get off my soap box now. It was good, though maybe fewer profanities wouldn’t be a bad thing…

  1. Pete Kirwan says:

    I’m reminded of seeing Munchner Kammerspiele’s Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre a few years ago, a German modern-language translation and adaptation. It was, apparently, the first time the word “cunt” had been used on the main stage in Stratford (obviously in German, but rendered faithfully in the English surtitles), and the reaction was quite extraordinary; people walking out in disgust, writing complaints, provoking all kinds of debate about what could be considered Shakespearean.

    And yet, nobody seems to mind the fact that there’s a blatant joke on the same word in Twelfth Night, as Malvolio reads through the fake letter from “Olivia” and notes “These be her very c’s, her u’s, and her t’s, and thus makes she her great P’s”. There’s an interesting disjunct among the Stratford crowd between crudity by Shakespeare and crudity by anyone else, which doesn’t stand up to any objective scrutiny!

    More related to your post, however, would the audience for this play have been the RSC’s usually “hideously middle-class” demographic? Don’t forget that this wasn’t performed in Stratford, but at Hampstead Theatre in NW3, outside of the usual Shakespearean contexts, and therefore almost certainly targeted a very different crowd (I’m reminded of seeing the company’s ‘Gods in Ruin’ at Soho Theatre a couple of years ago and being one of the oldest audience members). There’s a massive disjunct between the RSC’s audiences for Shakespeare and for new writing, which is something the company hugely needs to work on.

    • I completely agree that the audience demographic is completely different in London compared to Stratford, but I believe that in London the demographic would attract a larger number of people that want to ‘tick off’ seeing a production by the RSC, as part of a list of activities (Madam Tussards, The Tower of London), it’s almost part of the London package. Then there are the audience members that attend as a sign of social status, like Glyndeborne and the Royal Opera House. What I believe makes the RSC a great, arguably the greatest British Theatre organisation, is that it doesn’t pander to this particular demographic, something I think the National Theatre is guilty of.

      Interesting and very valid point though about crudity in Shakespeare… Would the same appalled audience react the same to a John Godber or Alan Bennett play, where expletives are expected? I don’t think they would… so maybe it’s the banner of ‘Royal Shakespeare Company’, with particular emphasis on ‘Shakespeare’ that creates a certain level of expectation of the content of each production, even in new writing?

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