“Oh… nothing. It’s just that there is much ado about.”
“Oh, about what?”
So last night I went to the Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch to see a Shakespeare play; guess which one. While you’re thinking about that, I’ll recommend the Courtyard Theatre. My friend and I dashed in under big heavy Brobdingnagian raindrops and found the nicest cosiest bar I’ve practically ever seen. I shouldn’t even tell you about it. Then you have to go down a corridor, up some stairs, past an ancient velvet doublet and through a rehearsal room to get to the Studio – almost like a mini-participation-theatre experience in itself. And there you are, in a nice dark studio space.
The play was great. Very energetic performances, in that knockabout, kind of Carry On Shakespeare tradition, in a wonderfully economical production: set in the Spanish Civil War, the men mainly wear army surplus khaki, and the women wear vintage dresses – real, period ones. Minimal props, and scenery mainly consisting of paint. I admired the floor, painted so like terra cotta tiles that I only noticed halfway through the second act. The comic relief in Act 2 could be edited – the fellow playing the constable Dogberry isn’t really a comic natural, I don’t think; he also plays the baddie, and has a wonderful bearing for that, which I mean in a GOOD way.
But the first wedding scene had been played very dark indeed – there’s no hiding behind lighthearted period japes, here. The shallowness of Claudio and Don Pedro in believing ill of Hero, virtually on hearsay, is palpable. The vindictive joy they take in their readiness to react; their frightening venom; and the equal reaction, which forms a kind of complicity, from Hero’s own uncle Leonato, were really shocking.
So in the next scene, the night watch – which should be as funny as the ‘noting’ scenes in Act 1 – came over instead just a bit strange, and ‘Allo ‘Allo. Multitasking actresses winking at each other in fake moustaches added confusion, as it was hard to discern the director’s intention at this point.
But a brave show! Much enjoyed. Even aside from the sheer pleasure of hearing Shakespeare spoken, and sunshiney Beatrice in her yellow outfit, there were many standouts: a completely manic and physical Benedick, who completely carried the joyous finale; a very blithe Beatrice; the power of the men, bent on revenge; and Ursula, whose doubling-up (in fact, a bit doubled up) turn as the peacemaking friar was wonderful.
And so out, into the night; the rain had stopped, my bus and my friend’s came quickly, and on the bus my iPhone was clogged with emails and messages: and guess what.
The Poetry Society has announced the reinstatement of its Director, Judith Palmer! Hurrah!
But then, so they should, really. Most people reading this will know the story: the Director’s resignation, followed by several others, which we understand better following several published statements. The suspension of funding by Arts Council and then others, and subsequent revelations of misuse of funds and now an overdraft to pay running costs. The requisition for an emergency general meeting; the formation of a campaign against the requisition, with name-calling and vague accusations; the harrowing EGM itself, with its resounding vote of no confidence against the board; and a petition, launched with four signatures including that of the Poet Laureate, and backed by over 1,000 others, for the Director’s reinstatement. It’s been in the papers, the blogs, the drinking water.
The petition was delivered to the trustees two weeks ago. Hard work by many, just to get us back to a point where a conflict, if there is one, can be resolved properly without jeopardising the Poetry Society.
So this is great news! I hardly know what to say.
But – like the moment when Hero finds herself married to a Claudio who was, in fact, capable of murdering her for spite – is it really joy unbounded? Is it possible to grow beyond that, and into life? Last night’s announcement was accompanied by the news that three more vice presidents – Sean O’Brien, Don Paterson and Anne Stevenson – have resigned. This is very disappointing. And strange. Such a move looks adversarial, at the very moment of peacemaking. Word on the street is that they have resigned “in support of Fiona Sampson,” Fiona being the editor of Poetry Review, whose – but then, really, now is not the time for all that. Now is the time when we all need to work together.
But then, far be it from me to second-guess people’s motives, and perhaps they are doing this for the best good. Maybe not a protest, as reported, but a generous chance for a fresh start.
Shakespeare – he is a wise writer, and his bust sits in an upstairs room at the Poetry Society. The play I saw last night was a reminder of the costs of conflict, which linger as debts and doubts even when all is apparently resolved. The power of what has been seen. And of the utter importance of allowing growth to happen.
There is an AGM in September, at which an entire new board of trustees will be elected. After that, it’s up to the poetry world to work together to reinstate our national Society in the good faith of its members and funders, and in the good graces of the wider literary world. The main thing isn’t not having any conflict – that isn’t possible, in the world. The main thing is being able to resolve it honestly and openly. That seems to be the final message of Much Ado.
So here’s my best of Baroque luck to Judith, and indeed Fiona, and to the staff and the new trustees.