Saturday, 21 June 2014

What, this old thing?

I'm finding myself increasingly in search of a place to pontificate about English and Education again, so am resurrecting my quite elderly blog.

Last night I went to see The Provoked Wife at the University of York's Theatre, Film and Television (TFTV) department. It was excellent, and is directed by Michael Cordner, who's made somewhat of a tradition of staging Early Modern plays, particularly Restoration Comedies, as the end of year play in the department.

Before the play last night, there was an additional treat: Michael Billington (Guardian theatre critic - well, probably uber-theatre critic of all Britain, really) in conversation with Cordner, as part of the University's Festival of Ideas, which puts on fascinating free events for local residents, on a range of topics. The topic last night was 'Restoration Comedy on the Modern Stage'. The central point of both the eminent conversers was that Restoration Comedy is pretty much not on the Modern Stage. The last professional production of Vanbrugh's The Provoked Wife in the UK was in 1980, before I was born, at The National Theatre in London. Billington went one step further and lamented the fact that, Shakespeare aside, the classical canon of British drama is pretty much not performed at all.

I started off bristling at this assertion - after all, I manage to see quite a few Early Modern plays, and I love a good Restoration Comedy. But actually, after some reflection, it's not that many, and there are plenty of duplicates. Northern Broadsides are doing She Stoops to Conquer this autumn, and I'll definitely go see it. But there was a local production of it a few years ago. Marlowe's Faustus gets revived on a fairly regular basis - I've only seen it once, with some slight adaptations in a joint production between the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, but the year before there were two productions of it I could have seen.

The RSC have made a new commitment to staging more Early Modern plays which aren't Shakespeare under their new artistic director, and I'm definitely enjoying that - Roaring Girl last weekend was just plain fun. But I used to see Restoration Comedies at Southwark Playhouse on a fairly regular basis, and not always the same old Way of the World either. Sadly that seems to have slipped off their radar in the last couple of years. I think they're still out of their exciting space under the railway arches, but I hope that when they return, they'll bring back the obscure late 17th century comedies.

So this is really just a cry in the dark, a single vote for a few more Early Modern plays. We sort of managed a Restoration Comedy at our English in Education Playreadings this term - School for Scandal is a little bit later - a whole century in fact - but still in a similar vein. I'm hatching plots for how I can continue playreading in my new post at Oxford next year. I'm quite inspired by 'The Paper Stage' project at the University of Kent. Although what I really want is more productions in theatres, maybe persuading a few undergraduates to read the plays might lead to the directors and actors of the future being that little bit more inclined to restore the Restoration Comedy to its place on the Modern Stage.