This month, the Royal Shakespeare Company will be performing three plays, in the second installment of its five-year residency at the University. Headlining the lineup is the U.S. premiere of a stage adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children,” as well as two Shakespeare plays, “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Coriolanus.”
Where the 2001 residency totally immersed audiences in the world of Shakespeare’s histories, the 2003 residency is all over the board in content. The two Shakespearean selections, nearly total opposites of each other as far as themes and content are concerned, will be played by the same 20 actors. Each actor will appear in both productions, with emotions ranging from high comedy to extreme tragedy and betrayal.
The cast of “Midnight’s Children” will feature twenty different actors with some playing as many as five multiple roles during the three-and-one-half-hour long production. Because the content of “Midnight’s Children” includes many instances of magical realism, director Tim Supple’s production will be a multimedia masterpiece, including some parts of the play performed against the backdrop of archive footage of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and 1960’s Bombay.
In reference to the addition of this highly controversial play, “Midnight’s Children,” Michael Boyd, the new artistic director of the RSC, said: “The Royal Shakespeare Company is in continual revolution. I am not interested in the RSC being a pontificating center of expertise, but more an explorer of the avant-garde with Shakespeare as its guide.”
The second installment of the Royal Residency will only build on the accomplishments of the first. The RSC is not only devoted to keeping Shakespeare’s immortal words alive in adaptations of his classics, but also in discovering new classics of our own time.
Caius Marcius is an unparalleled warrior. Young, valiant and brave, he is raised to be the perfect fighting machine. He is awarded the title of Coriolanus for driving back the Volscians for Rome. Yet, Coriolanus, in his training to be a warrior, has no understanding of politics, and his arrogance eventually turns the citizens of Rome against him. Outraged, Coriolanus joins with the Volscians, raising a mighty army and marching on Rome. Coriolanus brings the city of his birth to the brink of massive destruction and only subsides when his mother likens marching on Rome to treading on her very womb. However, when Coriolanus agrees to negotiate for peace, the Volscians accuse him of high treason, and he is unceremoniously stabbed to death.
Despite his arrogance and cold exterior, it is hard not to see Coriolanus as a sympathetic character, caught in the sticky web of politics. Coriolanus was raised to be a great warrior, and he was. He served his country well, but he couldn’t play her games. Inadvertently caught up in the intrigues of politics, he was destroyed by the very forces that made him great.
The novel of the same name, written by Salman Rushdie, was originally published in 1981 and awarded the Man Booker Prize that same year. “Midnight’s Children” is an epic story of the Indian independence and the births of Pakistan and Bangladesh, seen through the eyes of one remarkable family.
Saleem Sinai, the narrator and main protagonist of the story, was born at the exact moment of Indian independence from Britain, and his life becomes magically entwined with the destinies of the twin nations.
As one of the 1,001 midnight’s children, or the children all born within the same hour as he, Saleem can hear the thoughts of the others, adding a touch of the fantastic against the very real backdrop of the first 30 years of the Indian independence.
The play “Midnight’s Children” was adapted for stage by the director, Tim Supple, a dramaturg, Simon Reade, and Salman Rushdie himself. This is not the first time that a dramatization has been attempted of this work, but it is the first time one has successfully been completed. Due to the epic and controversial nature, all attempts to adapt the story for film or television in the past 10 years have been futile.
This performance, the premiere of “Midnight’s Children” in America, offers a unique combination of performance and education, which was only made possible through the commitment of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the University. This is a direct result of the partnership including the University Musical Society, the RSC, the University of Michigan and Columbia University.
‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’
Shakespeare’s hilarious comedy is centered around the lust and greed of one fat knight, Sir John Falstaff, and the two women who are determined to teach him the lesson that wives can be merry, but faithful, too.
Shakespeare first brought Falstaff to the stage in his history plays. He was the companion of the future Henry V of England, an incorrigible rogue who cared for little besides wenching, swindling and drinking. It is believed that Elizabeth I herself commissioned the writing of “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” because Falstaff was her favorite character and she wanted to see a play with him in love.
The details of the play, however, belie this assumption, as it is clear that Falstaff hardly falls in love. Instead, he assumes himself desired by Mistress Page and Mistress Ford, both wives of well-to-do gentlemen. Falstaff believes that he can use the raw attraction of his body to coax the women into submission. Properly mortified by his amorous proposals, the two women decide to not only defend their honor, but also seek revenge for it. Falstaff has no idea what he is getting into when he decides to cross these two cunning women.
The director, Rachel Kavanaugh, sets “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in Britain during the aftermath of World War II, a tumultuous time when the fighting was over, yet Britain was still not at peace.