Yesterday I had an interesting chat with my colleague Paul about which actors we would like to see play Richard II. The jury is still out on that one – but it led me to think about the power of personality, and the part played by a performer’s persona in shaping the presentation of a Shakespearian role.
Casting is such an important aspect of any Shakespearian production. Some directors say that good casting accounts for 80 to 90% of the success of any given performance. A director can spend hours and hours making decisions about set, costume and stage effects – but if the actors cast as Romeo and Juliet have little or no chemistry then the show starts off on a bad foot. It’s possible of course for directors to manipulate an audience’s judgment – in casting Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo, Baz Luhrman was essentially resurrecting the romantic hero the actor had played to popular acclaim in the film Titanic. The fact that many film-goers were already ‘in love’ with the actor before the film started rolling, ensured that there would be tears before bedtime when Romeo lifted the vial of poison to his lips. Similarly, audiences familiar with ‘The Godfather’ movies would have found little difficulty in understanding Al Pacino’s fascination with the character of Richard III (“I can smile, and murder while I smile”) in his film ‘Looking for Richard’. And right now in Liverpool, fans of Kim Cattrall’s character Samantha in “Sex and the City” must feel that she was destined to play Shakespeare’s enchantress, Cleopatra.
There are however occasions when what seemed like ‘perfect casting’ on paper, hasn’t live up to the hype and expectation on reaching the stage. This must be devastating for all involved, but just goes to show that the sensitive presentation of Shakespeare’s characters is a fine and fragile art – defying theorization. Ben Jonson wrote of Shakespeare that “a good poet’s made as well as born” – the same is probably true for the best of Shakespearian performers.
So, who would you like to see next on a stage or screen near you as – Hamlet – Rosalind – Romeo – Lady Macbeth etc? Who do you have marked down as ‘waiting in the wings’ ready to step into some of Shakespeare’s major roles?