This post is part of Year of Shakespeare, a project documenting the World Shakespeare Festival, the greatest celebration of Shakespeare the world has ever seen.
A Soldier in Every Son – ‘Chaos Comes to Establish a New Order’
By Leticia Garcia, University of California at Irvine
The cross-cultural collaborations forming part of the Globe to Globe Festival and World Shakespeare Festival are currently putting on stage productions which, in past years, would have been largely unthinkable. By and large, the RSC’s first co-production with the Compañía Nacional de Teatro de México, for the Nations at War season is a decadent cross-cultural collaboration characterized by the hybridity, flexibility, and plurality of Shakespeare’s presence and relevance in Mexico. Shakespeare’s popularity within Mexican culture and Mexican theatre speaks to the country’s rich ethnic diversity and history. Luis Mario Moncada, writer of A Soldier in Every Son: The Rise of the Aztecs has stated of Shakespeare’s legacy in Mexico, ‘…there is no writer more popular, or whose plays have been staged more often in the last 10 years.’ A similar thought is expressed by Hugo Arrevillaga, director of the Mexican production of Henry IV: Part I for Globe to Globe—Shakespeare is better known and much more familiar to the Mexican public than other Latin American playwrights. For this reason, A Soldier in Every Son is a project that merges two existing cultures, (re)conceiving the space of nations that has long existed, but has never before been seen on the RSC stage.
The aims and initiatives of a production such as Soldier are significant. In A Soldier in Every Son, the Compañía Nacional and the RSC create a world of their own, blending ideas about Shakespeare and Mexico as they stage scenes resembling Mexico’s early history which simultaneously resonate with Shakespeare’s history plays. Within the play, language and culture are inextricably linked to show the relevance of Shakespeare in Mexico. What is most striking about Soldier is the intercultural development of the artists behind the production; their work is ultimately the foundation on which the initiative rests. The production’s collaboration of genres, actors, crew, theatre practices and styles, bring to surface the semiotics of culture(s) as two worlds come together as one. Thus, in a production as unique as this, we must question the value and significance of culture. To borrow from Ayanna Thompson, when we see culture, how do we make sense of what ‘culture’ signifies and means within a specific production. Perhaps the answer rides on the current wave of Global and Olympic Shakespeare, as many communities from around the world are coming together to celebrate Shakespeare through their native languages and societies. In any case, the type of ‘culture’ which this production attempts to signify is better understood in relation to the specific sets of theatrical and cultural traditions within which they are directed and produced. With a cast that integrates both English and Mexican actors, Soldier boasts great talent. Eloise Kazan’s lavish costumes work together with the set – a map of the ancient Valley of Mexico projected onto the background of the stage –to tell the story of Mexico’s historical past, and simultaneously reflect the ongoing political entanglements that Mexico is immersed in through the universality of Shakespeare’s works.
The collaboration works well, though the play has received unfavourable reviews. The majority of critics have questioned how Shakespeare’s presence in the play might not work as hoped in the production, as well as stressing the ineffectiveness of too many conflicting ideas into a single production. The general consensus is that the RSC’s A Soldier in Every Son is not so Mexican and not so Shakespearean, but what’s so bad about that? The production is neither meant to be wholly Mexican nor wholly Shakespearean, but a collaboration between the two. Soldier, set against a background of international responses to Shakespeare, completes the trio of plays comprising the Nations at War, a season exploring themes of power, leadership, clashing cultures, and loyalties, themes that resonate on a global scale. At the end of the day, whether or not this is a story about Shakespeare or a story about Mexico is irrelevant. Having recently attended the RSC’s first social media call, it was made clear that what is at the heart of the production is that acting and theatre are a reflection of a society, and so acting in another country is not just about changing language, tact, and performance practices, but understanding the idiosyncrasies of a country and culture far removed from our own. To be able to achieve this through Shakespeare’s drama, speaks to Shakespeare’s global outreach as it has grown and will continue to do so.
What do you think of this interpretation of Shakespeare? Add your thoughts to the discussion below!
To read more reviews of the performances and events that are a part of the World Shakespeare Festival, visit Year of Shakespeare.