Now that our production of The God of Carnage and Malvolio’s Downfall has finished, we at the RStC would like to give a longer thank-you in the form of this blog post.
This production has been a wonderful success for us and has been the best-selling show we have staged since we started in 2005. We sold all 280 seats we had allocated for the run! Making this possible was our fabulously supportive audience! As well as the feedback we received live every evening, we have received a huge number of spoken and written acknowledgements and praise, from the average theatre goers right through to theatrical professionals. Nearly all of this feedback has been relayed to the cast and crew who, in turn, are massively grateful.
Malvolio’s Downfall was, on the whole, well-received. Feedback suggested that many found it difficult to follow the Shakespearean dialogue, and some thought it didn’t compliment The God of Carnage. However, at least an equal number of people thought the opposite. This is the nature of theatre and performance! From our perspective, we wanted to make our own small tribute marking the 400th year since the passing of the Bard. In Malvolio’s Downfall, we hoped to give a taster of how much fun Shakespeare can be, even without a full understanding of the language. The comments received indicate that we did this.
As with all of our productions, we supplied Finnish-language synopses for both plays. We do this because there is a portion of our audience who always show their support but sometimes struggle with the intricacies of the English-language. A Finnish synopsis helps them immensely and is our pleasure to supply. Unfortunately, we heard that these synopses had run out during our last performance, for which we apologise.
Getting The God of Carnage onto the stage was almost a two-year process from start to finish. There were many setbacks and hurdles along the way, but our audiences proved to us that the struggle was worth every single sigh and ‘facepalm’ on our part.
We were very pleased to have had over eighty English-language students from three different Helsinki/Espoo schools join us in groups over four different performances. One school had even incorporated reading the script to The God of Carnage into their learning programme before attending! Another group enthusiastically grilled the cast for 45 minutes in a question-and-answer session following the performance.
The production wouldn’t have been possible at all if it hadn’t been for the magnificent crew and front-of-house team. In particular we extend special thanks to Danny McAllister for his outstanding commitment stepping-up to his stage managing role, and to Salomon Marttila for joining us at the very last minute and conquering our final production crisis!
Thank you one and all!
Finally, we would like to say a brief word about our next production, Choices, due to hit the stage at the beginning of October this year. Many will be familiar with the name of Beth Morton thanks to her time spent in Helsinki several years ago contributing to the English-language theatre arena in the form of writing, directing, and stage-managing. Beth is now much in demand as a freelance stage manager in the UK, but has made time to do some more writing. Beth has written I Follow the Worse specially for the RStC, and specifically with Daniel and Christian in mind for the play’s two characters. This play will see Riikka Faucher making her directing debut with the capable help of Joan Nordlund. The second play of the production, Another Tomorrow, is a reworking of Beth’s play The Bench. This play will be directed by Daniel McMullen and will be cast over the next month or two. Details of the two plays will be added to our website later this week (if you missed the last page of The God of Carnage programme!). We look forward to you joining us for Choices in October!
I was always intimidated by Shakespeare. I remember in high school having to read Romeo and Juliet, but we were given a textbook with both the Shakespearean text and modern text on the reverse page. In the beginning, I did make an effort to read both sides, but as time went on and other homework increased, I found myself only reading the modern "understandable" text, as the thou's, thee's and thy's convinced me that I wouldn't understand it.
About ten years later, two summers ago, I was honored to have the opportunity to attend an intensive acting workshop with Diane Venora in California. To be perfectly honest, I was somewhat annoyed by the fact that we were having to do Shakespearean monologues in class. Even though Shakespeare is always mentioned in acting circles and I had an idea of his contributions, having always shied away from his work out of fear and embarrassment of not understanding, I didn’t really know why it was so important, significant and necessary to do Shakespeare. But then, Diane opened my eyes to the beauty of Shakespeare's words, the multileveled meanings, the humor, and the turns of phrases that have amazed people for centuries. Every time I practiced my monologue in class, I discovered new meanings, new subtexts and a new understanding and appreciation for his work.
After having that eye-opening experience, I was eager to delve into Shakespeare more, so I was overjoyed to be cast as Countess Olivia in the abridged version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, in the form of Malvolio's Downfall. Every rehearsal has been a joy to be part of, as I get a deeper understanding of the intended humor, in particular, behind this specific part of Twelfth Night. What amazing characters, language and descriptions he uses! Of course Shakespeare can still be challenging and I find myself often not knowing what certain words or phrases mean. But now the textbook I used back in high school is online (No Fear Shakespeare: nfs.sparknotes.com) and is helping me once again, but this time enhancing and not taking away from the Shakespeare experience.
I truly hope and believe, that Malvolio's Downfall will capture a taste of Shakespeare's humor and brilliance for long-time lovers of Shakespeare but also for those who may have been intimidated by his work until now, like I was.
See you there!
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
English may not be your first language, some of the words may be new and strange, “what do words mean anyway”. When you come and watch this production, I hope we make you feel like you’ve had a wonderful evening, and make you want to come and see us again and again and again…
Last night on TV Tarja Halonen asked us to join her in a common cause, to build one million new homes.
I’m in! Building one million homes, albeit small homes, even as small as a bird’s home, is a wonderful thing. The thought that they’re here in the summer, for some midsummer madness, and then fly south for a warmer winter, and that somehow my box made it possible for the little bird to fly to Africa.
Soft change – the gift of giving; creating a common culture through small acts of kindness – change.
So what do birds and bird boxes and “change” have to do with The God of Carnage? The character that I portray, Veronique, is keenly aware of the world around her, near and far. She worries about where the world is going, and is trying to make a difference. She has a naïve wish to make the world a better place, and in her sometimes fierce, assertive way, she is like a bull in a china shop.
She is trying to make the world a better place, and as with everything in life she succeeds only to a degree. Her desire to build a good home, build a better future is “something to be acknowledged”, as Alain says, but the way she goes about it is annoying to say the least. She is like many of us; she believes she is in the right, tries to convince others of her vision, and when she doesn’t succeed in changing other people’s opinions, she resorts to the next level.
I tell my kids that swearing is your inability to express yourself in words; raising your voice and shouting is because you can’t control your emotions and use words to explain. Loss of self control. I recognise Veronique, and yes, I recognise myself. Aren’t we all as imperfect as she is, we don’t always know how to express ourselves.
I’ve had great fun these past few months exploring the feelings and motives behind the characters in this play. I am thankful for this time. I hope you can laugh, inwardly or right out loud, and enjoy our portrayal of an afternoon with the Reilles and Vallons!
After the shows are over, I will build a bird box. If you know where or how, let me know. If you’re interested in finding out, contact me, let’s find out together. We should have just enough time to do it, before they start nesting in earnest.
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it”
- Dorothy Thomas
With less than a month to first night, I’ve been getting a bit more philosophical about the themes in this witty and insightful play: human relationships, conflict, parenthood, marriage. Having reached this stage in my life, I can honestly say I have plenty of personal experience with all of them. In spite of that, I have found myself questioning what makes my character, Annette, act the way she does. Can I understand, and portray, her repressed anger, her relationship with her husband, Alain, her attitude towards the Vallons, her feelings about her son, Ferdinand? Which of the two boys was the bully?
The blended family I have been blessed with these last few years has given me ample opportunity to try balancing both biological parenthood and “bonus” parenthood, and the dilemmas they bring along. It has not been easy to deal with the conflicts between our children, the pressures of having six teenagers at home as different as night and day, seeing yourself become defensive about your own children, and - even when you are considered an understanding and loving person by most people - realizing that you have difficulties understanding everyone’s attitude and behaviour. It is surprisingly easy to suddenly turn into the Tiger Mother, crouching and ready to pounce on anyone who dares to strike against your flesh and blood, physically or verbally. Yes, parenthood brings along a whole array of feelings, and conflictive emotions.
I was lucky enough to be brought up by parents who taught me a great deal about accepting all ways of life, treating others as you would like to be treated yourself, open-mindedness, tolerance. I also remember them telling me there are certain subjects it’s better not to talk about with others, if you want to avoid conflict: politics, religion, money and the way others bring up their children. Needless to say I have had conversations about all of them, and yes, they have been interesting, but heated conversations, to say the least. Alain says “Morality decrees we should control our impulses, but sometimes it’s good not to control them”. That is probably just about the only thing Alain says in the play I find myself agreeing with. When I first read The God of Carnage, I identified more with Veronique than Annette, even though Veronique is also incredibly irritating. Her seemingly liberal and “lefty” world views are closer to mine, than Annette’s “wealth management” views. As the world around us seems to be becoming more and more intolerant, I’ve found myself trying to understand where it all comes from. Not sure I’ll ever really find the answer, but often it seems the environment is what makes people act the way they do. Put the most peaceful person in a hostile environment, and that person can become aggressive and hateful. Suddenly you see them lashing out abuse at anyone who dares to disagree. And that can happen even with your nearest and dearest.
Relationships are a constant source of tragedy and comedy. As Woody Allen once said: “Comedy is tragedy + time”. I have found myself laughing out loud at the comedy in relationships - at least when I’ve managed to observe them at a distance, in a film, or a play. It’s never funny when you are in the middle of it, but when you give it time and distance, all you can do is laugh at how crazy and ridiculous we become at times. As Daniel said at the end of his blog: “there does exist a God of Carnage”, and I’d like to add, he can be awakened when we least expect it.
This play has been a journey into my innermost conflicts and feelings. A therapeutic joy!
An important event in my life that I won’t forget. No wait, let me set the scene. Picture the early seventies. I was in Nursery school. It was situated in a large apartment in the shadow of Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Maryland. I was five. I don’t have many memories of life in Nursery school and the ones I do have are usually triggered when I smell something that has the same scent as that place. The memories come, the visions of what it was like at that time. Playing Duck, Duck, Goose on the lawn outside, craft time, the thin blue mats we would have our naps on - I was awarded “Best Napper” on at least one occasion and I have the award to prove it!
In the midst of those visions, there is one memory that lives with me without any triggers. I can still see the knitted capes: red and yellow. They had velcro fasteners to close around the neck. That special box containing those hallowed capes came out only after nap time. These were much more than any normal capes. They were symbols of status. Not just an ordinary status. No, this was serious. They were SUPERHERO status symbols to all who were in that Nursery school. Prized above even the tasty paste or the “Birthday Spot” next to the piano where you would be serenaded by the entire group and getting to choose the first cupcake from the platter.
I do not know how, when or why it was decided but Red was Batman and Yellow was Robin. The wonderful Adam West “Batman” series was in reruns on TV and each one of us longed to be driving the Batmobile, sliding down the poles into the Batcave and matching wits against and defeating the nefarious villains who appeared daily to threaten Gotham with a “ZOWIE”, “KAPOW!”, “BIFF“, “OOOOF!” and a “KAY-O!”
I had been Robin several times, and yet the Holy Grail of being Batman had always eluded me. It seemed I could never get there in time to get that red cape, to never out smart Johnny, Matt, Susan or the bigger and snot-nosed Andy. No matter how fast I thought I would be or how close I would sneak my mat to the box which contained the capes - I just could not get my hands on the red cape. Even if I got to the box first, I would be out-muscled and cast aside in the competition to be Batman.
On that day, that fateful day I resolved as I lay there on my mat during nap time after having a white bread peanut butter and jelly sandwich to finally be Batman. I knew nothing would stop me. I had waited and waited for my turn which time after time never came. Today was the day. The ever-confident Andy had already been talking about how Batman would be fighting The Joker and how he would use his Bat-a-rang to wrap up the Joker and take him to jail. My heart was racing as I felt the clock nearing “wake up” time, I rolled over and coiled myself like a threatened rattlesnake ready to launch myself towards the box. Andy had no idea what was about to happen. Surprise was on my side.
One of the Nursery school assistants turned on the lights and started to say, “Alright everyone, it’s time to get up and put your mats away.” Just as she said, “Alright ...” I was up and running across the floor, jumping and dodging my sleepy school-mates and throwing my mat to where they were piled. I made it to the box just behind Andy. He opened the box and my hands shot inside the box. My aim was true as I pulled out both my hands and there they clutched the elusive red cape. Andy grabbed and tried to snatch it from my hands as I pulled it close. I told him to let go. He did not. Instead he used his free hand to mush my face up and mash my nose. I screamed, but would not let go. I wanted that cape. Andy then slapped me with his free hand. I would not let go. I could feel the tears welling in my eyes from the blow. He used both hands to try and pry the prized cape from me to no avail. I kept both hands locked onto that cape. He sat on my stomach and tried to pull it free. No way. I had that cape in a vice grip (well, as good of a vice grip as a 5-year-old could do). He started hitting me and saying “Let go! Let go!” my tearful reply was only a repeated and defiant “No!” while rolling over to get on top of the cape and to make it harder to get it away from me.
After what seemed to be an eternity of defending my right (as I saw it) to finally be Batman once and for all, one of the school assistants pulled me and Andy apart. We were separated and sat down in chairs across a table from one another in the kitchen. Both still reeling from the struggle. Tears were pouring from both of us as we were given cool wet washcloths to wash our faces and to help calm us down. We were sternly spoken to about the importance of sharing and not fighting. I sat there, eyes swollen, sniffling, my nose running and stuffy looking across at Andy. He looked back at me through his tears and runny stuffy nose. I do remember that moment wondering what must be going through Andy’s mind as he saw me teary eyed opposite him at the table wearing a justly earned, beautiful red cape. I was Batman.
Now maybe there are some life lessons to learn from this story that I should perhaps pass along to my children: Not to give up, fight for what you want, no matter the odds, no matter the pain, hang on to what you want, believe in yourself and your resolve. Maybe something of that sort.
Yet another lesson from my story is that there does exist a God of Carnage.
You may be aware that we at The Really Small Theatre Company are going to be staging Yazmina Reza’s The God of Carnage at the beginning of March (tickets on sale!). Hopefully you will also be aware that it will be performed with a short adaptation of one of the story sub-plots in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This thirty-or-so minute showlette is called Malvolio’s Downfall and, as the title suggests, follows the fateful journey of the Countess Olivia’s pompous and haughty steward, Malvolio, from obnoxious superiority to belittled humility. This is done with a great deal of humour and just a little bit of deception. If you are unfamiliar with the story, you will need to come and see it to fill the gaps!
We chose to do this show last year as our own tribute to 400 years of Shakespeare, and because The God of Carnage is a little shorter than the usual full productions. Unfortunately, illness in the original GoC cast meant that we were forced to postpone the show until early 2017. However, we are still in the 400th year since old Shakey’s departure into the great playhouse in the sky!
Joan Nordlund worked hard at adapting the original script down first to fifty minutes, then thirty minutes, and I agreed to take on the task of realising it on stage. My excitement at seeing a recording of a Globe Theatre production of Twelfth Night was my motivation. Never, ever have I seen a Shakespearean production staged and performed so clearly and humorously. I have acted in a production of Twelfth Night and barely recognised it as the same show, even though the script was unchanged.
My dearest wish and goal is to be able to bring some of that outstanding humour to our audience. Some of our cast haven’t performed Shakespeare before and are quite daunted by the prospect, even though we have a greatly shortened script. Anyone who has seen me recently performing Shakespeare knows how much I love to bring out the comedy (for the right reasons!). They may also know how important it is to me to ensure people know what I’m saying whilst maintaining the hugely important rhythm and accuracy of the writing. You cannot properly portray any scene if you don’t know what’s going on and literally what you are talking about. The comedy and the understanding are what I have been pushing initially with the cast.
I was lucky enough to see my first Finnish-language production in the summer called Linnan Juhlat. It was an hysterically funny comedy following various characters’ events on the day and evening of the President of Finland’s ball on Independence Day. Now, my Finnish is rubbish, as everyone will tell you. This comic performance, however, was so well done that it mattered not that I couldn’t understand much of the dialogue. The comedy and a basic grasp of the conversation threads allowed me to know exactly what was going on. This is precisely what I want to do for our audiences; enable them to follow and laugh without necessarily understanding all the dialogue. I hope I succeed when I see you there for Malvolio's Downfall and The God of Carnage.
Adapted by Joan Nordlund from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
Staged by Christian Jull
Featuring (in order of appearance): Christian Jull (Sir Toby Belch); Anna Rawlings (Maria); Marietta Chela (Fool); Hosanna Megumi (Olivia); Daniel McMullen (Malvolio).
The RStC were facing a dilemma. We had long since set Yasmina Reza’s The God of Carnage, translated by Christopher Hampton, as our major production for Autumn 2016. The plan was to enter into a joint venture with Soupe Troupe, a like-minded theatre group, but circumstances intervened and this was not possible. The God of Carnage would stand alone if necessary, but then we remembered The Bard.
In fact, we have been reminded of him on numerous occasions in 2016, the 400th anniversary of his death. There was a strengthening conviction among us that we should offer our audiences a Really Small tribute to Shakespeare, something different from what we have seen during the past 12 months.
We know that Shakespeare tells a good story - several good stories in many plays, that he draws colourful characters, that he had people rolling in the aisles (sic) of The Globe, and that his way with words is inimitable. Here was our starting point: tell a good tale, add some earthy humour and be faithful to the text. So far, so good.
We set limits of 30-40 minutes, including all business, and five characters. The idea was to follow one plot line that would engage and make sense to the audience. Having seen many excellent performances of Twelfth Night, I came to the conclusion that this play might be the answer, and in particular the plot line involving Malvolio and his yellow stockings. I downloaded the freely available script, and went through it Act by Act extracting all the scenes involving Sir Toby Belch and his cronies and their plotting against Malvolio. From the wealth of material this produced I gradually cut the text down to 50 minutes shared among five characters, trying to maintain continuity and coherence. We reluctantly decided to cut the prison scene, although keeping some references to it, to arrive at the desired 30 minutes. The text is as Shakespeare wrote it, perhaps with the addition of the odd ‘Get thee three hence’, and the order of events is as in the original. We are having our first reading of this working version on July 21: I’m a tad nervous ...
Whatever happens between now and October 13, this has been a labour of love for me. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be Love’s Labour Lost!!