WILL AND ME: NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage (2014) Review
NOW: IN THE WINGS ON A WORLD STAGE (2014) REVIEW:
CAST: Kevin Spacey, Sam Mendes, Maureen Anderman, Stephen Lee Anderson, Jeremy Bobb, Nathan Darrow, Jack Ellis, Hadyn Gwynne, Chukwudi Iwuji, Isaiah Johnson, Gemma Jones, Andrew Long, Katherine Manners, Howard W. Overshown, Simon Lee Phillips, Gary Powell, Michael Rudko, Annabel Scholey, Gavin Stenhouse, Hannah Stokely, Chandler Williams.
Directors—Jeremy Whelehan (documentary); Sam Mendes (production of Richard III)
Producers—Michelle Mullen, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Whelehan
Music—David M Saunders
Whenever we discuss the works of William Shakespeare we can go through many subjects that are connected to the genius from Avon: Is Macbeth a metaphor for how easy the honest can be corrupted? Does Hamlet’s relationship with his mother suggest incest? Was the bard’s Dark Lady a hint of his possible homosexuality? Did the middle class boy with apparent dyslexia and no university education really write some of the greatest plays ever produced in the English speaking world?
(Although with the latter subject, there isn’t really much material you can use to go into deep discussion about. The question only has ONE answer: YES HE BLOODY DID!!! He is an inspiration to those who are a different and disadvantaged, so you Anti-Stratfordian morons should just shut the hell up, get a life, and stop trying to demonize the working and lower classes and those with a disability for having a right to overcome their barriers and succeed in life without being accused of fraud or being classed as a threat to what you right wing hatemongers pass off as “the status quo”. Seriously guys, you are just a southern accent away from officially becoming the theatre’s equivalent to the Westboro Baptist Church. I think Mark Rylance and Fred Phelps would make cute best friends, don’t you reckon?)
But the biggest question that many of us ask (as far that I am aware) whenever one discusses Shakespeare’s bibliography is: What makes his work so appealing to us? Do the plays of William Shakespeare have any relevance to us in the 21st century?
And the answer? Well….it’s kind of a tricky one. Like with any work (whether it be a film, a book, a blog, a painting or any form of creative media), we all have our own emotional reaction to it: Some who see or study a Shakespeare play may only see it as an ancient drama script that only meant something to those who were actually around when the play had its first ever performance all those years ago. And on the other hand, there are some who like to believe (and/or do believe) that the words of a long dead playwright who lived in the Elizabethan era are as immortal as Dorian Gray. That the stories of a corrupted soldier in the highlands, suicidal lovers from feuding families, and an overly emotional youth disapproving his mother’s new beau can still relate to a modern audience, even if the characters are speaking in a form English that no one uses anymore. Some may not see the heart in the 10-beat-per-line dialogue whilst others can conjure up parallel images of the television program they saw about past and present conflicts overseas, the latest headline of a love-struck teenager leaving a disturbing message on his Facebook page, or the noisy passenger on the bus to work talking about the ill-will they have for their step-parent.
There are those who make it their duty to show the relevance in the bard’s text—and in the process, use their connections between the Elizabethan era and the 21st century to make a strong political point whenever they’re not trying to be artistic and quirky with the language. Jeremy Whelehan’s documentary, NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage, dives head first into the subject by documenting the ten month long tour of Sam Mendes’ modernized (and equally political) interpretation of Shakespeare’s Richard III, starring Kevin Spacey as the deformed and often controversial monarch of the same name.
Relatively influenced by the dictatorships of General Gaddafi and Benito Mussolini (among other arseholes who caused nationwide oppression and war), Mendes’ production reimagines the story in a present day setting where the power hungry Richard uses television, social networking and influential media connections (as well as the murders and seductions) to climb the ladder of success. From start to finish, the production pretty much becomes a strong satire of current events with so many mirror images of reality becoming as clear as a photograph on the front cover of Time magazine. One cannot help but feel familiar with the action that is happening on stage, along with the political insight Jeremy Whelehan focuses on.
Originally starting off as a project staged at London’s legendary Old Vic in 2012 (consisting of a cast from Britain and America), the production—with help from its leading actor—soon went on a world tour, being staged at iconic and breath taking venues in Doha, Istanbul, Singapore, Sydney, Naples, San Francisco, Beijing, Hong Kong and New York, leaving an impact on many. (Bizarrely, some of the countries that they visited were once ruled under a dictatorship, or are still being governed as an oppressive nation.) The documentary chronicles the tour and the impact it leaves on each country, as well as how the cast themselves understand the bard’s script and the characters that he “created”, what themes they can find within the story, and how they get along as a group of travelling players.
The documentary is not at all academic. You will not learn much about the playwright behind the story, the real Richard III, why the play was written, how others interpreted it over the years, nor will you learn about the influence of Elizabethan theatre in comparison to contemporary theatre. In fact, the documentary is not like your typical educated or biographical piece about the subject of Shakespeare and his work at all. Whilst some non-fiction films are on a mission the make us learn, Whelehan’s piece is simply on a mission to entertain. Instead of giving us Harold Bloom wannabes and mildly talented thespians nattering on about what inspired the phrasing in Richard’s opening soliloquy or why the bard chose the portray Richard as a hunchback, the film merely shows us a group of actors putting on a show and bonding with each other like students putting on a revue at Cambridge in between studies, or like members of The King’s Men having a drink of ale at the local tavern after rehearsals at The Globe.
How close the cast become to one another during their lengthy tour is absolutely fun and heart-warming to watch. In the world of present day theatre and film, it is very rare for a group of actors to bond in the way that they do. A lot of the time you are only there for a few days or months, and then you leave to do something else, just like that. You share a dressing room or a film set, and that’s as far as you can go in the business. You might chat a bit, but there is only a one per cent chance of staying in touch afterwards. You could work with all the greats, but at the end of the day, it is a bleak and often lonely industry. So to see the cast of Sam Mendes’ Richard III create such a close-knit bond is the most uplifting thing you can ever watch, especially for those fed up with the frequent loneliness and isolation that the arts has a habit of bestowing upon those who enter it. From going on yacht trips (organized by Kevin Spacey himself) to jeep rides through the sand of dunes of a sunny dessert, their time together is just as whimsical as a trip through a fairy inhabited forest. The jokes they share, the parties they throw, the sights they see, the gifts they give….it is one hell of an adventure that we wish we can all have whenever we join or become interested in the arts.
Amongst all the fun and friendships, you do also get an insight to the creation of a new or touring production. What the documentary lacks in background and history is easily forgiven with its documenting of the rehearsal process, the bump-ins and bump-outs, the set building, the character development, and everything to do with the creative process in general. We are given (occasionally quick) insights into what stresses the actors and creative team have to confront and endure in order to put on an amazing and hopefully refreshing night of theatre. We are basically given an almost Upstairs, Downstairs insight into what it takes to make a frequently performed script feel good as new.
Though NOW does not give a detailed insight into the writer behind the text or the king behind the Tudor propaganda, what you ARE shown makes this flick the feel good documentary of the year. (Or what’s left of the year. As always, we got the film released very, very late down here in Australia.) You will feel your spirits soar watching the cast have a great time in each destination they reach; you will feel admiration for those behind the scenes; and most importantly of all, you will be shown that no matter how old Shakespeare’s text is, it can always remain as relevant today as it was back then—all it takes is the right people to see morals of the past, compare it with the present and use it to shape or predict the future. True, some may disagree about the importance of plays that were basically written over 400 years ago, but those who do see the importance will enjoy this documentary immensely.
The doco is uplifting and Mendes’ production of Richard III, even though you only see it in snippets, is amazing. I highly recommend it to everyone once it comes out on DVD.