I don’t know Sir Nicholas Hytner. (I met him once and babbled incoherently at him through nerves, so I hope he doesn’t remember me.) However, as a theatre director myself, though ever such a lowly one, I can imagine that at the very least he feels irritated by an article that has been feverishly circulating twitter and facebook today.
The article has the sub-heading “National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner admitted he found performances of the Bard’s works confusing – and he’s not alone” (taken from theguardian.com) and goes on to say that much of Shakespeare is essentially incomprehensible to most people and that only via reading it on the page can anyone hope to understand it fully.
Researching a little further, I discovered what I think is the original source used to cite Hytner as being unable to understand Shakespeare. It’s an interview on the Radio Times’ website, which has the excited sub-heading “For the first ten minutes I sit there thinking ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about’ and I’m the director of the National Theatre”. It goes on, however, to say:
“Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Hytner revealed, “For the first ten minutes I sit there thinking ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about’ and I’m the director of the National Theatre. But I think, 15 minutes in, most people have tuned in.”
“Most people have tuned in.” I think that needs repeating. Very different then, from the tone of the article I read earlier today.
To get onto one of my soapboxes, Shakespeare wrote all his plays to be performed, not read. He wrote them using the language of the stage and, as long as the director, cast and crew work hard to understand that language themselves and then perform it truthfully, they will carry an audience with them and understanding will naturally occur. It will. I’ve experienced it countless times on both sides of the fourth wall and with performers and audiences who have had vastly different levels of Shakespearian experience – from complete novice to expert.
I’m going to give the final word to Hytner. This is again taken from The Radio Times interview, but this didn’t merit being highlighted in the sub-heading.
“The best way for anybody being introduced to Shakespeare is to see it well acted. If the actors are alive in it, it gets through.”