(EDIT: added description of the most egregious fourth wall breaking, and a bit more detail on what went wrong)
The Edinburgh Festival is a collection of superb theatre and horribly bad. And, like all such mixtures, that which you have highest hopes for can be the thing that turns out to be by far the worst.
Tonight I have seen Celestina by Fernando de Rojas. I must believe I have, the ticket assures me. I have severe doubts. Particularly after they broke the fourth wall to state how the original is far too long and you wouldn’t want to see it, so enjoy this simulated sex scene instead.
I still somehow kept up hope for a little longer until, suddenly, a severely undeveloped character was taking on Celestina’s role as a procuress, despite having had three lines of dialogue (and one simulated sex scene) before that.
EDIT: Checking a plot summary, I discover that they didn’t even follow the original plot or character arcs very much, and that, as far as I can tell, that scene was invented.
Quite simply, the performance cut out all character development, cut out or trimmed to a minimum every scene for Melibea – who’s supposedly the love interest! – except, of course, the simulated sex, and then expected us to get emotional over her death scene and father’s grief. Yet before this she has had one single scene, in which she buys thread.
(Buying thread is not usually considered character development)
As well, the fourth wall was broken repeatedly, and egregiously. Having the characters address the audience may be possible to manage well. But in the first scene, during a long monologue on the imperfection of women vs. the perfection of man that, according to my research, is indeed given to that rather misogynist character in the original (or something similar), they brought out the stage manager to yell at him for addressing the audience, and went into a long sequence of insults, accusations of the stage manager being a lesbian, and so on before the play was left to continue.
So, what did they fill the play with? Two simulated sex scenes, stripping an actress that was playing a woman with Down’s syndrome and auctioning her off to the audience, one big Party scene that merely consisted of two costume changes done onstage so that everyone could be seen in their underwear (and so that one male character could randomly put on a frilly dress – which he wore for the rest of the production)…
You can do simulated sex well, and have it be a meaningful part of the play. However, this simulated sex was not only unneccessayry, but each simulated sex act lasted for ages, as did all the random dance sequences and costume changes and such that filled the play. They cut a 5 hour play to two hours, and half to two thirds of the time they had left was spent on filler that in no way furthered the plot. Frankly, this production needed less filler and a lot more of the actual play, because there wasn’t time left for us to connect emotionally to the characters – indeed, there wasn’t even time left for much of a plot: mere shreds of plot were hung together between filler, unconnected and unfilling. As theatre, it failed.
Tomorrow, I’ll move to rather more enjoyable grounds and describe the less-hyped and far better shows I saw on Sunday.