A series of bronze sculptures by Susan Bacon captures some of the most evocative moments in theatrical history, discovers Geoff Heath-Taylor.
From the three hags uttering their curses in the opening scene of Macbeth to Hamlet’s monologue at the sight of poor Yorick’s skull, Shakespeare’s genius in creating the most memorable and quoted scenes ever written or performed remains unmatched 400 years after Romeo and Juliet first trod the boards of The Globe.
It is hard enough trying to do justice to these vibrant scenes on stage, yet it’s far harder to truly capture them in lifeless, unmoving bronze. Nonetheless the sculptor Susan Bacon has masterfully succeeded in doing just that in her new exhibition at Shakespeare’s Globe.
The sculptures do not pretend to be perfectly executed, life-like representations. If they were the exhibition wouldn’t convey the necessary vivacity suitable for the world’s most famous playhouse. Rather these bronze figures, modeled with strong, sweeping strokes, capture the movement and intensity of the characters they depict.
The way Bacon achieves this is perhaps most clearly explained when we examine the sculpting process, which begins with a small sketch in clay. She refers to it as ‘sculptural calligraphy’, redolent of the Japanese ‘Zen Calligraphy’ that seeks to ‘transfer ideas and energy into uninterrupted form.’
Although the texture of the bronze has been worked to dramatic effect, the integrity of each sculpture as a Shakespearean character remains fully intact and it is easy to identify each figure. There can no mistaking Falstaff’s pomposity and Prospero’s despair. The sculpture of the three witches exudes malevolence and the beauty of Portia is captivating. Each of the exhibits fascinates and enchants, offering viewers an enticing sample of what they might experience if they pass through the exhibition and into the theatre itself.
Shakespeare’s Globe hosts some of the greatest plays ever written, and those plays themselves feature some of the greatest characters ever cast. Bacon’s exhibition perfectly captures these characters and is undoubtedly worthy of its venue. It should not be missed.
‘The Globe Project: Bronze sculptures by Susan Bacon’ at Shakespeare’s Globe runs until 18 October 2015 and is free to view daily. (www.shakespearesglobe.com/exhibition/special-exhibitions)