For many fans, nothing beats the thrill of experiencing Shakespeare in a suitably historic venue. And now Read Not Dead on the Road is exploring the Bard’s links to the legal profession at London’s Inns of Court

Actors and lawyers perform George Gascoigne’s 1573 play Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Actors and lawyers perform George Gascoigne’s 1573 play Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Shakespeare’s Globe is on a quest to stage every play known to have been performed on the stages of London before 1642. Launched in 1995 by Globe Education, Read Not Dead brings actors, audiences and scholars together to explore and celebrate those plays by Shakespeare’s contemporaries via script-in-hand, play-in-a-day performances. They are not meant to be polished productions, but there is a shared spirit of adventure and excitement for the actors and audiences uncovering these hidden gems.

Actors rehearse Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory (c. 1620) at Penshurst Place, Kent.

Actors rehearse Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory (c. 1620) at Penshurst Place, Kent.

Part of the project is to take these rare plays back to their historical context. Last summer, Loves Victory by Lady Mary Wroth was staged at Penshurst Place in Kent. It is the first pastoral comedy known to be written by a woman, and Penshurst Place is the very location it is most likely to have been written and first performed 400 years ago.

At the beginning of its new ‘Shakespeare and Friendship’ season of public events, Globe Education is taking Read Not Dead across the river Thames to London’s Inns of Court for a special series celebrating the ‘amity of the inns’. The series launched in November with a performance of The Most Excellent Comedy of Two The Most Faithfullest Friends Damon and Pithias. Written around 1564 by Richard Edwards, a little-known precursor to Shakespeare, this tragi-comedy celebrates true and virtuous friendship.

This reading of Richard Edwards’ 1565 play Damon and Pythias took place last year at Middle Temple Hall.

This reading of Richard Edwards’ 1565 play Damon and Pythias took place last year at Middle Temple Hall.

Today, friendship between the Inns and among members remains a cornerstone of Inns of Court culture, as lawyers from around the world live, study and practise together in shared amity. The Inns of Court in London are the professional associations for barristers in England and Wales. The relationship between the law and the theatre in London is almost as old as the Inns of Court themselves. All four – Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s and Gray’s – are known as famous, and sometime infamous, venues for professional as well as amateur drama. The first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place in Middle Temple Hall in 1602, an event which was celebrated on its 400th anniversary with a production of the play in the same venue by actors from Shakespeare’s Globe including Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.

The Globe’s Read Not Dead allows historic plays to come alive for modern audiences.

The Globe’s Read Not Dead allows historic plays to come alive for modern audiences.

The Comedy of Errors is recorded to have been performed in 1594 at Gray’s Inn. Shakespeare was interested enough in the Inns of Court to make them the setting for Act II, Scene IV of Henry VI, Part 1.

Iain Christie is a barrister and trained actor who combines both practices. As a Bencher of the Inner Temple and a member of the Inner Temple drama society, he was involved in the Globe’s previous performance of George Gascoigne’s Supposes there last January, performing alongside Globe actors and his fellow Benchers. “The relationship between the two professions extends beyond the use of legal venues to stage historic plays,” he says, “and the pleasure of lawyers entertaining their colleagues in after-dinner revels. It applies also to the comparative skills employed by both professions.”

High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton also took part in the staged reading of Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton also took part in the staged reading of Supposes at Gray’s Inn.

Indeed, modern training courses for young lawyers increasingly engage professional actors to teach presentation skills which focus on breathing, posture, presence, and vocal projection. “I am interested in how law students can use the drama-school techniques of narrative and improvisation in their work,” says Iain. “Storytelling is a core aspect of the craft of both the advocate and actor. The advocate must always remember that his objective is to connect emotionally with the person he is trying to persuade.”

But, as Iain explains, this transference of skills does not only travel in one direction. “When I was at drama school,” he says, “I was struck by the similarity between the process of textual analysis in rehearsals and preparation for trial. The actor must create a consistent back-story for their character so their performance is grounded in a continuing reality. A barrister must build a case theory for a version of events he wishes the judge or jury to believe.

And the processes are strikingly similar. “However, whenever someone comments that in becoming an actor I am really just doing the same job I remind them that, whilst advocacy may at times be entertaining, a lawyer is engaged in a serious business. He is not there to put on a performance. Any advocate who plays to the gallery will be given a hard time in court.”

Read Not Dead at Middle Temple Hall.

Read Not Dead at Middle Temple Hall.

Post Script: Read Not Dead at the Inns of Court continued into 2015 as part of ‘Shakespeare and Friendship’. Love’s Sacrifice by John Ford was performed in the Great Hall at Gray’s Inn on Sunday 15 February. The play was dedicated to Ford’s cousin and namesake, John Ford who was a member of Gray’s and who the author called “my truest friend, my worthiest kinsman.”

The performance starred current Gray’s members Master Roger Eastman, High Court Judge Sir Michael John Burton and Masters Charles Douthwaite and Colin Manning. On Sunday 1 March, Inner Temple Hall hosted The Troublesome Reign of King John of England by George Peele, in celebration of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. And the final reading returedn to the Globe, with the anonymous The Faithful Friends on 19 April.

Go here for more information and booking details on Read Not Dead.

This article originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine 05. Go here to read the original version.

Lois Leveen, author of the novel Juliet’s Nurse, talks about the power of the plague in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

“As Mercutio is dying he says not once, not twice, but three times, ‘A plague on both your houses!’ And that made me think about plague, which first came to Italy in 1348 and killed about 40 percent of the population.

LoisLeveenHeadshot by John Melville Bishop

“When I started the novel I never thought that we would be struggling with something like what’s happening with Ebola now. But certainly there is so much fear about contagion and disease. We understand contagion and infection much better, but in an era where understanding about why some people got sick and others didn’t, why some people died and others got better…

©Globe/Opus Arte

©Globe/Opus Arte

 

“Trying to imagine, not what it was like live through that – because the book is set ten years after that wave – but people are really dealing with what it means to be dealing with that aftermath. Cultural or social post-traumatic stress disorder that everybody in society is dealing with.

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“And trying to think about what it would be like to have to go on in the wake of that when you don’t really have a scientific understanding of what happened, and trying to make sense of the world.”

Read the full interview with Lois Leveen in Shakespeare Magazine 05.

Ultra-vivid, ultra-violent and ultra-cool, Kill Shakespeare is a graphic novel series with added Bard Power. Co-creator Anthony Del Col takes Shakespeare Magazine behind the panels…

What would you say to a Shakespearean traditionalist who was sceptical about graphic novels?
“About seven years ago I myself was sceptical about comic books and graphic novels. I thought that they were all just superhero stories about men in tights and capes, that sort of thing. Then Conor (McCreery, Kill Shakespeare co-creator), who had been working part time at a comic book shop at that time, started putting some really interesting and provocative titles into my hands. Things like Y: The Last Man, Fables, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Blankets – all these things from different genres. It made me realise how interesting a storytelling medium it actually is.

“With comic books and graphic novels you’re not limited by budgets or anything like that, you’re only limited by your imagination. It’s actually a very thought-provoking medium. Yes, you have the visuals in front of you, but you don’t have all. There are interesting stories being told between the panels.”

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I know you were considering other mediums back when Kill Shakespeare was just an idea. Are you happy you settled on this one?
“Absolutely. Traditionally Shakespeare is viewed as very highbrow, which is unfortunate, and comic books are perceived as lowbrow. I thought it was poetic to make them meet half-way, to put the highbrow with the lowbrow. Shakespeare wrote his plays to be performed, not to be read, and in a lot of classrooms across the world the experience is to have a teacher or someone in the class read it out for you. In the comic book medium we can bring everything to life, even more so than Shakespeare could himself in some cases. Hamlet meets pirates in the play – it happens offstage but you hear about it. In the very first edition of Kill Shakespeare you actually see this huge pirate battle. You can’t do that on stage. We write Kill Shakespeare, we have Sherlock Holmes vs Harry Houdini – I’ve fallen in love with the medium and I can envision myself writing comics for the next 30 years.”

Cover Volume 2 by Andy Belanger

Which of the characters is your favourite to write?
“When we first started, my favourite character was Iago because he’s so deliciously evil and always three or four steps ahead of everyone else. It almost got to a point where it felt like he was one or two steps ahead of Conor and myself. As time has gone on, and as the project has expanded into other mediums, Hamlet has become my favourite. I look for Hamlet in everything I watch or consume these days. The way we’ve scripted him in the television outline that we’re putting together right now makes him even more fun to write and I think that I… it’s not that I can fully grasp who Hamlet is, but I feel like I’ve gotten a better handle on who he is and the possibilities for his character.”

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What’s the plan for TV?
“The goal for a Kill Shakespeare television series would be to combine the dark fantasy world-building of Game of Thrones with the wit and knowledge of Shakespeare in Love. Game of Thrones is a huge success worldwide, and opened many people’s eyes to the power of fantasy. We think doing Kill Shakespeare as television can do the same thing for Shakespeare.”

Richard III by Andy Belanger

Outside of your own, do you have a favourite adaptation of Hamlet or any of the plays?
“Oh. that’s a good question. I’m gonna go a little off the beaten track, but I do like – it’s not a straight-up adaptation – I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare in Love. Just because it was a way to make Shakespeare accessible and exciting and relevant. I’ll do another cheat, because I am Canadian I have to give a plug for Slings and Arrows.”

I adore Slings and Arrows.
“For those that are reading this that have not watched it yet, I highly recommend it. In terms of straight adaptations, again because it made Shakespeare relevant for a whole new generation, I’ll say Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I know it has its fans and its detractors. I love how Baz just throws everything and the kitchen sink into everything that he does. That’s the adaptation – out of film, TV, everything – that I’ve enjoyed and watched and rewatched the most.”

Cover Volume 4 by Andy Belanger

What do you think it is about Shakespeare’s characters that make them so universal?
“Shakespeare was the ultimate humanist. He understood humanity and individuals better than anyone ever has or ever will.

The moment that Shakespeare really came to life for me was the first play I ever read in school. It was The Merchant of Venice. Shylock, who is a character who doesn’t necessarily speak to me – but it’s close to my heart – gives the ‘hath not a Jew eyes’ speech which gives you all this sympathy for him. The next minute he wants his ‘pound of flesh.’ So he goes from being a villain to sympathetic to a villain yet again.

“I find that so fascinating, that within a minute you’re able to see all the different facets – good and bad – of a character.
That’s why I think his characters have stood the test of time and have been done and redone.”

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So your first experience of Shakespeare was a positive one?
“Yes and no. I had a horrible teacher who was completely out of her element. The entire class was unruly. We were in Canada and not excited about Shakespeare – it was a negative experience up front. But I had been told by media and people in general that Shakespeare was the crème de la crème of storytelling, and I thought there must be a reason why. So if I’m not going to learn from my teacher, then I’m going to go out and try to figure it out myself. That’s when I started self-guided learning and sought out and read more things about Merchant of Venice and Shylock.”

Lady Macbeth by Andy Belanger

You’ve just released the Kill Shakespeare table top game, you’re working on TV ideas, what’s next?
“In addition to television I’d like to do a videogame. There are some really fascinating stories being told through this medium. I think they’re called narrative games, where it’s not a first person shooter, it’s more about storytelling and personalities. I’d love to be able to immerse players into a world where you can play as one of Shakespeare’s characters and you get to interact with all the others. In an early brainstorming session, what became the Kill Shakespeare comic was a video game, so I’d love to come back to that and introduce a whole new generation to Shakespeare through that medium.”

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I would play that.
“I know! There would be so many Shakespeare fans, even those who don’t play video games, who’d be like ‘Wait, what? I get to play as Hamlet? That’s amazing!’ and they’d dive into it. I also want action figures. Kill Shakespeare action figures. Because what Shakespeare fan doesn’t want to have an action figure on their desk of Hamlet, or Othello, or Puck?”

Absolutely! So, sky’s the limit, really?
“Sky’s the limit, baby.”

This interview originally appeared in Shakespeare Magazine 06. Go here to read the original version.

Portraits: Piper Williams
Art: Andy Belanger

Shakespeare Magazine witnessed the 2015 Shakespeare Birthday Parade held on 25 April in the Bard’s Stratford-upon-Avon birthplace

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The Air Training Corps Band led the parade through the streets of Stratford. The route was extended this year to incorporate Shakespeare’s birthplace on Henley Street – taking the parade from cradle to grave.

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A staple part of the celebrations is the town’s William Shakespeare and his wife at the front of the walking parade.

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The big birthday cake this year was themed around the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, a battle which features in Shakespeare’s Henry V. The cake was decorated by local school children and artists.

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Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, taking part in the walking parade to leave flowers at Shakespeare’s grave in Holy Trinity Church.

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The annual handing over of the quill between Shakespeare and the head boy of King Edward’s School, which Shakespeare attended as a boy. This recent tradition was added to the parade at the suggestion of Gregory Doran, who felt it would symbolise that Shakespeare’s writing lives on.

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The unfurling of the flags saw 451 gold and black balloons being released. Each balloon represented a year since Shakespeare’s birth.

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There was plenty of entertainment around Stratford. At the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Keith Osborn read sonnets at the top of the viewing tower. We were treated to ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’.

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The view from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre tower, looking towards Holy Trinity Church.

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There was street entertainment on every road. This was the Shakespeare Morris Dancers outside the town hall.

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Holy Trinity Church: Shakespeare’s grave and monument beautifully adorned by all the floral tributes that were left from visitors around the world.

Read what Turkish student Cansu Kutlualp had to say about Shakespeare Magazine at the Shakespeare: Counterstream Symposium in Istanbul

“Blogs are not the only written material that can be found online that highlights up-to-date Shakespearean information. There is a magazine, I find that it’s one of a kind, that is online and free for its readers. It’s called the Shakespeare Magazine and it’s a relatively new one.

Cansu Kutlualp speaks at the symposium.

Cansu Kutlualp speaks at the symposium.

“The team behind it is working enthusiastically for each issue, giving a chance for their readers to participate in the magazine itself. The content varies; it’s not traditional, it is a fresh breath for Shakespeare enthusiasts. Not only do they talk about upcoming shows but they explain what Shakespeare means to individuals, what they thought about certain plays, movies or the fact that every nation has a different take on Shakespeare.

Cansu Kutlualp (second left) at the symposium.

Cansu Kutlualp (second left) at the symposium.

“In one issue they took on the World Cup that took place a few months ago and turned the whole thing into a Shakespearean process. What did Shakespeare mean for Brazil and its literary history? How much did Shakespeare affect the contemporary theatre, film or TV shows in Brazil? The magazine celebrates all kinds of global Shakespeare events and by doing so connects readers of all ages under the common and everlasting umbrella that is the Bard himself.

“I myself wrote a piece concerning Turkey and Shakespeare. Mr Pat Reid who is the Founder and the Editor of the magazine was so helpful and supportive that the article turned out to be a good one and it will be published in an upcoming issue.

Pat Reid, Shakespeare Magazine’s Founder & Editor.

Pat Reid, Shakespeare Magazine’s Founder & Editor.

“The magazine opens up discussions via social media too. Supporters of the magazine get to discuss their Shakespearean topics via Twitter or on the magazine’s Facebook page. A couple of months ago I was working on an essay for a class about Macbeth and psychoanalysis. After I finished my essay I asked via the magazine’s twitter page, what people thought about Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s personalities. With Mr Reid’s input, and with the participation of the magazine’s readers, we had a fun and informative discussion. Then we couldn’t continue the discussion with the limitation of 140 characters, so we brought it to the Facebook page. I must say the whole discussion had me question what I had in my mind when the whole thing started.

The powerful and evocative poster for the symposium.

The powerful and evocative poster for the symposium.

“If you want to read the magazine you can find it on issuu.com which also contains the previous issues.

Heading for Shakespeare’s Globe… Guildhall student Luke Dale, winner of The Actors Centre Alan Bates Award 2015

This year’s Alan Bates Award has been won by Luke Dale, a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The award was presented to Luke by EastEnders star Lindsey Coulson at the central London ceremony on Friday 24 April.

Lindsey Coulson said: “This award is the legacy of Alan Bates’ commitment to prepare young people to enter the profession. The quality of this year’s talent has been really outstanding and it’s so important to have organisations like the Actors Centre in place to nurture the growth of young talent.”

Eastenders star Lindsey Coulson (left) with Luke and Dame Janet Suzman (right).

Eastenders star Lindsey Coulson (left) with Luke and Dame Janet Suzman (right).

Along with the Actors Centre’s varied range of professional workshops and opportunities, Luke’s prize bundle includes headshots, a showreel and voicereel, a bespoke built website and Equity and Spotlight subscriptions. Leading fashion brand Ted Baker will style and dress him from “Ted to Toe”. Luke will also receive a supply of books from publishers Methuen Drama, Oberon Books and Nick Hern Books, and he will be appearing at Shakespeare’s Globe in the Read not Dead programme of staged readings.

The Actors Centre’s Chair Paul Clayton, who will be mentoring Luke Dale over the next year commended the judges’ decision: “He is the most engaging actor and when I saw him I thought ‘You stand out’ – and among six really first-class competitors. He did a fantastic Shakespeare speech, had a lot of energy… And he comes from Yorkshire, which can’t be all bad because so do I!”

Paul Clayton (left) with Luke.

Paul Clayton (left) with Luke.

The Alan Bates Award is the toughest and most unique competition of its kind. Graduating actors nominate themselves before the winner is selected through a rigorous, three-stage audition and interview process which includes a panel of actors and industry judges.

Award winner Luke said: “I feel very privileged, honoured and absolutely elated. I am so thankful to the Actors Centre, and the best thing about winning this year’s Alan Bates Award is I can keep coming back to work with the amazing actors and people.”

Alan Bates Award judge Dame Janet Suzman is one of the few living actors to feature in Great Shakespeare Actors, the new book from Shakespeare authority Professor Stanley Wells.

Last year’s winner Charles Babalola (left) with Luke.

Last year’s winner Charles Babalola (left) with Luke.

“I admire young actors today enormously,” she says. “It is rather humbling as they are all going into a world that is much more difficult than the world that I went into. Somehow it is more transient, more over-crowded, and you have to learn much more in less time.”

Go here to find out more about The Actors Centre and the Alan Bates Award 2015.

Final Reminder! Today, Eminent Shakespeareans Sir Antony Sher and Professor Stanley Wells feature in National Theatre Platforms

Today, Wednesday 6 May, sees two Shakespeare-themed events in London from National Theatre Platforms.

Antony Sher
Dorfman Theatre, Wednesday 6 May, 2.30pm (1 hour) + Book Signing, £4/£3
The distinguished Shakespearean actor talks to Sue MacGregor about Year of the Fat Knight, his warm, witty and entertaining book about his experience of playing Falstaff.

Book tickets for Sir Antony Sher here.

Antony Sher as Falstaff by Kwame Lestrade

Stanley Wells
Dorfman Theatre, Wednesday 6 May, 6pm (45 minutes) + Book Signing, £4/£3
Stanley Wells offers a wonderfully readable actor-centred history of theatrical performance in Great Shakespeare Actors, examining their most notable performances in the key roles. Chaired by Sue MacGregor.

Book tickets for Professor Stanley Wells here
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Stanley Wells by Christoph Mueller

An eclectic programme of talks, discussions and interviews, National Theatre Platforms offer the chance to learn more about the National’s work and the arts in general.

Both Sir Antony Sher and Professor Stanley Wells have been interviewed for the next issue of Shakespeare Magazine, coming soon.