From director Shakirah Bourne, new film A Caribbean Dream tells us two things – that Barbados is quite possibly Paradise on Earth, and that Shakespeare travels extremely well

 
Adapted from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Bourne and producer Melissa Simmonds, the film was made on location on the director’s home island of Barbados. Shot in the picturesque environs of Fustic House, St Lucy, the Shakespeare film it perhaps most resembles is Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing (2012).

But whereas Whedon’s film was shot in stylish monochrome, A Caribbean Dream adds gorgeous hyper-real colours. Stepping amid its intoxicating jungle greens are a Puck (Patrick Michael Foster) somewhat reminiscent of Quentin Crisp, a suitably capricious Titania (Susannah Harker) and a regal, poetic Oberon (Adrian Green).

file3
Bourne’s film has a lot of fun with stereotypes. The English people are posh and silly, their behaviour inspiring affectionate bemusement in the knowing islanders. And, it must be said, Shakespeare sounds absolutely fantastic in a Barbadian accent
Shakespeare’s tale calls for an ensemble cast, and there are plenty of good performances, including a loveable Lorna Gayle as Bottom, and charismatic Keshia Pope as Helena, spitting out the play’s most famous line: “And though she be but little, she is fierce”.

file4
It’s a modern-day affair, so the fairies carry mobile phones, but the rude mechanicals are now poor fishermen who add some local folklore of their own.
Crucially for a Shakespeare film, the sound is excellent, and pretty much all the lines are delivered with clarity. There’s a welcome absence of the mumbling (or getting drowned out by sound effects) that often blights modern productions like the 2016 BBC version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Fishermen_300DPI_preview
The upbeat soundtrack includes some jaunty Bajan anthems, and Bottom enamours Titania’s ear with a sweet rendition of “Da Cocoa Tea is a Poison To Me”.
In the tradition of classic Caribbean films like The Harder They Come, the cheap and cheerful feel makes a refreshing change from slick and soulless Hollywood product. And yet, if Hollywood ever gets wind of this simple-but-effective formula, we can expect a big-budget remake of A Caribbean Dream quicker than you can say “Star Wars Trilogy”.

Lovers_300DPI_preview
Although it’s not billed as a ‘straight’ Shakespeare film, it contains a great deal of Shakespeare’s text and, to me, feels true to the spirit of the original. I would also deem it completely suitable for the classroom – apart from one groan-inducing ‘donkey’ joke (although you could argue that this gag is itself Shakespearean).

file1
For many of the scenes, especially those with the young lovers, it feels like watching a spirited open-air Shakespeare production on a magical Bajan evening. I’d happily sit in that jungle clearing to watch Helena and Hermia (Marina Bye) battling it out while the fairies celebrate with a Caribbean carnival.

A Caribbean Dream is released into UK cinemas (and On Demand via iTunes, Amazon, Google, Virgin Movies) on the 10 November 2017.

A Caribbean Dream poster
Cinemas
Birmingham, MAC (From 13/12/2017)
Ipswich Film Theatre (From 05/12/2017 )
London, Bernie Grant Arts Centre – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 12/11/2017)
London, Peckhamplex (From 10/11/2017 )
London, Peckhamplex – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 11/11/2017)
London, Rio Dalston – Q&A with director, producer and cast (From 12/11/2017)
Manchester HOME (From 15/12/2017 )
Torrington, The Plough Arts Centre (From 16/12/2017)

We met with scholar, author and poet Paul Edmondson for a delightful catch-up chat in Stratford-upon-Avon during the recent celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday

Paul Edmondson

Paul Edmondson

 
Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now? And what are you getting from it?
“This week I’ve spent a lot of time in New Place garden with the sculptor Greg Wyatt who’s produced those lovely sculptures inspired by Shakespeare’s plays which are installed there. I’ve spent a lot of time – and I’m doing it again this evening with a special group of VIPs – looking at Greg’s sculptures with Greg. It’s about me talking about how he made the sculptures, but then reflecting on them as responses to Shakespeare’s works. So, this week I’ve been very much in my head with The Tempest, Julius Caesar, King Lear, The Winter’s Tale, Henry IV Parts One and Two, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet! Those are the eight sculptures.

“One of the great things about them is that they work on you like a Shakespeare play, each sculpture, because they draw you in and the more you look at them, the more you notice – details, a face emerging, a hand. They’re a great highlight for visitors. In fact, only two days ago when I was there I saw a young father with his five-month-old son, reading him the script  – all of them have got quotations from the relevant plays – from Julius Caesar, as if somehow this was having a positive impact on this five-month-old son. I took his photograph and asked if I could use it and he said yes, feel free to use it. It was most touching, because when I look at people interacting with these sculptures inspired by the plays, I know of no other sculpture like them in the world.

“I mean, I can think of sculptures inspired by individual characters and Shakespeare himself, but not in a response to an entire play – it’s more like a painting. People reach out and touch them, and Greg said this is the highest compliment a sculptor can have, that you somehow want to become the work and reach out and touch it. This five-month-old baby was doing precisely that – it was reaching out to want to touch Julius Caesar!”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
“This isn’t recently, but I think I would have been surprised about how many books he used to write the plays. I’d have been delighted to know that as a younger self – the bookishness of Shakespeare’s intellect, his sense of study before putting quill to paper. Each play was a significant research project, he wasn’t just dashing these off. Although, of course, they were written at different speeds for different occasions. So, I think that would have been something I’ve learnt since my younger self that I would have been pleased to have known.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
“Robin Goodfellow in a Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’m not going to expand on that one!”

If I asked you to give mne a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“‘If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating’ which is The Winter’s Tale as Hermione’s sculpture is coming to take her long lost husband by the hand. That’s in my head because of the sculpture in New Place. I remember the novelist Salley Vickers said to me that was her favourite line in Shakespeare and that’s resonated with me.”

What is your favourite Shakespeare myth?
“My favourite Shakespeare myth is the deer poaching story from nearby Charlecote. I think there’s more than a grain of truth in that myth. It rings true to me, but it does have the status of myth.”

You have the power to cast anyone (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?
“I would like to see Sir Stanley Wells play Hamlet. Although he wouldn’t want to do this, in my imagination that would embody Stanley’s pre-eminence in Shakespeare studies. Hamlet is the greatest role in Shakespeare, therefore let’s have the greatest Shakespearean of our own times play him. If I was thinking about an actor, I’d like to Shakespeare himself perform Hamlet. Can you imagine? Apparently, he never did because it was written for Richard Burbage, but it would be great to Shakespeare himself play a role in one of his plays. You’ve got those two outlandish bookends, as it were, but I would also like to see Kenneth Branagh play all the other parts he is qualified to play, but hasn’t!”

Paul will be appearing at the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival, which runs from 18-25 June. Go here for information and tickets.

A new psychological survey by dating site eHarmony has identified Shakespeare’s most compatible couple – and you’ll never guess who it is!

All due apologies to Juliet, but a new psychological study suggests that her star-crossed lover Romeo would have lived happily ever after with Fairy Queen Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is one of the most compelling romances of all time. But detailed psychological profiling shows that finding love with Titania – rather than Juliet – could have prevented Romeo from meeting his untimely end.

Romeo

Romeo

Titania

Titania

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Baz Luhrmann’s beloved film Romeo + Juliet, relationship site eHarmony.co.uk teamed up with Shakespeare expert David Lawrence, Associate Director of the Pop-Up Globe, to determine the romantic compatibility of 20 of the Bard’s legendary leads.

Which Shakespeare character would YOU be most compatible with? Take this Quiz to find out!

Each Shakespearean character was scored according to eHarmony’s 29 Dimensions of Compatibility – such as emotional temperament, social style, values and beliefs – to assess their mutual suitability.

The eHarmony research found that while Romeo (who scored third in the compatibility league, overall) might have been burning with desire for charismatic Juliet, he was actually better suited to Titania, whose more mature character (combined with her agreeable nature and their shared need for affection) might have helped challenge his self-destructive tendencies.

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, 1996

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, 1996

Juliet’s top-rated partner was Ferdinand, the noble – and far less neurotic – prince from The Tempest. Ferdinand’s earnest, good heart works as a better foil for Juliet’s more complex, determined nature, rather than Romeo’s stubborn temperament

The most compatible couple in the study overall were Titania and Macbeth, as despite his dangerous character defects, they would have understood one another’s anxieties and need for both empathy and space.

most-compatible

Meanwhile, the second best combination were Lady Macbeth and Bassanio (The Merchant of Venice), with eHarmony’s psychological analysis showing their shared interest in manipulating others would complement their wishes for a balance between future planning and spontaneity in a relationship.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

Another of Shakespeare’s own couples fared better though, as the Macbeths surprisingly ranked among the top five. While at first glance they may seem another doomed couple, they would undoubtedly understand each other’s needs and desires well, if only they hadn’t led each other down a murderous path.

At the other end of the scale, out of all the possible matches in the Shakespearean couple canon, Hamlet and Desdemona would be the least-compatible couple. eHarmony’s compatibility algorithms found that their Hamlet’s cold and aggressive nature would be too much for kind-hearted Desdemona. In fact, Hamlet appears three times among the five least compatible couples for this reason.

least-compatible

Director and Shakespeare scholar David Lawrence commented on the findings: “What is so interesting about some of these results is the way they illuminate how good Shakespeare is at polarities within relationships. I think Titania and Romeo would be very well-suited in that she relishes uncomplicated adoration, and he would probably find his in-love-with-the-idea-of-being-in-love tendencies better spent a partner who is content to be adored. Equally, Juliet would benefit from being with someone who is mature enough to accept that she has complicated thoughts and ideas and passions of her own.”

Desdemona and Othello

Desdemona and Othello

Rachael Lloyd, eHarmony.co.uk expert, said: “While Shakespeare’s lovers such as Romeo and Juliet are typically alluring, and fascinating to observe, it doesn’t mean they are well suited. eHarmony’s psychological and scientific research indicates that while physical attraction is very important, it’s that crucial blend of attraction and compatibility that determines whether a relationship is happy and endures long term.”

Romeo and Juliet, 1996

Romeo and Juliet, 1996

NOW TRY THE QUIZ! Whether you’re a hopeless romantic like Romeo or more of a calculating Lady Macbeth type, you can find out which Shakespearean character you’d be best matched with. Try the Quiz HERE.

Sun, sand, sea and Shakespeare make for a winning combination in Sydney for Bard on the Beach Australia

Titania (Jillian Russ) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Titania (Jillian Russ) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

A trip to the beach is not something generally associated with Shakespeare. In Sydney, however, the combination of a balmy summer’s evening, waves lapping the shore and champagne corks popping is the soundscape of Bard On The Beach Australia.

Puck (Adam Garden) in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Puck (Adam Garden) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Balmoral Beach, 2015.

Bard on the Beach is now in its sixth year, with the Balmoral band rotunda on Sydney’s north shore as its home.

Petruchio (Dan Bunton)  and Katharina (Jillian Russ) in The Taming of The Shrew, Balmoral Beach, 2014.

Petruchio (Dan Bunton) and Katharina (Jillian Russ) in The Taming of The Shrew, Balmoral Beach, 2014.

“And in the years that have followed since our creation,” says Artistic Director Patricia Rowling, “we have expanded to Avalon Beach, Watsons Bay and Marrickville.”

Lady Macbeth (Patricia Rowling) and macbeth (Kyle Rowling) in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Balmoral Beach, 2012.

Lady Macbeth (Patricia Rowling) and Macbeth (Kyle Rowling) in The Tragedy of Macbeth, Balmoral Beach, 2012.

The company also runs educational tours to schools and community groups up and down the east coast of Australia.

Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

In 2016, the season brought Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in rep to thousands of spectators.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Gloucester (Steven Menteith) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Gloucester (Steven Menteith) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

The company also presented an in-theatre performance of The Merchant of Venice for schools and general audiences, along with an educational tour of Macbeth.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

Poor Tom (Chenier Moore) and Lear (Jim Gosden) in The Tragedy of King Lear, 2014, Balmoral Beach.

So what can audiences expect in 2017?

“The costume sketches are being drawn, the council applications are in, and the auditions are done,” says Patricia. “Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor will charm audiences all over Sydney and beyond…”

Go here to find out all about Bard on the Beach Australia.

A feast of fairies and fun in Forest Park as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream charms St. Louis, Missouri with colour, comedy and music

Images by J. David levy

Helena and Lysander
Helena and Lysander

St. Louis, Missouri is perhaps best known for the Gateway Arch, baseball and high crime rates – lesser remarked upon is its ever-growing artistic vibrancy. Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is an example of that fervor, bringing theatrical magic to the schools and streets of the city.

Oberon and Titania
Oberon and Titania

Every June, the organization stages a Shakespeare play in the historic Forest Park, inviting people of all generations to enjoy timeless entertainment. Many families and friend circles make it a tradition to attend, and often picnic as they await the dramatic unfoldings.

Midsummer Photo 3
Hermia

For their 16th season, director Rick Dildine brings fresh ingredients to a play already famous for enchantments: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As the sky darkens over Shakespeare Glen, the glowing stage draws everyone inescapably into a dreamy world in which comedy, romance and fairies cast their collective spell.

Puck
Puck

A three-story sylvan background intrigues spectators from the onset. Painted doors line each level of the structure, so mortals can disappear into the woods and fairies can transcendently gaze down.
Dildine says: “The whimsical approach to the set helps take us on a journey through the woods and into our dreams.”

Titania Singing
Titania singing

Colorful costumes gradually adorn the stage; Titania’s (Nancy Anderson) ethereal blue gown and Hermia’s (Cassia Thompson) candy pink dress pop like enchanted flowers. The Disney-esque costuming reflects Dildine’s underlying goal to “make a play that would allow kids to fall in love with theatre”.

Midsummer Photo 2
From beginning to end, the actor ensembles execute the three intertwining stories with crystal clarity and bring oomph to their roles at each comedic beat. Cassia Thompson, Rachel Christopher (Helena), Peter Winfrey (Demetrius) and Justin Blanchard (Lysander) vividly express the rough course of love, as jealousy and confusion simmer into boiling conflicts that send the audience into laughter with every jab.

Angry Hermia
Angry Hermia

The shenanigans of the crude thespians are brought to full comedic potential, and Puck’s impish movements (performed by twins Austin Glen Jacobs and Ryan Alexander Jacobs) manifest the play’s whimsical humor. Original songs by Peter Mark Kendall appear throughout the performance, establishing a fanciful mood with a pleasant folk sound.

Midsummer Photo
Impressively, in a seamless blend of acting and musical talent, the actors are also the musicians and vocalists, crooning verses about nature, lostness and dreams. The engaging music, filled with violins, guitars and accordions, brings a romantic texture to the story that honors the Bard’s melodious ingenuity.

Bottom and Accordion Player
Shakespeare’s otherworldly imagination resonates luminously in Forest Park – and surely the director’s wish for younger spectators to fall in love with theatre has come true.

mechanicals
The Mechanicals

A Midsummer Night’s Dream ended on 26 June, but go here for more on the production and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

With the Indian Shakespeares On Screen festival taking place in London from 27-30 April, we asked the organisers to choose their all-time favourite Indian Shakespeare movie adapatations…

HAIDER (2014)
Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Hamlet
IMG_3714
“In a time of rising religious and patriotic Hindu fundamentalism in India, how did Haider ever get permission to be made, and how did it pass the notorious eye of the Indian censor? Those are the questions I can’t wait to ask the director, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Basharat Peer, the film’s co-writer when I interview them in April.

“Set in Kashmir at the height of the conflict of the 1990s, Haider is deeply critical of British colonialism and the pernicious license it allows Indian structures of power. The once colonized have become the masters here, as the film’s tight focus on a handful of Kashmiri Muslim lives shows. The tragedy of good men disappearing, brothers being set against one another, overt violence and insidious paranoia are set against the austere beauty of war-torn Srinagar.

“Silencing is a key theme: snow falls like confetti on lovers, weeps over disappeared bodies, hides terror and smothers grief. Language is twisted as the people struggle to voice the trauma of subjugation. Bhardwaj draws on the poetry of Gulzar and the skeleton of Hamlet to create a film that is complex, thrilling, wry, poignant and political all at once. For me, Haider sets a gold standard for the cinematic language of Indian Shakespeares on screen.”

Chosen by Dr Preti Taneja, University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London 


ARSHINAGAR (2015)
Mirrorville, Aparna Sen’s re-make of Romeo and JulietIMG_3719
“Romantic musicals about doomed lovers are the staple of Indian cinema and there is no dearth of appropriations of Romeo and Juliet on the Indian stage or screen. Sen’s plotting of Romeo and Juliet on the Hindu-Muslim divide to speak about contemporary intolerance is not distinctive either.

“What sets this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet on the Indian Screen apart, and makes it one of my favourite Shakespeare appropriations, is its innovative combination of theatrical and cinematic styles.

“As Sen states, ‘The story is known everywhere, the art is in the telling.’ There are brilliant instances of realist scenes shot against painted backdrops which not only positions Arshinagar as a mirrorville which reflects a reality not limited to a particular geographical place but also a remarkable experiment with form in commercial cinema.

“Furthermore, the characters speak a contemporary combination of English, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu that is familiar to someone like me who grew up in the historical and culturally diverse city of Kolkata, and all of it is in rhymed verse! I am very excited to be speaking about this fascinating Shakespeare film at our conference.”

Chosen by Ms Koel Chatterjee, Royal Holloway, University of London


KALIYATTAM (1997)
The Play of God, Jayaraj Rajasekharan Nair’s adaptation of OthelloFullSizeRender
“In Kaliyattam, the national award winning Othello remake, the low caste hero Kannan Perumalayan (Suresh Gopi) is a traditional Keralan theyyam trance dancer. Perumalayan’s fundamental psychological insecurity at his outsider status is here rooted in a schizophrenic social schism: he is reviled by day yet worshipped by night, possessed by temple gods during his ritual kaliyattam fire dances.

“An inter-caste scandal explodes when Perumalayan elopes with the village head’s daughter, Brahmin beauty Thamara/Desdemona (Manju Warrier). Perumalayan loses his grip on reality as he becomes increasingly unable to separate his two lives, and jealous junior temple artist Paniyan/Iago (Lal) manages to convince him that the chaste Thamara is unfaithful.

“Half-costumed, Perumalayan smothers Thamara in bed. After discovering his mistake, he crushes Paniyan’s legs, crippling yet sparing him. In his final temple performance, Perumalayan bequeaths his role to Kanthan/Cassio (Biju Menon) before throwing himself into the sacrificial fire costume and all, consumed by his own irredeemably split conscience.”

Chosen by Ms Thea Buckley, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham

10ml LOVE (2012)
Sharat Katariya’s take on A Midsummer Night’s DreamFullSizeRender
“Endorsing the emergent Indian Indie cinema movement, Thierry Frémaux, artistic director of Cannes Film Festival, declared that ‘I firmly believe that this new generation can bring a fresh air not only to Indian Cinema but also to World Cinema.’ Therefore, I am delighted that we are screening Katariya’s10ml Loveat our conference.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an attractive play to set in India as it references the ‘Indian boy’ and the ‘spicèd Indian air’. Yet, rather than the exotic India that Shakespeare paints, Katariya sets the movie in cosmopolitan Mumbai. Whereas Shakespeare’s play begins with the aristocrats, 10ml Love opens with the mechanicals of Shakespeare’s play.In a hilarious sequence, we are shown that they are rehearsing for Ramlila. The Ramlila, is an indigenous theatrical form but the substitution of Ramlila for the mechanicals’ play is not mere indigenization.

“During the time of the British colonial rule in India, the emulation of Western theatre led to a decline of indigenous theatre forms such as the Ramlila. Thus, using a Shakespeare adaptation to emphasise the decline of Ramlila troupes is a politically canny move. The result is that India is not viewed through Shakespeare’s gaze rather Shakespeare is viewed through an Indian gaze. This is why, for me, 10ml Love is an underrated gem.”

Chosen by Dr Varsha Panjwani, Boston University in London and University of York

Shakepeare and Indian-Final Poster
‘Indian Shakespeares on Screen’ features an international conference including talks, screenings, workshops, and an art display at Asia House in central London (27-29 April 2016), followed by a weekend film festival at London’s BFI Southbank (29-30 April 2016) where the screening of the Indian Shakespeare trilogy Maqbool (Macbeth), Omkara (Othello), and Haider (Hamlet) will be accompanied by public interviews with Vishal Bhardwaj, the trilogy’s director, and the scriptwriters of the films.

Find out more at the Indian Shakespeares on Screen website.

Birmingham City University students create life-size effigies of Shakespeare and some of his most iconic characters

A life-size installation featuring more than a dozen of Shakespeare’s most famous creations – handcrafted from paper and cardboard – is open to the public, free of charge, at Birmingham City University.

Tamora Queen of the goths
Tamora, Queen of the Goths (from Titus Andronicus).

With scale models over six feet tall, a three-metre-high balcony and even a walk-in tavern, it has been made as a tribute to mark 400 years since the Bard’s death.

Each piece in the installation was individually crafted by 22 first year students from the University’s Design for Theatre, Performance and Events degree course.

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet.

The students used techniques learned on the course to sculpt 780 metres of corrugated cardboard and nearly 5,000 metres of brown paper into the setting and characters.

Among the figures are a likeness of William Shakespeare himself, writing at his desk, and full size replicas of King Lear, Caliban, Richard III, and Romeo & Juliet.

Caliban
Caliban (from The Tempest).

The exhibition took nearly three weeks to create, with students working day and night to make each component from scratch, as well as selecting music and lighting to complement each element.

The installation is housed in the Shell space at the University’s Parkside Building. It is open to the public, with free admission, until Friday 26 February.

Balcony
Viola (from Twelfth Night).

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust helped students research the project. When the project ends, a number of characters and settings will be transported to Stratford-upon-Avon for display.

Shakespeare desk
Shakespeare at his desk.

The tavern in the installation is intended to replicate London’s historic Gorge (or “George”) Inn, sometimes referred to as “Shakespeare’s Local”.

Traditional Elizabethan music plays in the exhibition hall, while words from The Two Noble Kinsmen – thought to be Shakespeare’s final play – make a poignant tribute to the Bard.

Juliet
Juliet (from Romeo and Juliet).

“It’s very rare that you get an art installation that really looks at the times that Shakespeare was writing in,” says the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Marie Brennan.

“As well as looking at new interpretations of his own work. It’s really an unusual and creative concept to bring those two together into one installation.

Peter Quince
Peter Quince (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Titled “The Figure in Space – Shakespeare”, the exhibition is on until Friday 26 February at Birmingham City University: The Parkside Building, 5 Cardigan Street, Birmingham B4 7BD. Admission is free.

Go here for a map and directions.

Merely Theatre tour the UK with their stripped-back, sweaty, no-frills, gender-blind productions of Shakespeare’s Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

HenryV-19
As a company, Merely Theatre are known for stripped-back, sweaty Shakespeare. No gauche sets, frilly costumes or fussy props – just the actors, the audience and the text. Oh, and one more thing – they’re the first Gender-Blind classical rep company.

HenryV-21
Ten actors rehearse in male-female pairs, so each set of parts can be played by both a man and a woman. One from each pair is then chosen for each performance. The result is both men and women playing both male and female characters.

HenryV-22
Company actor Robert Myles said of the concept: “When Shakespeare was writing, men played both male and female characters. The only difference for us is that now, women do too.”

Midsummer-43
The company don’t draw attention to the cross-gender casting within the shows, instead looking to take the issue off the table. They then endeavour to tell the story with maximum clarity and energy, making Shakespeare as accessible to first-timers as it is rewarding to aficionados.

Midsummer-30
Artistic Director Scott Ellis said in a recent interview with The Stage, “We start with: ‘What does the character want? What is the character saying?’ If the actor happens to be male or female, as far as we’re concerned it doesn’t make any difference.”

Midsummer-51
This has enabled the company to commit to 50/50 casting long before much bigger theatre companies, playing their part in defining the next generation of theatre-making.

HenryV-31
The tour continues from March until May, with dates in Eastbourne, St Albans, Taunton, Balham, Croydon, Cambridge, Northwich and Northern Ireland before concluding at the Kings Theatre in Edinburgh.

Go here to find tour dates and book tickets. 

Fifty miles north of New York City, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival playfully subverted audiences’ expectations with a radical rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

[Images of Hudson Valley Shakespeare by T. Charles Erickson. Other images by Emily Finch]

The scene was reminiscent of Georges Seurat’s famous painting A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Families, couples, friends sprawled on the lawn of the historical Boscobel estate, accompanied by wicker baskets, wine glasses and cheese boards.

Picnic shot 2 2015
This loyal crowd of patrons arrived early to enjoy the view of the river before an evening of theatre at the respected Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Excitement about the sold out performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream buzzed as everyone packed up their blankets and headed towards their seats under the tent’s canopy.

And yet, despite such a positive beginning, many audience members became disenchanted by the production. Disenchanted enough, in fact, to bale out in the middle of it. About 20 percent of the seats were empty at the actors’ final bow.

DSCN1737
A Midsummer Night’s Dream usually promises a fun, crowd-pleasing evening – what made the audience walk out? Well, very little about this production felt normal. Where so many Shakespeare productions attempt to rationalise everything – to answer every possible question an audience member might have – this production consistently resisted the urge to simplify and clarify, and instead said, “Why not?”

Why not have Bottom and Puck be played by the same actor?
Why not let Demetrius speak Spanglish?
Why not use five actors for all 20 parts?
According to actor Mark Bedard, these choices came out of rehearsals where director Eric Tucker constantly challenged his players, saying: “We could do the scene that way, the expected way. Or we could find a different way, a harder way.”

Midsummer Night's Dream HVSF '15 118
The lack of scenery, props or elaborate costumes placed the responsibility for the success (or failure) of the play squarely on the actors – the aforementioned Mark Bedard, along with Sean McNall, Joey Parsons, Jason O’Connell and Nance Williamson.

As HVSF artistic director Davis McCallum put it, limiting the cast to five actors forced “radical creativity” on behalf of the performers and director to overcome the obstacles, the least of which being the numerous scenes with six or more characters.

The end result was a fresh and raucously hilarious interpretation of this most frequently performed of comedies. Those looking for an evening of conventional theatre were sorely disappointed. The rest of us were beside ourselves with mirth.

Midsummer Night's DreamHVSF '15 252
“This isn’t Shakespeare that’s over people’s head,” McNall says. “It’s Shakespeare between their legs.”
Of course, the actors cannot help but notice the depleted audience as the evening unfolds.
“Sometimes, it is a little hard,” Parsons concedes, “to walk on in the second act and see an entire row gone.”

For Williamson, the polarity of reactions validates the unconventional choices. “It’s exciting when you don’t have just a wave of love every single night,” she says. “That’s theatre. The job is not to please everybody.”

DSCN1775
As hard as it is for the players to witness their patrons walking out, it must be said that the majority of the audience remain completely enthralled by the performance.

“We’ll have audiences that are really quiet, and obviously not happy,” says Bedard, “and then we’ll have audiences where it’s like a rock concert.”
Apart from the interpretive casting decisions, the open-air location lends a special life to the productions.

“Boscobel has this beautiful backdrop that makes the play have a lifted grace that it sometimes doesn’t have inside,” explains Williamson.
“The plays can never get stale out here,” adds O’Connell. “Every performance is wildly different just based upon the variables of the time of summer or what’s going on in the air.”

DSCN1736
For McCallum’s first full season as artistic director, he chose plays that would connect the audience with the production through the power of storytelling. “A group of people are gathering,” he says, “in this really unique spot, under this canopy, to be told a story.”

For the past 29 years, HVSF has been sharing stories with roughly 40,000 patrons each summer, along with thousands more through continuous educational outreach. For a summer festival with only five year-round staff members, those numbers prove this company is doing something right, something beyond being an idealistic picnic destination.

“For the sake of our artistic health, we want to do a wide range of things,” says McCallum. “Not just summer Shakespeare comedies.”

Midsummer Night's Dream HVSF '15 363
Preparing for the Festival’s 30th anniversary next summer, McCallum plans to continue subverting expectations, delivering entertaining art that challenges as well, putting the little town of Garrison on the theatrical map.

“Our vision for the theatre is that it can be a real destination for audience members,” he says. “Not just from New York City, but from further afield.”

The five-person production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream played at New York City’s Pearl Theatre until 31 October.

Go here for more on Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

Actress Sarah Peachey has a mouth-watering sideline as a gifted and inventive baker… So we asked her to cook up her essential guide to delicious and eye-catching Shakespeare Cakes!

As an actress with a special interest in Shakespearean performance, bringing the Bard’s rich language and powerful imagery to life is a wonderful challenge. And doing it with cake? Even more so.
Just like the bright-eyed contestants on The Great British Bake Off, I learned to bake at home. I love the smile on someone’s face as they delight in seeing a cake made just for them. After all, good cake, sweet cake, hath no fellow.
I also love the chance to challenge myself with new designs, so cakes that take their inspiration from Shakespeare combine two of my favourite things.
and so, in true GBBO style, let me show you my bakes!

The Signatures…

Shakes Cakes 1
This Midsummer Night’s Dream-inspired cake is a take on a classic lemon sponge. The decoration involves a variety of techniques, all representing key imagery from the play.

Shakes Cakes 2
“Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell: It fell upon a little western flower, Before, milk-white, now purple with love’s wound, And maidens call it love-in-idleness.”

The iconic flower, cut from sugarpaste and finished with edible glitter.

Shakes Cakes 3
“Master Cobweb” represented by a spun sugar nest.

Shakes Cakes 4
“Hoary-headed frosts” represented by sugarpaste snowflakes finished with lustre dust.

Shakes Cakes 5
“An ass’s nole I fixed on his head” – Bottom’s transformation moulded from chocolate sugarpaste.

Shakes Cakes 6
“Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania”. Setting the scene with a hand-painted night sky.

Shakes Cakes 7
This Ruff Cake was created for repertory theatre company The Merely Players’ end of season show. The brief was to incorporate all the shows from their 2014 season, whilst complementing their “no frills” approach to performing Shakespeare. I created a simple, monochrome ruff from pleated sugarpaste, finished with hand-painted writing to suit their stripped-back style.

The Technicals

Last year, I made two cakes for immersive theatre company RIFT, for their overnight production of Macbeth. RIFT’s designer Jasper Sutherland created two designs for the show.

Shakes Cakes 8
The first of Sutherland’s artworks was based on Lady Macbeth.

Shakes Cakes 9
The blood-red “Out, damned spot!” circles were cut from sugarpaste and the water that could not “wash this filthy witness from your hand” was created using a watercolour paint effect.

Shakes Cakes 10
The design for RIFT’s wrap party cake was based on Sutherland’s Macbeth artwork. I used the three-headed design to create a perspective three-tiered cake. Each layer offered a different flavour for the cast to choose from – rich chocolate, vanilla Madeira and red velvet.

Shakes Cakes 11
From the side, the tiers featured show dates and the RIFT logo.

Shakes Cakes 12
From above, the tiers aligned to create the image in Sutherland’s design. The shape was achieved by carving the sponge around a template and hand-painting the design onto the icing using a stipple technique.

The Showstopper

To celebrate the Bard’s 451st Birthday on 23 April (the same day our very own Shakespeare Magazine had its first anniversary), I had the pleasure of creating the ultimate Shakespeare Showstopper… The Globe Theatre!
The cake is constructed from two stacked sponges, carved to form the famous “Wooden O” of the theatre. I chose carrot cake as it’s very moist, but strong and earthy, suiting The Globe’s natural materials. Creating these cakes involved peeling and grating 2Kg of carrots!

Shakes Cakes 13
The whole thing is covered in sugarpaste and hand painted, with the tiered galleries on the inside and the exposed wooden beams and shutters on the outside. The texture of the thatched roof was achieved using a patterned roller and hand painted. The stage is also edible, with the roof supported by wooden dowels.

Shakes Cakes 14
After many hours of construction, I was delighted to hand it over to the staff at The Globe on the day of their birthday celebrations for the Bard. As a thank you, they kindly took me up to the roof for an incredibly special photo opportunity – my model cake next to its full-size counterpart!

Has Sarah has whetted your appetite for show-stopping bespoke cakes?
Go here to find out more about her company Mama Peach & Me.

Find Mama Peach & Me on Facebook.