“Why I always watch Shakespeare with the subtitles on – And I invite you to do the same.” Shakespeare Magazine Editor Pat Reid is convinced that subtitles are good for the brain, and can greatly enhance our enjoyment and appreciation of Shakespeare.

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When my son was a baby, I mentioned to my brother that I was always anxious while watching television at night. If I was enjoying a programme downstairs and I turned up the volume, there was a danger I might not hear the baby crying in his upstairs bedroom. My brother, who already had two children, told me he’d acquired the habit of watching TV with the volume turned down low and the subtitles on. So I started doing this too, and I soon discovered that what I was missing in sound, I was more than making up for in the amount of information I was taking in.

During his toddler years, my son started watching CBeebies, the BBC children’s channel. We were a little concerned at first, because his interest was so intense. But it gave us, his parents, a break, and the programmes were suitably nourishing, so we decided it was all right.

Then we noticed a surprising side effect. Like all parents, we monitored our child’s developmental milestones. He seemed to be a little behind with some of them. But there was one area where he seemingly raced ahead, and that was learning to read.

One day we were watching CBeebies together, and I realised that as we had permanently left the subtitles on, every TV programme our son watched was effectively a reading lesson. A character or presenter would say a simple phrase, the subtitles would correspond with it, and our son was making the connection. He was learning a crucial skill – and, like some Holy Grail of education, it was both effortless and fun.

When he started school at four, our boy was one of the younger children in his class, but one of the most advanced readers. I’m sure that other factors played a part, but CBeebies and subtitles definitely helped.

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But what, you may ask, does this have to do with Shakespeare? Well, I was busy planning and launching Shakespeare Magazine during this time, and I was watching a lot of Shakespeare DVDs. Again, I had the volume down low and the subtitles on. And I began to notice that I was understanding the plays better, and enjoying them more.

How so? Well, often when we watch TV programmes or films, we don’t actually hear everything that’s being said. Sometimes actors can mumble or have their voices drowned out by other sounds. Hollywood films have been like this for decades, but in more recent years a spate of British television dramas have drawn complaints from viewers who can’t properly hear the dialogue. Some viewers in the US have resorted to the subtitles because they can’t understand the new Doctor Who’s accent.

It’s not the end of the world, of course. Usually, our brain goes to work trying to fill in the gaps, and we come away with a good sense of what’s going on. But films and TV shows often leave us with a sense of dissatisfaction and incompletion. I do wonder if that’s a subconscious feeling of being shortchanged when we can’t hear the words.

With Shakespeare productions, I noticed some big differences when I used subtitles. When I saw the 2015 Macbeth film at the cinema, I was initially disappointed. The soundtrack music seemed to be mixed very high, while the male actors all affected the same guttural, clenched-buttock delivery. This was a play I knew very well, and yet I could hardly understand a word that was being said.

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When Macbeth was released for home viewing, I watched it again – this time on my iPad, with the subtitles on. I enjoyed it a lot more, and the mumblecore approach didn’t bug me to the same extent.

A complete contrast was the 2012 BBC production The Hollow Crown, which struck me as being particularly beautiful in terms of sound. I watched this on a rattly portable DVD player (late at night, while working on a laborious email campaign), and even with the volume on the very lowest level, I could still hear pretty much everything. The subtitles did the rest. I was especially struck by the scenes with Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston as Henry IV and Prince Hal – they sounded like a couple of lions purring at one other.

Ralph Fiennes’ 2011 Coriolanus, which I also watched on the portable DVD player, was different again. It’s a first-rate example of a modern-day Shakespeare film, but the sound levels seemed to be all over the place. I suppose this captured the chaos and confusion of war, but it was also likely to wake up my sleeping family, so I turned it right down and largely relied on the subtitles. 

It was a similar story with the 2016 BBC production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I watched this one on our (relatively) big-screen TV, and the problem was I had to keep turning it up because I couldn’t hear the dialogue, but then the soundtrack music would come crashing in (several notches higher than the dialogue) and I had to turn it down again, which meant I couldn’t hear the dialogue, which… You get the picture. At times like this the subtitles are a godsend.

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As it was CBeebies that started all this for me, I’m delighted to say that their two Shakespeare productions, 2016’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and 2018’s The Tempest, have very good sound. But these are lively, exuberant productions with a lot going on, so the subtitles can certainly help to keep track of it all.

So we’ve established that I firmly believe Shakespearean subtitles are good for us. But how does this actually work? My guess is that because we’re seeing it, hearing it AND reading it, this means that more of it goes in – and more of it stays there.

I have to admit that some of my readers have reacted angrily – even viscerally – to my periodic urging to switch on the subtitles. I’m not quite sure why this idea is so offensive to some. I think some people were taught in school that Shakespeare’s plays were “supposed to be heard”, and therefore experiencing them any other way is wrong. It’s an interesting position to take, but I can’t find it within myself to agree.

In my opinion, reading Shakespeare’s works is brilliant, because it gets us nearer to the experience of being Shakespeare’s original actors. In fact, it gets us closer to the experience of actually being Shakespeare.

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I know from my years as a cinema journalist that a lot of people do have an instinctive dislike of subtitles. With the exception of Amélie (way, way back in 2001) very few subtitled films have succeeded at the UK box office. But using subtitles is something that anyone can easily train themselves to do. After all, if you can read a tweet or a text message, or a picture caption, a subtitle doesn’t exactly present a challenge.

Now, before you ask, no, I don’t know if there are any studies or books on this subject, and frankly I don’t care. I KNOW that it works for me. It’s helped my son learn to read, and it’s given me a better understanding of Shakespeare’s texts. And the chances are it’ll work for you as well. So what are you waiting for? Whack on the subtitles, and get stuck into some Shakespeare.

“I love the fact that the Balcony Scene in Romeo and Juliet technically doesn’t exist…” We asked Six Questions about Shakespeare to Melissa Barrett of South West England-based Sun & Moon Theatre

Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?

“After Twelfth Night finished in November 2017, we took a break over Christmas, but it’s hard to not reflect on ideas, even when you’re meant to be taking a break. At the moment, we’re looking at Romeo and Juliet, as David (my Co-Artistic Director) and I have a tendency to flip back and forth between plays that we’re itching to do. In 2016, David was eager for us to do The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in 2017 I was keen to do Twelfth Night, and now he has a strong urge to do Romeo and Juliet – a play driven by youth – while we’re still fairly young!

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“We’re getting so much from working on Romeo and Juliet, especially in terms of exciting conversations in these pre-production stages – it feels like striking a match before the candle lights up. We’ve re-read the play, re-watched some adaptations – including the 1936, 1968 and 1996 films, and even an adaptation of the ballet – for inspiration, and chatted about past productions we’ve seen, discussing what works and what doesn’t (for us) in all of these adaptations, and with the play itself. Our intention is also, while we cut the script, to compare the Quartos and the First Folio while we edit, in order to create a script that we’re happy with. Finding our production concept is currently dominating conversation, as Romeo and Juliet is so frequently done that it is tricky to find a concept that really excites or feels unique without being gimmicky. But more importantly the goal is to find a concept that feels fitting right now for audiences today, and yet also feels like a Sun & Moon production, as we’ve been exploring and building our identity as a company over the last few years.

Our summer open-air show is As You Like It. We’re excited about this one as, truth be told, we’re not big fans of this play, and we are hoping by doing it ourselves we will understand why people love it. We have a concept that we’re looking forward to getting our teeth into, and already we are finding wonderful moments within the play as we begin our text sessions with our actors.

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What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?

“I think I would have been surprised by how Shakespeare is such a huge part of my life, and that it would invoke such wonderful conversations between friends and loved ones. I’ve had chats about characters, themes, the plays themselves, which could have gone on for hours and hours. When I was first introduced to Shakespeare at 13, when beginning Year 9 at school, I had been warned by others that Shakespeare would be really hard and really boring. To my absolute surprise, I loved it (I give a lot of credit to my old CGP Macbeth book). It felt like a world had opened up and my imagination was captured. I loved reading text that could have so many possible meanings, and exploring such fascinating, layered characters. Did I know at 13 that I would have loved working with Shakespeare so much that I’d do a Staging Shakespeare Masters degree and that I’d set up a theatre company revolving around it? I definitely would have been surprised, but hopefully in a positive way.

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“Being more specific, and based on what we’re doing now, I would have been stunned that different versions of the plays exist – Quartos and Folios – and how editors have such an impact on how audience and readers perceive the plays. I first discovered that in my third year studying English at university. Younger me would definitely have been surprised by how much I love the First Folio and how I use it as a tool in acting and directing. It is such a joy of a text to use, and I love how many discoveries you make and clues/inspirations you get from just looking at First Folio edition (or even a Quarto!). It is like a mini director in the text offering guidance.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?

“Interestingly enough, it may well be the character I most recently played, Viola from Twelfth Night. I remember asking a professional who would come in to work with us on monologues while training with Year Out Drama, a lovely man named Alec Wilson, which character I should consider for speeches. He recommended that I look at Viola, as I seem like a natural Viola. For some bizarre reason, I didn’t follow up on that until four or five years later, when I was cast as Viola in a production while training for my MFA. I suddenly realised what Alec was talking about – that part fit me like a glove.

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“I can relate to Viola. While cross-dressing Rosalind feels more like a natural extrovert, Viola is a natural introvert like myself, who has to play an extrovert in a character like Cesario, and does enjoy this taste of liberty via performance (until things go wrong). I relate to Viola’s empathy, her compassion for others, her diplomacy, her passion, her love for her family, and her personal neuroticism – like me, she’s a dweller who worries a LOT, and has to force herself to not think about it: ‘Time thou must untangle this’. She is a quiet figure, but when it matters, boldness will come to her and she is no pushover – I hope that is me too. On a more trivial note, like Viola, I am no athlete (always had Ds for PE at school), and identify with her terror at being in any kind of physical fight. It’s why we had a boxing scene early on in which she fails against another woman (Orsino’s household, in our interpretation, were all women pretending to be men, partly to highlight Orsino’s denseness) and why we usually cut the ‘A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man’. We didn’t want her argument to be gendered. Our philosophy was, ‘Viola, women can fight, but you can’t’. Playing her in our own production throughout 2017 was an absolute joy.

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“There is the touch of the Hermia in me too – five foot two, in a very loving relationship, but prone to passion and fieriness when crossed, inherited partly from my loving, yet fiery-natured Irish family… ‘Though she be but little she is fierce’. A touch of fiery Hermia spirit helps when running a theatre company!”

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?

“‘A good leg will fall, a straight back will stoop, a black beard will turn white, a curled pate will grow bald, a fair face will wither, a full eye will wax hollow, but a good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon’ (Henry V). It partly inspired the name of our company.”

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What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact, myth, story or anecdote?

“I love the fact that the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet technically doesn’t exist. It has become so engrained in our culture that it gets called ‘The Balcony Scene’, when not once is a balcony mentioned. We’re currently debating whether or not we have one in our own production! It allegedly emerged in Thomas Otway’s play, The History and Fall of Caius Marius, which was inspired heavily by Romeo and Juliet. Otway staged his equivalent scene ‘in the balcony’ and David Garrick used a balcony in his staging of Romeo and Juliet. It’s one of example in how much I love that productions in their place and time can have such a significant impact on cultural consciousness, to the extent that Juliet’s balcony via her ‘house’ (Casa di Giulietta) is an attraction that tourists flock to every year, and that there is even a Juliet Club, in which people write to ‘Juliet’ and get replies from volunteers who answer as ‘Juliet’ – a mythical character. That in itself is fascinating, as it all started when people left letters by Juliet’s ‘Tomb’ back in the 1930s, and the caretaker was so moved that he sent replies, starting this wonderfully bizarre movement. The power of Shakespeare is phenomenal sometimes.”

You have the power to cast anyone in the world (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?

“I love Classic Hollywood so I have a tendency to cast people in my head who couldn’t possibly be cast because they’re no longer around, and that style of performance is long gone. I’m a big fan of the film The Philadelphia Story,  and watching Katharine Hepburn in that, I would have loved to have seen her take on Beatrice, perhaps with Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart as Benedick.

“Sticking to  Much Ado,  and being more realistic in terms of casting living performers, I love Damien Lewis and Sarah Parish’s performances as Benedick and Beatrice in the Shakespeare Retold adaptation. My partner and I always say that we wish they could play the roles in the actual play. Plus I recently read an interview with Helen McCrory and she said she’d love to play Beatrice opposite Lewis (her husband since 2007) as Benedick. They’d be fantastic.

“Oh, I can’t stop now! I saw Charles Dance recently do a talk and I asked him which Shakespeare roles would he love to perform that he hasn’t played yet, and he said Malvolio, Titus and Jacques – I would love to see him play all three!

Melissa Barrett is the Co-Artistic Director of Sun & Moon Theatre, which she founded with her partner, David Johnson. They will be touring with Shakespeare’s As You Like It in July 2018.

Thursday 21 June – University of Exeter North Piazza, Exeter
Saturday 30 June – Coleshill Organics, Oxfordshire
Sunday 8 July – The RSC Dell Open-Air Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Saturday 14 July – St George’s Park, Bristol (Bristol Shakespeare Festival)
Wednesday 25 & Thursday 26 July – Poltimore House, Exeter
Sunday 29 July – Queen’s Drive Space, Exmouth

Go here to find out more about Sun & Moon Theatre.

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).

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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”.

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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.

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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”.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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
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“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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.