“I’d like to see Barack Obama play Brutus in Julius Caesar…” Shakespeare Magazine meets Dr Erin Sullivan of the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon

Dr Erin Sullivan of The Shakespeare Institute

Dr Erin Sullivan of The Shakespeare Institute

 
Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?
ERIN SULLIVAN: “Right now I’m working on Shakespeare and digital technology, so my focus is on how technology is influencing or shaping the performance of Shakespeare today. Some of that has to do with the development of live broadcasting, online streaming, or where people might see a production through a screen digitally. Some of it is where directors are using digital technology on stage, live video on stage or a TV screen maybe to show a 24-hour news cycle alongside a Roman play or something like that.

“Then the last area of it is looking at directors or artists that are thinking about whether it’s possible to take performance fully into the digital sphere – for instance, stage a play using social media on Twitter or Instagram, or use that in a hybrid way with production.

Andrew Scott as Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre

Andrew Scott as Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre

 
“What am I getting from it? Lots! It’s really fun because it means getting to go and see lots of different things. There’s lots of things I’ve been to, thinking it’s not for my project – and then a screen appears and I start rifling through my bag for a notebook! I think, in general, I’m really interested in how people take hold of Shakespeare, what people of different generations have found exciting or emotionally engaging about his plays. Technology has really proliferated and become such an important part of our lives in the last 20 years. That’s one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in my own life, so I think that’s why I was drawn to it.

“A lot of what I’m looking at is still big theatre companies like the RSC or the National Theatre and sometimes slightly smaller ones like the Almeida, but it has also opened up a whole world of what you might call ‘grassroots Shakespeare’ – amateur versus professional. A lot of people are doing Shakespeare themselves in lots of ways and using things like Twitter to explore a character or look at the text in a new way.”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
“Gosh, there must be many things. I know for certain when I first came here to do my MA, the thing that surprised me most was, in some ways, that I didn’t know anything about the different versions of different plays. So, the idea that for Hamlet there were three different printings of the play either during Shakespeare’s time or shortly after his death, and that there are some significant differences between those printings – the same with King Lear – that’s something that I remember really blew my mind when I first got here.

Quarto edition of King Lear, 1608

Quarto edition of King Lear, 1608

 
“It’s interesting that in a play like King Lear there can be one line and different versions of that line that actors or scholars can choose from, because although the shape of the play itself is still pretty much the same, there are a lot of moments when you can pick your favourite version. There’s a bit more scope for playing with the text or reinventing it at times that we might not expect. It seems a long time ago, when I came to study, but that’s the thing that surprised me the most.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?
“There’s lots of ones in different moments that I identify with – Brutus with his pensive deliberateness or Falstaff and his fun, but I think the one that first came to mind was Rosalind (As You Like It). In the way of, hopefully, her vivaciousness, her determination to get things her way, but in a good sense! Really going after what she wants, really embracing love and friendship, and that being an important part of their life. That’s maybe one that I would aspire to be like, I should say, as opposed to saying that’s me.”

Rosalind (As You Like It)

Rosalind (As You Like It)

 
If I asked you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“Definitely something from Hamlet, and all the speeches came to mind. I remember one quote that always really struck me when I was younger studying was Hamlet saying ‘there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so’. I thought that was so true. There’s so much black and white truth, but then so much of it is also about the way that we take a certain idea and make it mean something for us. Also, at the darker ends of things, people can really twist things back and forth. So, yes, that was the first one that came to mind.”

What is your favourite Shakespeare myth?
“I like the one about Shakespeare poaching deer at Charlecote. I think just because it makes him seem like kind of a lovable rogue! I guess it’s a Falstaffian or Eastcheap sort of side in that it’s not really that bad of a thing to do, but a bit naughty and a bit funny. Also it very much locates him here in, not in Stratford itself, but out here in the Warwickshire area. Just trying to think about what he would have been like and what he would have got up to.”

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?
“Gosh, there’s so many good ones! I know who I want to cast, but let me think about who I want them to play… Okay, so I’d like to see Barack Obama as Brutus in Julius Caesar. I thought Henry V might be quite nice too, but now that he’s sidelined from power a little, I’d like to see him play that very pensive, thoughtful, would-be politician and see what he makes of it. I think he’d be really good, too! I think he’s very intelligent and quite cerebral, but also funny.”

President Obama with actor Leonardo DiCaprio

President Obama with actor Leonardo DiCaprio

 
“I think he’d be a good Henry V too because he can be fiery and rousing and, I think, he’s got such a nice sense of humour and I think that nice act at the end of Henry V with the wooing of Catherine, I think he’d be pretty good in. Maybe if I could have the two shows in rep, I’d have him doing both! That would be my ideal.”

For more on Dr Erin Sullivan, visit her blog, Digital Shakespeares.

“Elizabethan English presents a certain barrier to comprehension…” Author Hugh Macdonald explains why he decided to “translate” three Shakespeare plays into modern English

“My purpose in rendering Shakespeare into modern English is to enhance the enjoyment and understanding of audiences in the theatre. The translation is not designed for children or for dummies, but for educated grown-ups for whom Elizabethan English presents a certain barrier to comprehension.

Shakespeare in Modern English
“When reading Shakespeare, most of us need annotations to explain allusions, mystifying word order, obsolete vocabulary, and deceptive usages of one kind or another which impede understanding, or at least prevent us reading the text at a pace at which we might read Wilde or Shaw plays.

“In the theatre, on the other hand, we have no notes to help us, so many of those baffling utterances pass us by. We still get the drift of the words, we sense the dramatic interplay, especially in a good performance, and we enjoy the poetry, but it is an incomplete enjoyment since much of what is said is not understood.

“As an example, no one who arrives at the theatre unprepared can be expected to make sense of Prospero when in Act V, Scene 1 of The Tempest he says the following lines, however well he speaks them:

‘As great to me as late, and supportable
To make the dear loss have I means much weaker
Than you may call to comfort you…’

“The meaning is there in the text, and none of these words is obsolete, but it takes a second or two to disentangle it, by which time (in the theatre) the play has moved on.

prospero
“The experience of seeing Shakespeare is for most English speakers (and I naturally exclude Shakespeare scholars since they are fluent in his language – or should be) is not unlike seeing a play acted in a foreign language with which we are very familiar though not completely fluent. Much is thus missed.

“When Shakespeare is translated into other languages, the preferred solution is, in most countries that I am aware of, a translation from the nineteenth century, now hallowed by a certain tradition, and not presenting the listener with the sort of difficulties that English speakers face when hearing Shakespeare in the original.

“As far as I know, Germans do not perform Shakespeare in 16th-century German nor the French in Renaissance French. They prefer Schlegel’s or Guizot’s or Laroche’s version for the very good reason that these versions bring the text fully to life for a modern audience. They could be said to get more today out of seeing these plays in the theatre than Shakespeare’s compatriots do.

“Even scholars will admit that Shakespeare is sometimes very hard to understand. Countless passages show editors disagreeing about interpretation, and many of the jokes are notoriously baffling. In performance directors will normally cut lines or passages of which no one can make sense, or at least of which the audience is unlikely to grasp the meaning.

Rosalind
“A modern translation has to opt for an interpretation that has at least some likelihood of being correct, although sometimes the words are clear but the meaning is not. It will be objected, no doubt, that the language is too fine to be meddled with and the poetry sacrosanct. Many people have committed to memory familiar lines whose  replacement will always jar, even when the lines have been stored in the memory without being understood.

“A modern version may provoke an astonished ‘So that’s what it means!’ as readily as ‘Don’t trample on my Shakespeare!’ The world is not yet ready for ‘To live or not to live, that is the question’, but it can have no strong objection to ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely actors’.

“As for the poetry, I believe that blank verse is still a superb vehicle for the modern language; so long as verse is rendered as verse and prose as prose, the gains will outweigh the losses. My translations respect rhyme in blank verse as well as the meter.

“Songs I have left untranslated. I have replaced the second person singular (thou and thee) with the plural form, since that is universally adopted in modern speech. Again, there is some loss, since there are social and personal implications in the alternate use of thee and you. But since those implications cannot be instinctively grasped by a modern audience, the gain is greater than the loss. I have adopted modern word order wherever possible, although occasionally when an archaic word order offers no confusion, I have left it unchanged.

Coriolanus
“What exactly is modern English? I believe the best solution for translating Shakespeare is the language the Edwardians would have recognized as stylish and good. I avoid slang as far as possible, even when Shakespeare throws in words that were slang to him, and I avoid recent neologisms that sound sharply anachronistic.

“I believe it is possible to reflect Shakespeare’s most elevated language in the modern equivalent, and also to adopt a more colloquial tone when he does something similar. As an experienced translator of opera for singing, I find my motives and aims are the same when translating Shakespeare: to make the work better understood in the theatre.

“Since the current fashion is to sing opera in the original language to audiences who do not understand that language, the problem of intelligibility is acute, only crudely addressed by supertitles and the like. Opera audiences have the music to assist understanding, or sometimes to distract them from understanding, so that the loss of a few lines is not so critical as in the spoken theatre.

“I expect the same irrational responses to my attempts to translate Shakespeare as those levelled at opera in English, but although I have no desire to banish Shakespeare in the original from the stage, I persist in thinking that the alternative of performing his plays in a modern translation will bring enlightenment and pleasure to many.”

Shakespeare in Modern English
Three Plays (As You Like It / Coriolanus / The Tempest)
Translated by Hugh Macdonald
Go here to order it from Amazon
Go here to order it from Troubador Books
Visit Hugh Macdonald’s website

(Classic images courtesy of the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive)

For nearly three decades, actor-director Kenneth Branagh has been bringing the Bard to the big screen. Kelli Marshall asks: has he earned the title of Shakespearean Auteur?

Auteurs are filmmakers whose personal influence and artistic control are so great that, despite the collaborative process of moviemaking, we recognize them as the authors of their films. Auteurs you may have heard of include Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino.

Henry V

Henry V

What about filmmakers who consistently work within the realm of Shakespeare? Can we consider, for example, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Julie Taymor and Kenneth Branagh masters of Shakespeare onscreen?

A recent issue of Shakespeare Quarterly takes on the first four directors, so let’s consider Kenneth Branagh – who has brought to screen, in some form or another, nearly 20 percent of Shakespeare’s works.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Branagh has directed film adaptations of Henry V (1989), Much Ado about Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) and As You Like It (2006). His 1995 film In The Bleak Midwinter (US title: A Midwinter’s Tale) features a struggling actor who strives to put on a production of Hamlet in a village church. Most recently, rumors have circulated that Martin Scorsese will produce a sort of documentary with Branagh as Macbeth.

Hamlet

Hamlet

Even Branagh’s non-Shakespearean ventures feature Shakespearean themes. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) contains Hamlet’s existential ideas, a Titus Andronicus-like house of spare body parts, and echoes of Caliban as Robert De Niro’s monster laments onscreen: “Yes, I speak, and read, and think, and know the ways of man”.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Additionally, Branagh’s Hollywood blockbusters like Thor (2011) and Cinderella (2014) consist of, respectively, a flawed hero who must earn the right to be king and a fairy-tale world that Branagh has, in interviews, likened to The Winter’s Tale. Finally, also reaffirming Branagh’s association with cinematic Shakespeare are his turn as Iago in Oliver Parker’s Othello (1995) and as Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn (2011).

As You Like It

As You Like It

Another reason we can consider Branagh an auteur of Shakespeare onscreen is his loyalty to British Shakespeare actors and production team. This deliberate choice contributes not only to Branagh’s style, but also to the films’ seeming credibility. In other words, trained British actors “doing Shakespeare” are theoretically more palatable for many audiences than someone like Al Pacino, for example, whose American accent was ridiculed in his Richard III-based documentary, Looking for Richard (1996).

Othello

Othello

Like John Ford, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino, Kenneth Branagh recycles collaborators. He consistentely employs Tim Harvey (production designer), Patrick Doyle (composer) and Roger Lanser (cinematographer) as well as core cast members like Brian Blessed, Derek Jacobi, Richard Clifford and Richard Briers. Indeed, when these names appear onscreen, we know we’re getting a Branagh film.

That said, Branagh also stocks his films with multinational and multiracial casts. He knows that, in order for his Shakespeare adaptations to succeed in the US, American stars like Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Kevin Kline and Bryce Dallas Howard can help boost those box-office receipts.

In The Bleak Midwinter

In The Bleak Midwinter

Speaking of casting, Kenneth Branagh also repeatedly casts himself in his own adaptations. Like Spike Lee and Woody Allen, this makes him a director/auteur who unquestionably stamps his own personality onto his body of work. Aside from As You Like It, in which he appears only via voiceover, each of Branagh’s Shakespeare films stars Kenneth Branagh.

Moreover, as Jessica Maerz reminds readers in Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century, virtually all of Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations are based on previous theatrical productions in which he starred at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Renaissance Theatre Company. Again, this decision lends a sense of credibility to Branagh’s filmic work.

My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn

As a Shakespeare film director, Branagh mostly eschews early modern settings and costumes, a decision that reinforces his desire to bring Shakespeare to the masses. Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet offer audiences a vague notion of the past, and the Shepperton soundstage for Love’s Labour’s Lost has been described as being “decked out with walls, willows and punts to make a kind of ‘movie Oxbridge’.”

Only with As You Like It does Branagh give viewers a specific historical time and place: the film’s title card begins with: “In the latter part of the 19th century, Japan opened up for trade with the West”. For Branagh then, moving around Shakespeare physically and temporally makes it seem as though he, as the Washington Post once noted, is finally “blowing away the forbidding academic dust”.

Director Branagh with the stars of Thor

Director Branagh with the stars of Thor

Finally, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations (and many of his non-Shakespeare films) include rich mise-en-scenes and sweeping cinematography, both of which serve to illuminate Shakespeare’s poetry and prose.

Recall the lushness of color, texture, food, and costume within Branagh’s Much Ado and As You Like It, both visually romantic films. Even his Hamlet – with its wintry setting, the never-ending streams of gilded mirrors, and the hardened stone walls of Blenheim Palace – appear visually luxurious on a 30-foot screen, not to mention in 70mm (as it premiered).

Likewise, Branagh’s cinematographic choices – specifically sequence shots, or scenes that unfold in one long take, and Steadicam tracking shots that encircle characters – work with the flow of Shakespeare’s language. Perhaps the most memorable example of both of these stylistic choices is his four-minute tracking shot in Henry V, in which Branagh’s Prince Hal carries his dead luggage boy (Christian Bale) across the solider-strewn battlefield as ‘Non Nobis’ somberly plays on the soundtrack.

Cinderella

Cinderella

Like other filmmakers who’ve been labelled auteurs, Kenneth Branagh is drawn to distinct stories, themes and motifs. He commits to a core cast and crew (that often includes himself). He also refuses to set Shakespeare contemporaneously and possesses a passionate desire to bring Shakespeare’s language to the masses.

Finally, he boasts a signature directorial style and production aesthetic. But through it all, Kenneth Branagh almost always helps to shine a light on Shakespeare – and really, isn’t that what a master of Shakespeare onscreen should do?

Last month saw the launch of Shakespeare By Design’s new jewellery collection The Noble Fool at The Arter in Stratford-upon-Avon

[Images by Julia Skupny]

Inspired by Touchstone from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, The Noble Fool is a new handmade collection from Shakespeare By Design.

Little Fool necklace in sterling silver

Little Fool necklace in sterling silver

Jewellery designer Jane Nead has meticulously researched all aspects of As You Like It, from Shakespeare’s source material to the play itself and the costumes used in modern productions. The attention to every detail is apparent in each piece of jewellery.

Little Fool stud earrings

Little Fool stud earrings

“Early in my research,” says Jane, “I discovered that Shakespeare wrote the character for Robert Armin, a member of his company who was also a Goldsmith. Touchstone always ‘tells it like it is’ in the play – he is the measure of all things, exposing counterfeit and falsehood, much like a real touchstone, which is used to test precious metals.”

The signature pieces with a genuine touchstone

The signature pieces with a genuine touchstone

The Noble Fool range consists of necklaces, bracelets and earrings, including the ‘Little Fool’ collection, based on the statue of Touchstone in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon.

Touchflower and Little Fool necklaces

Touchflower and Little Fool necklaces

The collection’s signature piece is a two-necklace set that consists of an intricately designed pendant box. This represents Touchstone stepping out of his court persona. The beautiful piece also contains a fragment of genuine touchstone as used by jewellers.

Large diamond pendant

Large diamond pendant

The second necklace is of a Touchflower, inspired by the Forest of Arden. It’s every bit as delicate as the first piece, with each petal of the flower containing a touch needle that works alongside the touchstone.

Large Touchflower pendant

Large Touchflower pendant

The Noble Fool range is available in sterling silver, 22K gold and 18K rose gold plating. The range is exclusive to The Arter, a hidden treasure of a gift shop.

Specialising in handmade designs, The Arter is based in Hall’s Croft, the former home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna.

Go here to find out more about Jane Nead and Shakespeare By Design.

Shakespeare By Design on Facebook.

25th Shakespeare Festival at the Globe in Neuss, Germany showcases Shakespeare talent from around the world

This weekend, the 25th annual Shakespeare Festival at the Globe in Neuss, Germany reaches the end of an eclectic programme of 13 productions, featuring Shakespeare performers from around the world.

The festival commenced on 28 of May, concluding on 27 June. It anticipated plenty of laughter from a total of six comedies, including Twelfth Night in Catalan and a cross-dressed As You Like It.

SH2014_Globe_3_FotoChristophKrey

The festival also featured three tragedies and an adapted history play featuring all of Shakespeare’s kings.

The 500-seat Neuss Globe theatre was designed in 1987 by impresario Reinhard Schiele, who took his inspiration from London’s reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe.

In 1991 it was transported to its current site beside a racecourse in the city of Neuss in western Germany, where it has produced its Shakespeare Festival every summer since.

SHF2015-THE DUKE_LD_FotoEat a Crocodile
This year’s programme included the German premiere of a Portuguese-language Hamlet set in Rio de Janeiro, and an “impro-opera” by Munich-based ensemble La Triviata, in which four singers and a pianist composed and sang an improvised Shakespearean opera in response to keywords suggested by the audience.

In honour of the festival’s silver jubilee, British director Dan Jemmett created a quirkily dramatic production of Measure for Measure, set in a dilapidated funeral parlour and performed by his company Eat a Crocodile.

bremershakespearecompany_Shakespeares Koenige_Foto-®Menke_1490
Die Theaterachse from Salzburg presented a fast-paced take on The Merry Wives of Windsor with piano accompaniment, and Lautten Compagney Berlin performed a selection of English Renaissance music in A Midsummer Night’s Fantasies, with German film and television star Dominique Horwitz as Puck.

On Tuesday 23 June, Gustav Peter Wöhler and the WDR radio choir united in Shakespeare Theatre A Capella, and Stephen Jameson’s company Mountview Productions will bring the festival to a close with three performances of Love’s Labour’s Lost from 25 June onwards.

Go here for full programme details and to book tickets.

Issue 07 of Shakespeare Magazine is out now, celebrating 425 years of Great Shakespeare Actors

Ken Cover 07
Kenneth Branagh is cover star of Shakespeare Magazine 07, in keeping with the issue’s theme of Great Shakespeare Actors.

The venerable Stanley Wells discusses his new book on the subject, handily titled Great Shakespeare Actors, while Antony Sher reveals what it’s like to play Falstaff – the subject of his own new book Year of the Fat Knight.

We also go behind the scenes of the excellent My Shakespeare TV series, while British actress Zoe Waites chats about heading to the USA to play As You Like It’s Rosalind with Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Other highlights include Shakespeare in Turkey, Shakespeare Opera, and the real story of Shakespeare and the Essex Plot.

All this, and the Russian fans who made their own edition of David Tennant’s Richard II

Go here to read Shakespeare Magazine 07 right now.

And don’t forget, you can read all seven issues of Shakespeare Magazine here.

As always, Shakespeare Magazine is completely FREE.

Actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh receives prestigious Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award in Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare superstar Kenneth Branagh.

Shakespeare superstar Kenneth Branagh.

Sir Kenneth Branagh has received the 2015 Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award.

The distinguished Shakespearean actor/director and award-winning international film star was chosen to receive the award by representatives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Institute chose.
The award was presented on Saturday 25 April at the Shakespeare Birthday Luncheon held at the Theatre Gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Sponsored by Stratford-based jewellers George Pragnell Limited, the award is given annually “for outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare or in the general advancement of Shakespearean knowledge and understanding”.
Last year’s award was presented to Sir Nicholas Hytner. Other acclaimed recipients include Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Peter Hall, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Harriet Walter.

Belfast-born Branagh joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984, where he received acclaim for his performances in Hamlet and Henry V. His most recent Shakespeare production, Macbeth (Manchester International Festival and the Armory, New York), marked his 25th Shakespeare production.

Five-times Oscar nominated Branagh has directed and starred in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s plays, including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Hamlet, Love Labour’s Lost and As You Like It.

He has recently announced the launch of his own Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company which will stage Shakespeare plays The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet.

Sir Ken said: “I am honoured to be this year’s recipient of the distinguished Pragnell Shakespeare award. To be in the company of such illustrious predecessors is both touching and meaningful. I look forward very much to returning to Stratford, a town I love, and of course, to a delightful lunch to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday!”

Shakespeare Magazine's Emma Wheatley with Sir Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare Magazine’s Emma Wheatley with Sir Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Professor Stanley Wells, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Honorary President said: “Kenneth Branagh is more than worthy of this prestigious award, both as a great actor and director of Shakespeare on stage and as an innovative, prolific and highly successful director and actor in films of Shakespeare that have brought his plays to global audiences who would never otherwise have been able to enjoy them.”

The President and Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon was distinguished historian Michael Wood, while the toast to the Immortal Memory of William Shakespeare was delivered by writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth.

North West music outfit The Nearlys release haunting new version of Shakespeare’s ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ in time for the Bard’s birthday this week

The Nearlys_UnderTheGreenwoodTree_Everday Records

Here’s a musical treat to celebrate the week of Shakespeare’s birthday. Based in the North West of England, musical outfit The Nearlys, comprising vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Helen Walker and her drummer husband Mike, have recorded a mellow and haunting folk and jazz-tinged new version of the song ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ from Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Can you tell us why you chose this Shakespeare lyric and how you constructed the musical track?

Helen Walker: “It was initially written for a choir competition, the rules of which required that I wrote to a lyric that is in the public domain. I usually write my own lyrics, although I have also set ‘The Skylark’ by James Hogg to music. After a lot of research I chose ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ because it inspired me. I compose at the piano and then arrange as it’s recorded in the studio. I sang and played all the instruments on the song except for the drums, which were played by my husband Mike Walker.”

Would you consider doing a whole album of Shakespeare songs? I’d like to hear your take on ‘The Rain it Raineth Every Day’, for instance…

“I’ve never thought of it – but it’s a great idea and I’ll never work with a better lyricist! I’m just in the process of completing The Nearlys’ LP, due out later this year. But I’ll have a try at composing for ‘The Rain it Raineth Every Day’ and let you know how I get on. It would be nice to release something further to mark Shakespeare’s 400th [anniversary of death] next year.”

Go here to listen to ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ by The Nearlys (released by Everyday Records)

Coincidentally, London-based actor Josh Neesby has just won a Royal Shakespeare Company competition with an electronic version of the same song, recorded as ‘Come Hither.

Go here to listen to ‘Come Hither’ by Josh Neesby.

An intrepid crew of London-based Shakespeareans have just made theatrical history with the first cue script performance at Bankside’s Rose Playhouse since 1606. Lizzie Conrad Hughes of the salon: collective explains how they did it

Akilah Dale as Phoebe, Ricardo Freitas as Silvius

Akilah Dale as Phoebe, Ricardo Freitas as Silvius

We call it Shakespeare: Direct. Why the name? Because working from cue script parts in the style of Early Modern players – the first modern actors – means that you are directed directly through the text by the play’s writer, just as his own players were – so you are in direct contact with Shakespeare.

Cue script work means you prepare your part, your costume, and your character, but you do not know who else is in your scene, what they will say, or do, or how that will affect you, until you both meet on stage before an audience. And it is not enough to stand on stage and just speak – you have to deliver a performance. And you have to listen like your life depends on it not to miss your cue.

Ricardo Freitas as Hubert, Paula Parducz as Prince Arthur

Ricardo Freitas as Hubert, Paula Parducz as Prince Arthur

It has been said that cue script acting puts you right in the heart of the moment, but at no time are you in control of it – it’s a bit like juggling fire. This fire juggling makes the work very alive and gives us a glimpse of what performances may have been like back in Shakespeare’s day, with vibrantly alive actors hanging on each other’s every word.

Plus, sometimes an actor will receive a cue more than once – in other words, Shakespeare set up his actors to attempt to interrupt each other, which also helped to keep the action on stage fresh and exciting.

Anna Hawkes as Lady Percy

Anna Hawkes as Lady Percy

The moment I discovered The Rose Playhouse in May 2014, hidden under an office building beside Southwark Bridge, I knew what I had to do. The Rose is the site of Philip Henslowe’s playhouse, home to the Admiral’s Men, and site of Will Shakespeare’s own apprenticeship as player and playwright. It’s two minutes’ walk from Shakespeare’s Globe on the Bankside of the Thames, but it’s The Real Thing. And it’s very cold and they have no plumbing, as it’s a theatre in an archaeological site.

I’d been experimenting with First Folio text-based cue script acting for a few months, encouraged by my husband and fellow Shakespeare geek Dewi Hughes, and a growing group of fellow actors. We were gradually unearthing the acting secrets buried in the text by their writer/director and previously excavated by cue script pioneer Patrick Tucker. I’d read his book, Secrets of Acting Shakespeare, and been wildly inspired to try it out.

Lawrence Carmichael looking over the remains of The Rose

Lawrence Carmichael looking over the remains of The Rose

The work was embryonic still, but fascinating and ridiculously addictive. Finding The Rose, the spiritual home of cue script acting, it seemed tailor-made – all we had to do was bring the two things together.

On Sunday 29 March 2015 we performed at The Rose before an invited audience. There were 20 of us – 12 who knew what they were in for, and eight cue script novices who had no idea. We normally work in the studios at The Cockpit in Marylebone, so the echoing cavern and enigmatic great lake that covers The Rose meant a real change of pace.

Lizzie Conrad Hughes as Cleopatra

Lizzie Conrad Hughes as Cleopatra

We presented ten scenes from plays ranging from King John to As You Like It. Each scene begins and ends with a bell rung by the Book-holder – the prompter, who sits in the audience. Prompting was built into the process of the playhouses – their audiences knew they were watching a play and had no problem when a prompt was required. Nor did ours on Sunday. One audience member commented that it made her feel a part of the creative process, as the scene was created before her eyes.

Kim Hardy as Hotspur, Lawrence Carmichael as Northumberland

Kim Hardy as Hotspur, Lawrence Carmichael as Northumberland

Everyone taking part in this work did an all-day class to learn all the hidden secrets of the First Folio and get a feeling for being directed by the text. Then they received their part (around 40 lines and associated cues), which they had to study for text clues before their first one hour session with their ‘Verse Nurser’.

At this point we make sure they have any necessary info about their character and the story so far in the play, and check that they understand all their words and are on track with their study. They then get off book before session two, which is more about the physical performance, including potential movement in the scene.

Camilla_Greenwell_SC_Rose_LOWRES_017
We have historical precedent for this – and besides, it makes practical theatrical sense! ‘VN’ and line learning takes three weeks. On performance day, we had a practical session of entrances and exits, changes in costume, and any physical business. Again, there is precedent for this – it’s about the only kind of practical preparation there was before a performance in Shakespeare’s day.

Dominic Kelly as Worcester

Dominic Kelly as Worcester

The actual acting passes in a haze of mental and emotional fire that is almost impossible to describe. Kim Hardy, who’s done the work once before, commented: “It was a tremendous experience all round. The buzz was thrilling playing at The Rose.” John Kelley, on his first go, said: “A unique, emotional, unforgettable experience where I felt utterly supported and inspired by my fellow players.”

Everyone who’s tried it agrees: it’s addictive. It changes how you work with other actors, how you treat text, and how you feel about William Shakespeare: player, playwright, director, poet, genius, and best friend to the modern actor.

The company perform their closing jig

The company perform their closing jig

Anyone looking for more information on the salon: collective and Shakespeare: Direct (and the chance to join the next round), check out their details on The Cockpit’s website.

All images by Camilla Greenwell

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ‘Free Will’ program hands out free tickets to Shakespeare fans in Washington DC

The Tempest
Washington DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company has announced an expansion of its ‘Free For All’ program. The new ‘Free Will’ program will see the company give away 1,000 tickets to each of the season’s productions – which averages at an impressively generous 150-200 tickets a week.

Free For all was launched back in the summer of 1991, with The Merry Wives of Windsor performed under the stars for no charge. Over the years a staggering 500,000 audience members have been served with free Shakespeare.

“Our goal has been to offer free Shakespeare productions to as wide of an audience as possible,” says Artistic Director Michael Khan, “and to make it accessible to diverse audiences. People who have never been to the theatre, people who are unable to pay for tickets, young people, students, people on fixed incomes.”

Every Monday at noon tickets are released for the coming week’s performances. Tickets can be claimed at the box office, through the website, or by calling the box office at 202-547-1122.

(Insider tip: calling the box office seems to be best way to claim tickets, as the high number of people attempting to claim tickets overwhelms the website!)

STC’s production of The Tempest (pictured) has recently opened, while As You Like It has just closed. Still to come are the season’s productions of The Metromaniacs, the Macbeth-inspired Dunsinane, Man of La Mancha, and Tartuffe.

Patrons may claim up to 4 tickets per week, but are welcome to take advantage of Free Will more than once.

Check out the Free Will website here.
Check out the Free for All website here.