In the shocking light of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse revelations, it’s now very difficult to watch Shakespeare in Love. But there’s more: “This is a scandal that reaches many corners of our Shakespearean world, writes Brooke Thomas.

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What’s your favourite Shakespeare inspired film? For many of us, the 1998 classic Shakespeare in Love is the one we return to again and again. It’s a feel-good movie that we can share with anyone, not just our fellow bardophiles. It’s a warm, charming film that introduced a lot of people to Shakespeare and showed a fun side of Bill to some of those who’d been put off by dry school sermons. It’s got a great script, an amazing cast, and it won loads of Oscars.

It was also produced by serial sex abuser Harvey Weinstein.

The film’s female lead, Gwyneth Paltrow, has made a detailed and harrowing accusation against Weinstein. Her co-stars Judi Dench and Colin Firth have made statements condemning the producer. So has the film’s director, John Madden. Another co-star, Ben Affleck, is now enmeshed in a scandal of his own.

Harvey Weinstein, along with his brother Bob, was founder of the Miramax Company, and later the Weinstein Company. As well as giving us numerous classics of modern cinema, they were linked, via production, co-production or distribution, to several other Shakespeare films, including Prospero’s Books (1991), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1996), a version of Hamlet (2000) with Ethan Hawke, Kenneth Branagh’s Love’ Labour’s Lost (2000), “O” (2001), a modern-day reworking of Othello, and, later, Julie Taymor’s The Tempest (2010), Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2012) and Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015).
Another actress, Romola Garai, well known for her Shakespearean stage roles (including Cordelia to Ian McKellen’s King Lear), has come forward to share her own account of abuse by Weinstein.

The victim accounts paint Weinstein as a vulgar, cowardly man. Luring his victims into solo encounters, turning up to meetings in various states of undress, screaming at Paltrow after she’d dared tell her then boyfriend about his come-ons. Gross and leering in his dressing gown, the very embodiment of that well-known character – the casting couch pervert, the professor who would boost your grade, the boyfriend who paid for all those expensive dates. Nothing comes for free in this town, Sweetheart.

This is a scandal that reaches many corners of our Shakespearean world. How are we to feel? How are we to respond now we know these women who we admire so much, who gave performances we adore, were targeted behind the scenes by this predatory man?

Although it’s 401 years after his death, Shakespeare is still tainted by this, in a sense. We in the audience applauded Harvey Weinstein for giving us these films. We didn’t know the truth – that, to him, Shakespeare was just another thing to be abused and exploited. But Shakespeare tells us something very clear about such men of power – their reigns always end. They always fall.

When I started writing this piece I typed this inane opening line: “The entertainment industry has been shocked in recent weeks by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein.” It’s incorrect as well as dull. We’ve been furious, sickened, brimming over with outrage and solidarity for the victims, but shocked? How can we be?

As Meryl Streep commented in her statement about the allegations “The behavior is inexcusable, but the abuse of power familiar.”

I’m not saying we knew about these specific offences with this specific man – although some did allegedly enable Weinstein and they’ll have their own questions to answer in time. I’m saying that we’ve heard this story before. We know how this works.
One in five women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16 (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2013). This isn’t a rare and startling occurrence. This is something that we’re used to negotiating, in the workplace and beyond.

We live in a world where the 45th president of the United States was elected to office after we heard him confess to sexual assault on tape. Where an anonymous Hollywood agent’s quoted response to the evolving allegations against Weinstein was both dismissive and Shakespeare-defiling: “To me, it’s much ado about nothing… Welcome to Hollywood!”
Sexual assault is commonplace. An open secret. Usually dutifully derided in public and yet quietly accepted in some private spheres.

Some of the statements from Weinstein’s victims and others supporting them cite fear about their future career as a reason not to step forward before. They were intimidated, vulnerable, scared. They stopped working with Weinstein. Quietly advised others not to. The ones who were brave enough to kick up a stink were silenced. Paid off. Allegedly booted from future roles.

Women are still asked why they don’t always speak up about men like Weinstein. The simple answer is that usually we watch them – that professor, that producer, that executive, that rich or powerful lover, relative, or friend – walk away unscathed from our accusations. Have you ever had that nightmare where you’re trying to run but your limbs collapse under you like they’re made of paper? That’s how speaking up against these men feels. In the entertainment industry. In any industry. In this society.

If you do speak up, chances are you’ll get swept away in a wave of “But he’s such a nice guy!”, “That’s just how he is” and, of course, “Don’t make such a fuss.” That’s before you get to the inevitable victim-blaming questions. “Why did you meet in a private room?”, “Did you really tell him to stop?”, “But she carried on working for him afterwards?”

The reason I’m rehashing all this hideously familiar territory is that I cannot understate how brave Weinstein’s victims are for speaking out, how admirable and important their actions are. Did you know that only an estimated 15% of victims of sexual violence report it to the police? Speaking up about this is still subversive. Lavinia’s removed tongue and hands in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus are a grim, but apt, parallel for modern-day women. We are not supposed to tell. “I was expected to keep the secret,” Paltrow said.

Several excellent articles and threads have been circulating on social media about this situation. One by Helen Rosner includes the line: “The burden of defending a workplace from sexual predation cannot be carried alone by women and our whisper network.” The term “whisper network” resonated with me. We tell who we can. We try to protect each other from falling victim to these abusers. Because that’s all we’ve been able to do for so long. I think most women will recognise this culture – the necessary silence cut with urgent whispers. “Don’t be alone with him.” “Don’t pick up anything he drops.” You know this story. At least one in five of us didn’t hear the whispers. We know this story.

Through all the righteous anger, weariness and, frankly, bitterness that this is how things are, one emotion emerges strongest for me: hope.

If this powerful man can be publicly denounced for his abusive behaviour, why not the others? Finally, frustratingly slowly, things are changing. People are starting to believe women when they speak out. We’re lending courage to silent victims every time we applaud the people who have come forward. And supporting victims is finally being normalised by influential people across all industries. Justice is starting to catch up with the Weinsteins, the Saviles, the predatory monsters of this world.

I hope they’re watching. The others. The abusers hiding behind their power, their money, our fading fear. I hope they see Harvey Weinstein fall and know a sea change is coming. The whisper networks are watching too, and we’ll no longer hold our tongues.

Hark! Now I hear them.

Official website for Rape Crisis England & Wales

Last year we caught up with actor and author Nick Asbury while he was co-starring in Shakespeare in Love: The Play. He entertained us with tales of his Macbeth-quoting father, what it means to commute between London and Stratford-upon-Avon, and tackling Shakespeare’s History Plays – not once, but twice!

As a resident of Stratford-Upon-Avon, how do you feel about Shakespeare’s houses and the tourist trail? Do you interact with it?
“If you go into the centre of town it’s inevitable, it’s all around you. My partner’s daughter goes to school near Anne Hathaway’s Cottage so it’s pretty unavoidable for us. The schools go and walk around Shakespeare’s Birthplace and I tell her how lucky she is to get to see all of this. She does appreciate it.
“Then, of course, inevitably you’re walking down Henley Street and there’s a thousand tourists in the way… But I’d rather live there and celebrate it than not.” 

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Do you have a favourite place in Stratford-Upon-Avon? Somewhere you’d like to sit and spend a Sunday, perhaps?
“The Welcombe Hills. It’s as big as Hampstead Heath, but sometimes you can go there and be the only person there. There’s the most stunning view across the Malverns in the West, the Feldon parkland to the East, and all the way over to the Cotswolds, and over the whole of Stratford. It’s an incredibly peaceful and beautiful place. Because I know that Shakespeare used to walk across there every day to his Grandparents in Snitterfield, there’s a link between history and now and the future. It all feels rather circular once you’re up there. It’s wonderful.”

Is that something that resonates with you on stage also? Do you ever think “I’m walking in the man’s footsteps” and reflect on that?
“I think any actor that has done a lot of Shakespeare feels that to some extent. There is no doubt that living in Stratford and coming to London to perform for a week then going home at the weekend is a rather extraordinary journey.
“I come from the middle of nowhere in Herefordshire. I’m a country boy who went to London when I was in my early twenties, and tried to make my way, then progressed to Stratford. Shakespeare was up and down like a whore’s drawers, by all accounts. It is a very particular place, Stratford. It’s on the cusp of North, South, East, and West. Between the Forest of Arden and the wheat fields of the south east of England – Shakespeare grew up straddling all of these things.”

Nick in the RSC’s Histories, 2006

Nick in the RSC’s Histories, 2006

There’s often a London versus Stratford divide. People debate which is the true spiritual home of Shakespeare and which is the lesser…
“Well, they both are! One informs the other, and in my opinion it’d be difficult for any artist, let alone a playwright, to not be informed by who they are and where they come from. Similarly, all the arguments about who wrote Shakespeare and so on are utter spurious bollocks – and you can quote me on that.”

How is the Shakespeare in Love show?
“It’s brilliant. It’s a really fun show to do. I’m playing the baddie Colin Firth part, so I get to literally twiddle my moustache. It’s just great fun! What it does do is take these wonderful verses from Romeo and Juliet and add something that makes it clear. You have people in the audience who hear these great tracts and go ‘Oh yes! Now I understand it!’ And that is a wonderful introduction to Shakespeare. It may be a flight of fancy, but it’s a wonderful tool.”

The RSC’s Courtyard Theatre – Nick appeared in both its first and its last performance. Pic by Nic Asbury

The RSC’s Courtyard Theatre – Nick appeared in both its first and its last performance. Pic by Nic Asbury

Do you have a favourite Shakespeare film?
“Blimey. I’ve never even thought about it! I saw Roman Polanski’s Macbeth at school and was very marked by it.”

Do you recall your first Shakespeare experience?
“My father used to just quote Shakespeare all the time, then after a while I realised that it was only ever Macbeth. He’d been in it six times – he was a rather noted Lady Macbeth at school, I think. So he’d say ‘Oh, what’s that line?’ and we’d say ‘Well, it must be Macbeth’ and he’d say ‘Well, how do you know!’. Bless him.
“I did see a wonderful production of Macbeth, I’ve no idea who it was by, in the old Nell Gwynne theatre in Hereford. Not much came to Hereford in the ’70s. It must have been a kid’s production. They did Macbeth with four actors and I remember being completely mesmerised. We were about 50 miles from Stratford so we used to go on school trips and stuff. I saw Johnathan Pryce doing his Macbeth there – it all revolves around Macbeth, doesn’t it? I saw loads of productions there – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, all that sort of stuff, in the early-to-mid-’80s.”

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And you ended up becoming a Shakespearean actor yourself.
“I joined the RSC and did Michael Boyd’s original productions of Henry VI Parts 1, 2, and 3 and Richard III, and then repeated them all again in 2006 and 2008. I actually think Henry VI Part 2 is now my favourite play, which sounds a bit wilfully different but it’s just because I’ve done it so much. I play the Duke of Somerset and in that particular play I think he’s got about ten lines, but he’s on all the time. It is a wonderful piece of theatre. Shakespeare never writes a line for someone that isn’t needed, so in my view there has to be a reason why that person’s onstage. There should never be any spear carriers in Shakespeare. There always has to be a reason for that person to be on stage, so the stakes are withdrawn if you have a spear carrier, because what are they doing there? Everyone has to have a purpose.”

When you look back at that extraordinary journey with the History Cycle, is there a moment that you remember particularly clearly?
“There are hundreds. In the Histories company of 2006-8 we lost three fathers. A baby was conceived, born, and a year later got up and said some words on the stage – in the same job! When she did that we realised the length and importance of a job like that. We had shared so much together. Birth, marriages, death.”

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These people must be like family to you?
“Oh yeah, they are. It’s unlike any other job, and when we see each other we just click straight back in. It’s wonderful.”

If in ten years time they said ‘Let’s do it again’, what would you say?
“Yeah. I don’t think I’d have a choice. You can never recreate the past, but you can ignite the present. We did the original Henry VIs, then took what we had and made it, hopefully, better when we did it again. If we kept that spirit maybe we could do it again!”

Midsummer Night's Dream on Meon Hill, Warwickshire – Pic by Nick Asbury

Midsummer Night’s Dream on Meon Hill, Warwickshire – Pic by Nick Asbury

Is there a character in Shakespeare that you haven’t had a chance to do but you’d love to play?
“Macbeth I haven’t played. I’d love to. I’d love to do Coriolanus as well. I’d like to do something funny. I’d like to play Benedick. I’ve played Jacques and that was wonderful because Jacques is described as being melancholic – a misery guts – so in my mind it’s fairly boring if you turn up on stage being melancholic and a misery guts. You play it light, funny. It’s much more interesting to see someone hiding depression, which a lot of comics do, of course. They hide behind the funny, then you see a glimpse of darkness every now and again, at the end of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech or whatever. I loved playing Jacques purely because of that.”

A big part of the RSC is bringing Shakespeare to new generations and young minds. Is that something you’re passionate about?
“Shakespeare can be incredibly accessible if it’s done in the right way. It doesn’t matter whether the audience is adults or children. Kids, when they listen to adults talking, will siphon out what they don’t understand. They take it for granted that they won’t understand everything, so they just take what they can get from it. As a consequence they’re there in the moment and really enjoying it.”

Nick’s book “White Hart, Red Lion: The England of Shakespeare’s Histories”

Nick’s book “White Hart, Red Lion: The England of Shakespeare’s Histories”

Are you working on another book?
“Yes! It’s a novel about a bloke in 1561, a historical novel based on the research I did for White Hart, Red Lion. Which was three years worth of research and I did another year’s worth of research slightly later on, and on the civil war. I’m about a third of the way through it. It’s been slightly put on hold by doing Shakespeare in Love. I thought I was going to be able to write during the day and perform in the evening, but it’s virtually impossible. Having two different head spaces is hard. I cannot wait to get back into the book.”

Finally, how would your sum up Stratford-Upon-Avon to somebody who’s never been there?
“It’s not just pretty, it’s a living place too. It’s not just the theatre, not just Ye Olde Stratforde, there is a life and a breadth to it too. It’s a rather wonderful English town in the sense that it’s cosmopolitan, it looks outwards.”

For further reading, check out these Shakespeare books by Nick Asbury:

Exit Pursued by a Badger: An Actor’s Journey through History with Shakespeare

White Hart, Red Lion: The England of Shakespeare’s Histories

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

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

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

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

Cover Volume 2 by Andy Belanger

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

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

Richard III by Andy Belanger

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

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

Cover Volume 4 by Andy Belanger

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

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

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

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

Lady Macbeth by Andy Belanger

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

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

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

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

Portraits: Piper Williams
Art: Andy Belanger

Stand-up comedian, actress, writer, vegan and all-round clever clogs Sara Pascoe is a big fan of William Shakespeare, and she’s not afraid to shout about it

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How on earth?

“I’ve got an English degree, and a big part of my life at university was throwing off the misunderstandings and misapprehensions I’d had about Shakespeare at school and coming to appreciate him properly. At school I think we got taught Macbeth and King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the teacher would say ‘Oh, you see what he’s saying here? He’s saying this’, and I would think ‘How on earth?’ I just didn’t believe them, I thought the teachers were making it up. Then when I was at university we had to read virtually all of the plays and we went into much more depth. That was when I suddenly realised how clever Shakespeare was, and it was mind-blowing.”

My favourite play…

“I did love the Sonnets. I think they’re so accessible and they have such universal themes – death, and time, and how we replicate ourselves. If I had to pick a favourite play… I really loved The Winter’s Tale actually, and I remember thinking Measure for Measure was brilliant, but I think probably Hamlet is my favourite.
“The one I seem to have seen most is As You Like It. I saw an RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing which had Tamsin Greig as Beatrice. They set it I think in Cuba or South America and it was just fantastic, really rhythmic and hilarious.”

If Shakespeare were here today…
“Shakespeare nowadays? Oh gosh, it would be something incredible, wouldn’t it? He was so fantastic at creating these flawed heroes where you could absolutely see how life had made them behave in a certain way, and because of that behaviour drama just unfolds everywhere around them. He’d put everyone else to shame because he’d be writing comedies and dramas and films all at the same time. Even now, people would probably be saying ‘Is it really just one man? It must be a committee of people doing it secretly!’”
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He always sees the full picture
“I just think he understands human psychology so brilliantly. He understands cause and effect, he understands how people can be trying to be good, but also that their worldview might be slightly too myopic to enable them to see anything larger. However, he as the writer always manages to see the full picture and always, especially in the greatest of the plays, manages to create such a viable world that it doesn’t seem fictional. I recently saw the Macbeth they did at the Globe where they made the play a comedy, very successfully. And I thought that was so fantastic because the ambitions of the Macbeths had such lightness of touch all of a sudden, and the play still held together, it still felt true.”

Ten Things I Hate About You
“I think what was always surprising, probably because of the age I was when they came out, was finding out that things like Ten Things I Hate About You was The Taming of the Shrew. It’s always great when you think ‘Oh! Yes, I see, it’s that story!’ I’ve been watching House of Cards, and they’ve very clearly jumped off from Macbeth.”

On being a teenage skateboard fairy
“I do talk about Shakespeare in my show that I’m touring with at the moment. I have a little routine about being told that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a comedy and how as a 15, 16-year-old having teachers try to say ‘Look, here’s the joke – the queen loves a donkey!’ you just think ‘I don’t get it’. The routine’s about that and how in our production we were trying to liven it up. Everyone wants to do their own ground-breaking thing with Shakespeare, even though it’s all already been done. So I played Puck, but I was on a skateboard and I knocked myself out. Twice. I wasn’t very good at the skateboard. We really thought this was ground-breaking at the time.”
Sara Pascoe press pic

All about the attitude
“I think that’s what’s so interesting about new productions, they make you meet characters again in a different way. I really like Hermione from The Winter’s Tale. I think that her speeches are so brave and courageous. I’ll always love Kate from The Taming of the Shrew too, but she doesn’t even really talk very much in the play. It’s much more the attitude and the performance of her, isn’t it?

“Beatrice and Benedick’s whole repartee with each other, it’s so brilliant to watch on stage because it doesn’t come across on the page in the same way. Trying to overhear somebody else’s conversation while hiding behind a pot plant, I always think that’s so hysterical.”

Women with brains and activity and thoughts
“I think in terms of his time he was incredible. This was a time when women weren’t allowed on the stage. To be born a woman and want to be creative was impossible. You couldn’t own property, you couldn’t earn money, you were either born into a rich family to be married off, or you were born with no money and very limited options. Shakespeare did write women with brains and activity and thoughts, and I think in some plays the women are as varied as the men in terms of morality and intelligence. Although now for actresses the number of men on stage to the number of women is probably a bit frustrating, it could be a whole lot worse, so I think he should be respected for that.

“Also people are now putting on all-female productions. That’s so exciting because in Shakespeare’s day it would have been an all-male company, and now the opposite is completely possible.”

Most Shakespeare thing I’ve done…
“This isn’t so much a Shakespeare thing as a me thing, but I’ve been to the RSC twice to do stand-up. I got to do stand-up on the stage at the Swan, and that was amazing. Stratford-upon-Avon is a wonderful place. You walk around thinking ‘Oh my god, this is where Shakespeare was born’. Then I remember that I live in London – where he chose to live.”

Go here to find out more about Sara and check out her latest tour dates.

This interview originally appeared in Issue 6 of Shakespeare Magazine. Go here to see the original version.

“God save King Richard!” David Hywel Baynes is a compelling, multi-layered villain in Iris Theatre’s outdoor Richard III in London’s Covent Garden


When I arrive in St Paul’s courtyard my heart sinks. The few benches are soaked through from a recent downpour, and the cut-up pallets that serve for further seating are worse. At this point it’s going to take a miracle to warm me up to this production.
As it turns out, a cup of tea and a cheerful cry of “Come sit, sit! I’ve got paper towels!” serve just as well.
Daniel Winder’s choice to ground Richard III in the tetralogy by staging the final scene of Henry VI, Part 3 works surprisingly well. It provides necessary context, but also delays the iconic “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech and thus prevents the audience from settling in to an old favourite too comfortably – Iris keeps you on your toes from the get go.

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The audience becomes a part of the company as we’re ushered from one well-designed space to the next – we are courtiers, soldiers, conspirators, witnesses. This production of Richard III, a play that always toys with an audience’s conscience, amplifies our guilty complicity by having us follow Richard from place to place like sheep. We march to Bosworth Field on our own two feet, we follow Richard and Richmond into battle, and we’re not entirely sure whose side we’re on.

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The production is polished, the company is strong, and the location is perfectly suited. Characters wave towards the church’s grand doors as they speak of the tower and we believe them entirely. A cry from the marketplace could be a rowdy solider in a neighbouring tent.
But David Hywel Baynes’s Richard overshadows it all. He is mercurial, cunning, charming, repellent – and all of these in a breath. He plays the anti-hero with such conviction that when the church rings with the cry “God save King Richard!” you’re torn between joining in and running to join the revolt.

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In conversation after the show Baynes cites Mark Rylance as an influence. Lauding Rylance’s ‘Globe technique’, he humbly hopes he’s adopted some of the elder actor’s techniques for engaging an outdoor theatre audience. An even greater influence though is Dan, the director. “He’s always pushing me further,” Baynes says, smiling fondly, “Making me the best I can be.”

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The genuine camaraderie in the company shows in their refined production, so I believe it when everyone I talk to, Baynes and Joel Mellinger (Hastings) in particular, tells me the company’s creativity is aided by its closeness.
“This is my first time with Iris,” says Joel, “but they’re like a family.” Entirely separately David, an old hand with Iris, says “I never met Joel before this production, but he’s like a brother.”

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Yes, there was drizzle, yes, the sound effects sometimes jarringly miss their cue, and yes, your fellow audience member’s “Oh, I’m so terribly sorry!” as they step on your foot yanks you from your happy courtier fantasy. But despite all that, this is immersive Shakespeare at its very best – and the freshest Richard I’ve seen in years.

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Iris Theatre’s Richard III runs until 25 July. Book your tickets here.