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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Not Dead at Middle Temple Hall.

Read Not Dead at Middle Temple Hall.

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

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

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

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

Issue 5 of Shakespeare Magazine arrives just in time for 2015 – and, yes, it’s still completely free!

Cover 05
Yes, we made you wait for it (sorry about that) but the latest completely FREE issue of Shakespeare Magazine is finally here.

Our scintillating cover story celebrates the amazing Shakespeare documentary film Muse of Fire.

We also investigate Shakespeare and the Tower of London, and take a trip to Staunton, Virginia – home of the American Shakespeare Center.

Meanwhile, actors from Shakespeare’s Globe have teamed up with a crew of legal eagles to perform at the famous Inns of Court.

Lois Leveen rethinks Romeo and Juliet with her evocative novel Juliet’s Nurse, while the experimental Filter Theatre Company remixes Macbeth at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol.

Plus! You could win a copy of Station Eleven, the thrilling post-apocalyptic Shakespeare novel by Emily St. John Mandel.

Go here to read Issue 5 of Shakespeare Magazine right now.

And a very Happy New Year to our readers all over the world!