We caught up with theatre maker Ed Viney at Bristol Shakespeare Festival where he was directing the new comedy play “Shakespeare’s Worst”

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Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?
“Currently working on Shakespeare’s Worst which is a play by Mike Reiss, former writer/producer on The Simpsons, and Nick Newlin, Shakespearean scholar. It’s about a group of actors staging The Two Gentlemen of Verona, arguably Shakespeare’s worst play. It’s a play on a play and all the things you’d like to say when sat in a theatre watching a really awful production of Shakespeare. It’s very liberating!”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
“It’s deceptively simple when you say it aloud.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?

“Benedick.” (Much Ado About Nothing)

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“Simply the thing I am shall make me live.” (Parolles in All’s Well That Ends Well)

What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact?

“Shakespeare wrote for actors.”

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?

“Robert Downey Jnr as Lady Macbeth.”

Shakespeare’s Worst has now ended, but Bristol Shakespeare Festival continues until 29 July.

Go to the Festival website for more details.

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

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

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

Romeo

Romeo

Titania

Titania

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

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

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

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

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, 1996

Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, 1996

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

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

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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.

BBC School Radio launches ‘Shakespeare Retold’ adaptations of the Bard’s plays for primary schools

BBC School Radio, part of BBC Learning’s online service for schools, has launched ‘Shakespeare Retold’ – a series of retellings of ten of Shakespeare’s most famous plays – specially adapted for modern primary school audiences.

Available to download from the BBC website, the stories have been written by leading children’s authors such as Frank Cottrell Boyce, Pamela Butchart and Jamila Gavin, and readers include Simon Callow, Shirley Henderson and Julian Rhind-Tutt.

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King Lear

The retellings range from the irreverent silliness of Andy Stanton’s King Lear (who wears a ceremonial nose and eats a lot of pineapple) to the touching poignancy of Horatio Claire’s Hamlet Lives Forever, which sees Shakespeare telling the story of the doomed Prince of Denmark to the ghost of his late son Hamnet.

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Hamlet Lives Forever

They also include Pamela Butchart’s Macdeath, in which Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy is recounted by a young schoolgirl to her horrified class and teacher (and in which we learn that Lady Macbeth has a habit of pinching crisps from the other children on the playground!).

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Macdeath

In The Isle Of Noises, sailor Ned Blood helps out Mr. Shakespeare with the special effects for the Bard’s first production of The Tempest at the Blackfriars Indoor Playhouse, giving children a historical insight into the era’s theatre and stagecraft.

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The Isle of Noises

Each episode is 15 minutes long, and is accompanied by an audio interview with the author and a full set of downloadable teachers’ notes, giving ideas on how each play could be used in class.

“These stories should ensure that a new generation of Shakespeare fans are inspired by his incredible stories on the 400th anniversary of his death,” says Lisa Percy of BBC Learning.

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Henry V

Stuart Rathe, who wrote the teachers’ notes for the series, adds, “Primary School children love exciting stories, and these retellings are so much fun. They are a great way to celebrate both Shakespeare Week and as part of a wider whole school celebration of Shakespeare’s legacy in this very special year.”

BBC School Radio’s Shakespeare Retold has just been launched. Go here to access the broadcasts, downloads and teachers’ notes.

Shakespeare Week runs from 14-20 March. Go here to find out about Shakespeare Week.

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

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

The Signatures…

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

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

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

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“Master Cobweb” represented by a spun sugar nest.

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

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

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

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

The Technicals

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Showstopper

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

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

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

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

Find Mama Peach & Me on Facebook.

This summer, the aptly-named Insane Root theatre company staged Shakespeare’s Macbeth in the subterranean setting of Bristol’s Redcliffe Caves

“Seeing Macbeth unfold deep in the Redcliffe Caves was a compelling and moving experience which made the play come alive in all its brilliant madness and poetry”

[Images by Graham Burke]

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Sometimes a performance space and a company come together and create something special. Insane Root Theatre’s spell-binding Macbeth, directed by Hannah Drake and produced by Justin Palmer, was one of those times.

The play’s run deservedly sold out and created a buzz as part of the 2015 Bristol Shakespeare Festival.

Insane Root was only formed in 2014, so it was especially exciting to see such a new theatre company deliver this thought-provoking and mature interpretation of the play.

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The production opened with the likeable Porter (Andrew Kingston) leading the audience lantern-first into the dimly-lit cave.

Right from the start, the energy in the caves was electrifying, as Macbeth (Ben Crispin) and Banquo (Zachary Powell) conveyed the frenetic atmosphere of a war-torn Scotland.

The witches caused many audience members to shriek; their unnerving appearance enhanced by their guttural and distorted speech.

The contradictory nature of Macbeth’s relationship with Lady Macbeth (Nicola Stuart-Hill) was vividly portrayed.

Lady Macbeth was the perfect balance of ferocious and fragile.

Many of the cast doubled in other roles with Lorna Jinks, James D Kent and Elliot Chapman completing a line-up who never once let the intensity of their performance waver.

Insane Root Macbeth
As the play moved towards its tragic end, Ben Crispin excelled as a Macbeth sliding deeper into chaos.

These final scenes really embodied our attraction to power, and our fascination with madness.

The lighting design from Edmund McKay meant flickering shadows, candles and strategic spotlights maintained the slightly surreal, yet intimate, atmosphere throughout.

Redcliffe Caves, situated at the heart of the old docklands, are an interesting part of Bristol’s history, and they have attracted their own body of folklore.

Walking through the caves as part of Macbeth was a truly unique experience.

As we stepped back into the warm Bristol night, we felt deeply moved by the heady and beautiful performance.

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Macbeth in Redcliffe Caves by Insane Root Theatre, 11-27 July 2015

Visit Insane Root’s website.

Visit Insane Root’s Facebook page.

More on Bristol Shakespeare Festival.

“Batman is Hamlet!” In an exclusive interview extra, Kill Shakespeare co-creator Anthony Del Col takes us deeper inside the world of his Bard-inspired comics series

Portraits by Piper Williams, Artwork by Andy Belanger.

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Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play?

“I liked Othello for the longest time, not only because of Iago. I’m drawn towards his tragedies rather than his comedies for the most part and Othello was the one play amongst the great tragedies that… It didn’t introduce any magic or fantasy, it’s just pure human emotion. That’s what I really loved about it.”

And now?
“Having gone through this – the multiple generations of the comic, the stage show, maybe TV and video games in the future – Hamlet is just coming out more and more as my favourite. Just because he is the most fascinating character I have ever read or ever experienced, consumed, and written for. The more chance I have to see it performed, read it, study it, the more fascinated I become with that character and hence with the play. People often say that Batman is Hamlet – you know, someone who lost a family member and is on a quest for revenge and is very conflicted about what he should do and whether life’s worth living.”

Cover Volume 2 by Andy Belanger

Are there any characters that you haven’t touched in Kill Shakespeare yet that you’d like to write for?
“Oh my god. yes! There are so many. The first one who jumps out is King Lear. I can’t wait to jump into King Lear. Beatrice and Benedick are the two others that I really desperately want to jump into, I just love those two and can’t wait to get them into our universe. Kate from The Taming of the Shrew. There are a lot of the comedy characters that we haven’t had much opportunity to introduce yet, so I’m really looking forward to those.”

Are there any Early Modern writers you’re inspired by outside of Shakespeare?
“Cervantes plays a big role in all of the stories; my favourite novel of all time is Don Quixote. I like to think there’s a bit of ‘tilting at windmills’ in every story. Hamlet’s story in the original arc of Kill Shakespeare, there are shades of Quixote in there, with Hamlet being Quixote himself. And of course Falstaff would make the most excellent Sancho Panza.

“We do reference Marlowe. There’s a very… It’s a huge Easter egg, so anyone that can find it I applaud them for it.”

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Do you have a favourite Shakespeare quotation? Something that resonates with you more than everything else?
“It’s going to sound kind of cheesy, but ‘to thine own self be true’. Not the whole speech, but just that actual line. On a comedic level ‘methinks he doth protest too much’, [modern figure of speech that springs from Hamlet’s ‘the lady doth protest too much, methinks’] that’s the ultimate quote that you can use in pretty much every single situation, so that’s the one I’ll quote the most. But ‘to thine own self be true’ is the one that I’ll try to quote to myself every now and then to remind myself who I should be.”

Is there a moment on the Kill Shakespeare journey that stands out as particularly memorable?
“There was the first time we had someone cosplay our version of these characters. That was amazing. We had people cosplaying as Richard III and Lady Macbeth.

Richard III by Andy Belanger

“Receiving a personal note from Sir Tom Stoppard was amazing. I have that right above my desk and I look at that on a daily basis and just pinch myself. Getting a mention on the Colbert Report here in the US and Canada was immensely gratifying.

“I guess just seeing that first issue hit the newsstands, you know, hit the comic book shops, and the first book showing up at Barnes and Noble and Waterstones. There’s no better feeling than walking into a book store and seeing something you’ve created right there.”

If you could do a crossover with Kill Shakespeare and another comic book series what would it be?
Fables would be the most natural one. It would be great to be able to collaborate on something with Bill Willingham. Mike Carey’s The Unwritten is another possibility, we could weave that in really naturally. We have the magical elements so we could pop into the DC or the Marvel universes. I mean, a crossover with Thor would be interesting because Thor itself is very Shakespearean, so it’d be great to see King Lear meets Thor.”

Find out more about about Anthony Del Col and Kill Shakespeare in the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

“We’re all excavators in some way…” In this exclusive interview, Filter Theatre’s Oliver Dimsdale and Poppy Miller tell us about the formative experiences and bold choices that led to their their radical take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Images courtesy of Farrows Creative, Bristol.

image by farrows creative
Filter Theatre’s maverick style puts sound and music at the centre of all their productions, and their interpretations of Shakespeare are no exception. Artistic Director and founding member Oliver Dimsdale played the title role in their recent production of Macbeth. He and Poppy Miller (Lady Macbeth) both performed Shakespeare for the first time in their early teens, and it was then that they fell in love with the rhythms and imagery of his lines. We met them to discuss staging Shakespeare and their relationships with the Bard.

What was your earliest experience of Shakespeare, and what did you think of it at the time?

Oliver: “Mine was at my secondary school when I was about 13 years old. I auditioned to be in the lower school play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I got the part of Puck. Until then I’d never really keyed in to Shakespeare; I’d seen a couple of Shakespeare shows and it hadn’t really hit me. Up until that point I’d never been able to commit to memory text like it. Puck especially has wonderful verse and I just loved the rhythm. I had a fairly bad stammer when I was younger and it gave me a very real voice on stage. That’s my first memory of Shakespeare: a means by which to express myself through magnificent verse.”

Poppy: “My dad, who died 25 years ago, was a very erudite man. He was a teacher and used to do lots of amateur dramatics at the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich, where I grew up. I used to go and watch him play big parts and then I started getting involved as well. I auditioned to play Miranda when I was 14 and ended up doing the play with my dad which was amazing. I’ve got some photographs of us doing that together. I have very magical and special memories of that because it was my first experience of real theatres and people being passionate about Shakespeare.”

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Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play?

Poppy: “I’m quite keen on The Tempest. I think that, as with Macbeth, some of the speeches are just jaw-dropping.”

Oliver:King Lear is a big one for me. It probably ties into having done it for GCSE. I think I was starting to get into the possibilities and the power of Shakespeare and perhaps it’s a hangover from that. I’ve seen a couple of productions of it as well that have transported me. It’s thrillingly dark and horrendous.”

Filter Theatre produces truly unique adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. How do you develop from the play texts to these productions?

Poppy: “A very initial development process is to whack a load of paper on the walls and write on it what we love about the play, what we’re afraid about making a mess of or doing in a dull way – we get all our ideas and fears out straight away. Then we can really start to focus on core elements, so with Macbeth it would be the Weird Sisters, or the banquet, or the heath.

“Ideas of sound are never far from the mix. Tom Haines, the sound designer and composer, built many of the things we play in this production, so we had a huge pallet to work with.

“We’re quite bold with the filleting of the play. We had a dramaturg this time: experienced Shakespeare scholar and director Simon Reade, and he was very helpful. We’d go ‘What about sounds in this play?’ and he’d come back the next day with a full list of all the references to sound.”

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Oliver: “With new works we tend to focus on narrative first, though sound still plays an important role. But with Shakespeare we have the story there already, so we feel as if we have a good head start and can just crack on with finding ways we can deconstruct and put together.”

How did you prepare for your roles?

Poppy: “In my experience of playing a Shakespeare role over a long period, you find out more every week, and you can only do that by learning it and then trying to put yourself out of the picture. Inevitably your actor’s worries come up – I think we’re still asking ourselves questions now because there are so many possibilities and ways of playing it. In this production we’ve chosen proximity at places where you wouldn’t normally have it; for example, the only time our characters are intimate is in front of loads of other people in quite a grotesque way, whereas a lot of productions would have a much more…”

Oliver: “Sexual charge.”

Poppy: “Yes – he comes to the castle and they consume their ambition, and that’s almost better than the end itself.

“We’ve also stylised the movement a little bit, so there are always questions. But that’s good, I think. You just have to commit to the version you’re giving. Like with all great Shakespeare parts you feel a weight of something, which is ‘I’m going to be rubbish,’ basically. But once you’re doing it I think you have a direct connection with the character.”

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Are there any scenes or speeches when you feel that pressure most strongly, or any you particularly enjoy playing?

Poppy: “I have always really liked that scene after the murders, with the two of them. I think it’s just so brilliantly written, and the way Shakespeare’s written his half- and quarter-lines is just amazing dialogue with, when Macbeth talks about sleep, some of the most beautiful but domestic images. He’s talking about a jumper that’s fraying – or that’s how I see it!

“I think the summoning the spirits speech is great when you’re doing it, but it’s always had a whiff of failure about it for me. I did a really interesting workshop with an amazing Russian director – I’m not going to name any names. Myself and a lot of other actors were at the RSC and had been there about six months. And every time any of us stood up as Lady Macbeth, we’d breathe in and he’d go, ‘Niet.’ Just the way you breathed in wasn’t right! But I think you’ve got to remember it’s a woman. It’s a woman who’s in a very isolated place, who has a lot of capabilities but not the means to get what she wants, and all these things we can identify with.

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Some people might say your productions are not how Shakespeare intended his plays to be performed. What would you say to them?

Oliver: “The first thing I’d say to that is that no one actually knows what he intended, unless we can go back in time and speak to him. Basically we’re all excavators in some way. There are many brilliant scholars who keep on unearthing little titbits of information that might lead us a little bit closer to how it would have been done at the time, but I think a piece of art should keep on creating and moving.

“I often go to the Globe, and I love it there – knowing the actors can see whites of the eyes of the audience in broad daylight – where many of the clothes have been made in the original way and the jigs at the end are magnificent. It’s absolutely got a very strong place in our telling of Shakespeare stories now.

And I think at the same time, there can be many more braver productions than we dare to do, that have just as much of a right to be around. So I think the so-called Shakespeare purists, whatever that means, whoever they are, whatever their purpose is, are perhaps barking up the wrong tree, because there are many shapes and forms Shakespeare can take.”

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Poppy: “I think the thing to say about all of us in this company is that we do really, really love Shakespeare. Sometime people misunderstand our approach; they think it’s not possible to improve on Shakespeare. But that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re inspired by, and every word of our Macbeth is, Shakespeare.”

Read more about Filter Theatre’s Macbeth in Issue 5 of Shakespeare Magazine.