Shake–Scene Shakespeare are presenting rare cue-script performances of The Merchant of Venice at The Cockpit Theatre in London’s Marylebone from 3rd to 7th October 2017

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This Autumn, William Shakespeare’s intricate play is brought to life by actors from Shake-Scene Shakespeare. Using the technique of ‘cue-script’ preparation, the actors take to the stage without any prior group rehearsal with their fellow cast. Guided only by their character’s lines and immediate cue words, the performers embark on a gripping journey of discovery as actors enter the stage without knowing what scenario or whom they are about to face. The audience journeys with them as they step into the unknown and gamble moment to moment.

Actors performing in Tudor playhouses during the Bard’s time used this method of performance. Today’s theatre goers will get to experience (as close to as possible) the revealing experience of an Elizabethan audience, while seeing a 21st Century production. During that time, audiences were known to pay double to see new plays performed for the first time and to witness these delightful moments of discovery and surprise. Certain aspects of casting, however, will be different – such as some traditionally male roles being played by female actors.

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The cast includes Charlotte Gallagher (The Judas Kiss, Duke of York’s Theatre), Jonathan McGarrity (The Full Monty national tour) and Mary-Ann Cafferkey (Offie nomination for Proof at the Tabard Theatre).

Shake-Scene Shakespeare specialises in cue-scripted live performance, using a 16th century theatre practice to innovate theatre making. Lizzie Conrad Hughes, the creator and Artistic Director of Shake-Scene Shakespeare, has produced two previous cue-scripted plays: The Tempest in 2016 and The Two Gentleman of Verona in 2015. Both productions thrilled audiences, received critical acclaim and attracted academic interest. Lizzie has been teaching Shakespeare for 25 years alongside a career as an actress.

Viv Groskop (Writer, Comedian and BBC Radio 4 presenter) is a Patron of Shake-Scene Shakespeare. Having experienced first hand performing in a cue-script production she understands the process particularly well.

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“Shake-scene Shakespeare is an experience, seen to be believed,” Viv says. “Everyone on stage is there without a parachute, not knowing what’s coming next. I had no idea that this was how Shakespeare wrote – under huge pressure, with barely enough time to rehearse. It makes so much sense when you see it. So much of the text is about the surprise of the actors finding out what’s going on at the same time as the audience. It brings a whole new level of understanding to Shakespeare”.

Listing and Booking Information:
Date: Tuesday 3rd – Saturday 7th October 2017
Time: 7pm (Approx running time: 2 hrs 30mins, including interval)
Venue: The Cockpit Theatre, Gateforth Street, London NW8 3EH
Tickets: £20.00 Booking: www.thecockpit.org.uk
Box Office: + 44 207 258 2925
Find out more about cue-script performances via the Shake-Scene Shakespeare website.

cue script liz

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.

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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