Author Lois Leveen talks about the suffering that underpins the main character of her Shakespeare-inspired novel Juliet’s Nurse

“In some ways, I had to stop looking at what the core theme might be for Shakespeare, because I had to discover what it was for Juliet’s Nurse. There are plot points, and certainly characters, and even lines or riffs on lines, that I pull over from Shakespeare. But it really is ultimately Angelica’s, the Nurse’s, story. In that sense, the theme was really clear from the beginning – that line about having her own daughter who died.

©Globe/Opus Arte

©Globe/Opus Arte

“I remember talking to someone I know, a mother of young children, about the experience of having a child die and the mother said, ‘If that happened to me, I don’t know – I would lay down and die too’.

“And that was not an option for Angelica, or other women and men living who loved their children dearly in those centuries and centuries in which the death of a child was quite common. We shy away from suffering, and think of it as something to be avoided, but suffering is inevitable and survival is not something that happens in opposition to suffering. Survival is something that happens because we learn to assimilate suffering into our lives.

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“So again, on a social level what’s present for the Nurse and for the other characters in the novel, because it’s present in the play, is the question of how do you make sense of suffering and how do you find hope in what seems like devastating loss?

“I wouldn’t say that was Shakespeare’s theme in Romeo and Juliet, but it definitely became my theme in Juliet’s Nurse.”

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Want to find out more about Lois Leveen and Juliet’s Nurse?
Read the full interview with her in the latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

How the tragic death of an intern inspired a new version of Shakespeare’s Othello set in the high-pressure world of London’s City Boys

James Barnes as Othello.

James Barnes as Othello.

Time Zone Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Othello runs from 3-28 February at the historic Rose Playhouse on London’s Bankside.

Returning to The Rose after acclaimed productions of The Taming of the Shrew in 2013 and Orpheus and Eurydice in 2014, Time Zone’s Othello transfers Shakespeare’s tragedy to the cityscape of modern London.

Director Pamela Schermann promises “an abyss of power and intrigue, riddled with suspicion and jealousy. Beneath the surface of this civilised and polite environment we encounter brutality and callousness.”

Trevor Murphy as Iago.

Trevor Murphy as Iago.

In part, Schermann, says she was inspired by the tragic death of an intern at the London office of an international bank.

“He died after working continuously for 72 hours,” she says. “Although it is uncertain whether his death was caused by exhaustion or a medical condition, the excessive hours at work illustrate a brutal business practice, where money is more important than people.”

Schermann’s fast-paced adaptation cuts Othello down to its five main characters, with the entire play set in the meeting room of the company’s office.

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The cast comprises James Barnes (Othello), Trevor Murphy (Iago), Samantha Lock (Desdemona), Ella Duncan (Emilia), and Denholm Spurr (Cassio).

Schermann’s production aims to evoke an atmosphere of claustrophobia and ultra-high pressure where everyone is under constant surveillance.

“There’s always someone watching you,” says Schermann, “analysing your every move and waiting for an opportunity to stab you in your back.”

Go here for more onTime Zone Theatre.

Go here for more on The Rose Playhouse and to book tickets.

A wealthy banker, a Pilates instructor, a bitter divorce case, a High Court Judge… And the words of William Shakespeare

According to The Independent, Mr Justice Mostyn consulted Act 2, Scene 4 of King Lear to aid his decision when awarding a £1.2 million settlement to the banker’s Pilates instructor ex-wife.

Pointedly, this is the scene in which Lear’s daughters, Goneril and Regan, strip the aged monarch of his retinue.

In the space of a few cruel words, Lear’s personal escort is reduced from 50 knights to nothing.

An incredulous Lear responds with the impassioned speech that begins:

“O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.”

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It’s a very interesting example of the way in which top professionals sometimes use Shakespeare to assist their decision-making process.

But as is so often the case with Shakespeare, there’s a sting in the tail.

The speech in question marks the beginning of Lear’s descent into madness.

One interpretation could be that Mr Justice Mostyn is basically saying:

“Even though this settlement figure is extremely high, I am going to give this person the amount she says she needs, because otherwise she is liable to go mad.”

Lear’s harrowing madness ultimately leads to self-knowledge and redemption – along with heart-rending personal loss and his own death.

Shakespeare’s most powerful play would certainly be a lot shorter if Regan and Goneril had simply given him what he asked for…

Go here to read the original news story from The Independent.

The latest issue of Shakespeare Magazine features another High Court Judge acting alongside players from Shakespeare’s Globe.

 

 

We asked Muse of Fire creators Dan Poole and Giles Terera the 64,000 ducat question – what would Shakespeare be writing if he was around today? Their answer: everything from blockbuster sci-fi movies to political drama TV shows.

DAN: “I think it was Mark Rylance that said this in his interview… Peter Hall, who’s obviously one of the founders at the RSC, said ‘You can do anything with Shakespeare, but whatever you do, don’t put it in space.’ Which made him laugh and makes me laugh, especially because the one thing I’d love to see done is Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy series on stage.”

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GILES: “I suppose they’re all in there, that’s the beauty of it. You can look at any story, and whether it’s a love story or The Godfather or Jaws, whether it’s Star Wars or Laurel and Hardy, you can trace it all back to some Shakespearean story.

“I’d like to see him have a go at some of the trashier things like Transformers, because he did a couple of the histories, the Henrys, then he needed a big blockbuster, a potboiler, so he did Titus Andronicus. There was blood and guts and beheading and eating people and that was a big blockbuster, so he wasn’t afraid of doing that. So I’d like to see him do something that we kind of pooh-pooh now, and turn it on its head.”

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DAN: “It would also be fascinating to see what he would deliver now, given the culture that we live in. Because he always responded to what was going on in his environment.”

GILES: “You know, what I’d love is if he did TV. You know how they have those great American TV series like Breaking Bad or Orange is the New Black, where they’re masters of keeping you hanging on, episode to episode, series to series? I’d like to see him have a go at that. He’d come up with the most incredible TV cliffhangers and character journeys.

“In many ways, I’d like to see what he’d do now. I saw a film recently called Dear White People. It’s about the American college house system, and race and all this socio-political stuff. And it was extraordinary because there was this stuff being dealt with on film that you just don’t see. We see it on Twitter feeds and facebook and we think think ‘Christ almighty, it’s about to explode’ over there. But you don’t see it on screen – and yet they were doing it. If you look at what’s happening in Othello or what’s happening in Titus Andronicus, they have a baby! Aaron and Tamora have this mixed-race baby…”

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DAN: “…Four hundred years ago!”

GILES: “Right! People always say that Shakespeare was always very careful. You know, all this ‘you could be done for treason if you say the wrong thing’. But actually he’s talking about stuff that is the meat and bones of social life. Race and sex and age and marriage and all that kind of stuff. I reckon he’d be doing stuff that was really dealing with today’s issues. I’d like to hear what he had to say about Syria or Ebola. And it’d also be done in an interesting and entertaining way, because that’s what he does.”

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How about you? What do you think Shakespeare would be writing if he was around today? Post your thoughts below, or tweet us @UKShakespeare

Read our full-length interview with Dan and Giles in the new issue of Shakespeare Magazine.

Portraits by Piper Williams

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

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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!

Much Ado About Something as Shakespeare’s legendary lost play Love’s Labour’s Won surfaces in Stratford – or does it?

Love’s Labour’s Won is famously listed as one of Shakespeare’s ‘lost plays’. However, some academics believe it is in fact not lost but is actually an alternate name for another play, in the way that Twelfth Night is also called What You Will. The RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran appears to believe this theory and goes one further to suggest that the much-beloved Much Ado About Nothing is in fact the missing play. Re-designating Much Ado as Love’s Labour’s Won and pairing it with Shakespeare’s other screwball rom-com Love’s Labour’s Lost for the first time forms the basis of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s 2014 winter season.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.


Love’s Labour’s Won
 sees Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry both making their return to the RSC to play the bickering couple of Benedick and Beatrice, with Edward Bennett returning for the first time since stepping into David Tennant’s shoes to play Hamlet during the London run in 2008.

Director Christopher Luscombe has set the play in 1918 as soldiers return from World War I and used local Tudor house Charlecote Park as his setting. Set designer Simon Higlett had the task of recreating this historical home on stage and he has done a marvellous job doing so. It looks and feels as if you are stepping into an episode of Downton Abbey with the luxious main set featuring a grand piano and a beautifully decorated large Christmas tree.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

Edward Bennett plays Benedick with great wit and comedic timing. In particular the ‘gulling’ scene, where he overhears about Beatrice’s love for him, is full of laughs as he is humiliated by his peers. A personal highlight sees Benedick being semi-electrocuted inside the Christmas tree.

Michelle Terry is more than a match as Beatrice. Just as sharp-tongued and funny as Benedick she stands as a perfect match for Bennett’s returned war hero. Terry holds her own as the feisty and independent heroine. When the couple finally unite the romance pours out of them onstage and they are without a doubt the true and unpredictable love story of the play.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

A notable mention should go to Sam Alexander as the villainous Don John. He appears on crutches, having been injured in the war, which helps his bitterness and hatred shine through.

The play raised many laughs from the audience and none more so than the scene of Dogberry and Verges interrogating Borachio and his co-conspirators regarding their roles in the thwarted marriage of Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim). The hectic confusion is played out perfectly on stage, helped along by the brilliant idea to stage it all within a small portion of the set.

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).


Much Ado About Nothing
– I mean Love’s Labour’s Won – is well-staged, well-acted and a perfect companion for the Love’s Labour’s Lost. It runs until 14 March 2015.

Go here to buy tickets for Love’s labour’s Won.

What did the UK media make of Maxine Peake’s Manchester Hamlet? Shakespeare Magazine reviews the reviews…

The idea to take on the iconic role of Hamlet, Maxine Peake told Creative Tourist, came after she worked with Royal Exchange Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom on a 2012 production of Miss Julie. “We’ve got this opportunity now where there’s no boundaries,” she suggested, “so we’ve got to challenge ourselves, perhaps even to the point where we overstretch ourselves.”
As Creative Tourist puts it, Peake was “adamant that this part has got absolutely nothing to do with gender-swapping for shock’s sake.” But it must have been clear from the start that gender (or ‘gender-bending’ as the Telegraph helpfully put it) would be the principal lens through which many critics and punters would experience this production.
Hamlet 7 credit Jonathan Keenan
Several reviewers pointed out this was the first time Hamlet has been played by a woman in a high-profile production since Frances de la Tour in 1979. Susannah Clapp (Observer/Guardian) gave as good a summary as can be found of the rich theatrical story Peake’s performance belongs to: ‘There is a long, strong tradition of women performing the role,” she writes. “Sarah Siddons took it on in Manchester in 1777. Victorian actresses, amateur and professional, played the part regularly. Sarah Bernhardt, the first actress to be filmed in the part, declared it should always be performed by a woman.”

Frankcom told Creative Tourist that “Prescribed notions of gender – what is female, what is male – are all in flux at the moment … with our Hamlet, Maxine’s Hamlet, she’s creating a character that’s as much male and as much female.”
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However, Peake’s Hamlet was for many reviewers very much a prince, rather than the intended royal-human-in-flux. To Polly Gianniba describes it was “a cross between a warrior angel (one of the beautiful lovelorn angels Philip Pullman writes) and the Little Prince.” Michael Billington refers to Peake’s Hamlet as ‘he’. Additionally, Polonius – or Polonia – was played by, and as, a woman (Gillian Bevan). For the Telegraph, this was confusing: “If Hamlet remains, technically, male in this reading – why make these added distinctions?” And one was left wondering whether The Independent reviewer joined the dots of his own thinking when he wrote “We are not used to seeing a woman play Hamlet. The result here is a powerful and yet curiously domestic production.” The suggestion seeming to be that ‘woman’ equals ‘domestic’. Although perhaps this ‘domestic’ sense came from the decision to largely excise the Fortinbras plot, the thread that brings the wider political world into the play’s family drama.
Hamlet 10 credit Jonathan Keenan
Fortinbras’s removal was Billington’s “main reservation” about the production, whilst Gianniba enjoyed the production enough that “anything left out feels inconsequential.” When a production minimises Fortinbras, as has often been done before, it usually indicates a focus on personal, rather than geo- politics.

Hamlet, more than many plays, is an intensely ‘personal’ experience. The character invites the audience’s identification through soliloquy and the expression of existential crisis. Having catalogued the staging (in-the-round), costumes (Chairman Mao suit, Bowie haircut for Hamlet, according to the Manchester Evening News and others) and expressed an opinion about the verse speaking – any reviewer in need of a point-of-view must finally fall back upon his or her own inner Hamlet and see how the new suit fits.
Hamlet 6 credit Jonathan Keenan
On these traditional terms, Peake pleased most reviewers. But it’s interesting to wonder who might be “shocked”, as Peake put it, by seeing a woman playing Hamlet in 2014. To an extent, coverage of this production is several degrees removed from the intense, often violent commentary on gender in this year of Beyoncé as ‘FEMINIST’, GamerGate, and the mixture of celebration and death threats that greets any new female re-imagining of Marvel superfolk. Nonetheless, perhaps that is this Hamlet’s wider, personal-political context. Susannah Clapp suggests that, with this and previous productions, “Frankcom is in effect creating England’s first mainstream feminist theatre.” And if a woman playing Hamlet still has the power to shock, or even confuse, an audience in 2014, then the political, like old Hamlet’s wronged ghost in the play, may have been this production’s sustaining energy.

Photography by Jonathan Keenan

Go here for more on Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.

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.

Gaze in wonder at visionary poet and artist William Blake’s spellbinding paintings inspired by the works of William Shakespeare

This week we’ve been celebrating the 28 November birthday of William Blake (1757-1827). Although perhaps best known for his poems and for writing the words to the hymn ‘Jerusalem’, Blake was also a visionary painter, one whose was often Shakespeare-inspired.
Here is Blake’s ‘Pity’ (1795), inspired by the evocative but mysterious line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast…”
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Blake also illustrated more conventional scenes from Shakespeare – although often with a supernatural dimension. Here’s his version of Hamlet encountering his father’s Ghost (1806).
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Brutus and the ghost of Julius Caesar is another haunting Shakespearean scene from Blake (1806).
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And here we have Richard III on the night before the Battle of Bosworth, assailed by the ghosts of his victims (circa 1806).
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Blake also painted Oberon, Titania, Puck and the other fairies from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in this beautiful and dreamlike tableau from 1786.
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And Blake even turned his supremely versatile hand to a portrait of Shakespeare himself (circa 1800).
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William Blake was a poet, painter, printer, visionary, mystic – and Shakespearean. Portrait by Thomas Phillips (1807).
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Thank you to Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education for showing us the link between two great English literary Williams – William Blake and William Shakespeare.

Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at the Ashmolean, Oxford.
Find out about the William Blake Exhibition at Tate Britain.
Fnd out about Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust Education.

An irreverent, pared-down and post-Apocalyptic take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Last month, director Sarah Redmond helmed an “edited, reinvented off-West End production of The Tempest” at London’s Waterloo East Theatre. It’s an experience she describes as an “incredible voyage of discovery with 14 terrific actors,” adding that: “I learnt so much about Shakespeare, editing and budgets!”

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Due to budget restrictions, Sarah decided to take out all of Prospero’s ‘mystical magic’ and replace it with a Derren Brown-influenced element of mind control. “Prospero has endured a lot,” she explains, “and when exploring the play I felt he would be dark and bitter.”
Achieving Sarah’s desired degree of darkness as Prospero was actor Tom Keller. “This approach definitely made him very much more ‘mortal’,” she says. “Our Prospero was grumpy, simmering and short tempered.”

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Despite its placing as the very first play in the First Folio, in which it opens the ‘Comedies’ section, The Tempest is rarely thought of as one of Shakespeare’s funniest works. “There are comedic scenes,” Sarah says, “but by removing the otherworldly magic, I definitely removed the expected lightness of the play.”
However, Sarah believes that her approach did allow comedy to flourish in unexpected places, “Especially in the lovers’ scenes.”

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The play’s actual comedic scenes (played by Matthew Harper, Lucy Harwood and Sy Thomas) also received a thorough editing from Sarah, “But the comedy beats exist,” she says, “and are very obviously placed. Losing a lot of the cultural references on one hand could be sacriligious. On the other hand, it does get to the point.”

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Sarah believes that her anti-purist production succeeded because ultimately she had trust in the play and in her casting. “I edited The Tempest down to an hour and a half,” she says. “It works. Tell the story and don’t wallow.”

Find out more about Sarah Redmond here.
Find out more about Waterloo East Theatre here.

Photography by Rob Youngston