“I love the fact that the Balcony Scene in Romeo and Juliet technically doesn’t exist…” We asked Six Questions about Shakespeare to Melissa Barrett of South West England-based Sun & Moon Theatre

Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?

“After Twelfth Night finished in November 2017, we took a break over Christmas, but it’s hard to not reflect on ideas, even when you’re meant to be taking a break. At the moment, we’re looking at Romeo and Juliet, as David (my Co-Artistic Director) and I have a tendency to flip back and forth between plays that we’re itching to do. In 2016, David was eager for us to do The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in 2017 I was keen to do Twelfth Night, and now he has a strong urge to do Romeo and Juliet – a play driven by youth – while we’re still fairly young!

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“We’re getting so much from working on Romeo and Juliet, especially in terms of exciting conversations in these pre-production stages – it feels like striking a match before the candle lights up. We’ve re-read the play, re-watched some adaptations – including the 1936, 1968 and 1996 films, and even an adaptation of the ballet – for inspiration, and chatted about past productions we’ve seen, discussing what works and what doesn’t (for us) in all of these adaptations, and with the play itself. Our intention is also, while we cut the script, to compare the Quartos and the First Folio while we edit, in order to create a script that we’re happy with. Finding our production concept is currently dominating conversation, as Romeo and Juliet is so frequently done that it is tricky to find a concept that really excites or feels unique without being gimmicky. But more importantly the goal is to find a concept that feels fitting right now for audiences today, and yet also feels like a Sun & Moon production, as we’ve been exploring and building our identity as a company over the last few years.

Our summer open-air show is As You Like It. We’re excited about this one as, truth be told, we’re not big fans of this play, and we are hoping by doing it ourselves we will understand why people love it. We have a concept that we’re looking forward to getting our teeth into, and already we are finding wonderful moments within the play as we begin our text sessions with our actors.

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What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?

“I think I would have been surprised by how Shakespeare is such a huge part of my life, and that it would invoke such wonderful conversations between friends and loved ones. I’ve had chats about characters, themes, the plays themselves, which could have gone on for hours and hours. When I was first introduced to Shakespeare at 13, when beginning Year 9 at school, I had been warned by others that Shakespeare would be really hard and really boring. To my absolute surprise, I loved it (I give a lot of credit to my old CGP Macbeth book). It felt like a world had opened up and my imagination was captured. I loved reading text that could have so many possible meanings, and exploring such fascinating, layered characters. Did I know at 13 that I would have loved working with Shakespeare so much that I’d do a Staging Shakespeare Masters degree and that I’d set up a theatre company revolving around it? I definitely would have been surprised, but hopefully in a positive way.

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“Being more specific, and based on what we’re doing now, I would have been stunned that different versions of the plays exist – Quartos and Folios – and how editors have such an impact on how audience and readers perceive the plays. I first discovered that in my third year studying English at university. Younger me would definitely have been surprised by how much I love the First Folio and how I use it as a tool in acting and directing. It is such a joy of a text to use, and I love how many discoveries you make and clues/inspirations you get from just looking at First Folio edition (or even a Quarto!). It is like a mini director in the text offering guidance.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?

“Interestingly enough, it may well be the character I most recently played, Viola from Twelfth Night. I remember asking a professional who would come in to work with us on monologues while training with Year Out Drama, a lovely man named Alec Wilson, which character I should consider for speeches. He recommended that I look at Viola, as I seem like a natural Viola. For some bizarre reason, I didn’t follow up on that until four or five years later, when I was cast as Viola in a production while training for my MFA. I suddenly realised what Alec was talking about – that part fit me like a glove.

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“I can relate to Viola. While cross-dressing Rosalind feels more like a natural extrovert, Viola is a natural introvert like myself, who has to play an extrovert in a character like Cesario, and does enjoy this taste of liberty via performance (until things go wrong). I relate to Viola’s empathy, her compassion for others, her diplomacy, her passion, her love for her family, and her personal neuroticism – like me, she’s a dweller who worries a LOT, and has to force herself to not think about it: ‘Time thou must untangle this’. She is a quiet figure, but when it matters, boldness will come to her and she is no pushover – I hope that is me too. On a more trivial note, like Viola, I am no athlete (always had Ds for PE at school), and identify with her terror at being in any kind of physical fight. It’s why we had a boxing scene early on in which she fails against another woman (Orsino’s household, in our interpretation, were all women pretending to be men, partly to highlight Orsino’s denseness) and why we usually cut the ‘A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man’. We didn’t want her argument to be gendered. Our philosophy was, ‘Viola, women can fight, but you can’t’. Playing her in our own production throughout 2017 was an absolute joy.

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“There is the touch of the Hermia in me too – five foot two, in a very loving relationship, but prone to passion and fieriness when crossed, inherited partly from my loving, yet fiery-natured Irish family… ‘Though she be but little she is fierce’. A touch of fiery Hermia spirit helps when running a theatre company!”

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?

“‘A good leg will fall, a straight back will stoop, a black beard will turn white, a curled pate will grow bald, a fair face will wither, a full eye will wax hollow, but a good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon’ (Henry V). It partly inspired the name of our company.”

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What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact, myth, story or anecdote?

“I love the fact that the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet technically doesn’t exist. It has become so engrained in our culture that it gets called ‘The Balcony Scene’, when not once is a balcony mentioned. We’re currently debating whether or not we have one in our own production! It allegedly emerged in Thomas Otway’s play, The History and Fall of Caius Marius, which was inspired heavily by Romeo and Juliet. Otway staged his equivalent scene ‘in the balcony’ and David Garrick used a balcony in his staging of Romeo and Juliet. It’s one of example in how much I love that productions in their place and time can have such a significant impact on cultural consciousness, to the extent that Juliet’s balcony via her ‘house’ (Casa di Giulietta) is an attraction that tourists flock to every year, and that there is even a Juliet Club, in which people write to ‘Juliet’ and get replies from volunteers who answer as ‘Juliet’ – a mythical character. That in itself is fascinating, as it all started when people left letters by Juliet’s ‘Tomb’ back in the 1930s, and the caretaker was so moved that he sent replies, starting this wonderfully bizarre movement. The power of Shakespeare is phenomenal sometimes.”

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?

“I love Classic Hollywood so I have a tendency to cast people in my head who couldn’t possibly be cast because they’re no longer around, and that style of performance is long gone. I’m a big fan of the film The Philadelphia Story,  and watching Katharine Hepburn in that, I would have loved to have seen her take on Beatrice, perhaps with Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart as Benedick.

“Sticking to  Much Ado,  and being more realistic in terms of casting living performers, I love Damien Lewis and Sarah Parish’s performances as Benedick and Beatrice in the Shakespeare Retold adaptation. My partner and I always say that we wish they could play the roles in the actual play. Plus I recently read an interview with Helen McCrory and she said she’d love to play Beatrice opposite Lewis (her husband since 2007) as Benedick. They’d be fantastic.

“Oh, I can’t stop now! I saw Charles Dance recently do a talk and I asked him which Shakespeare roles would he love to perform that he hasn’t played yet, and he said Malvolio, Titus and Jacques – I would love to see him play all three!

Melissa Barrett is the Co-Artistic Director of Sun & Moon Theatre, which she founded with her partner, David Johnson. They will be touring with Shakespeare’s As You Like It in July 2018.

Thursday 21 June – University of Exeter North Piazza, Exeter
Saturday 30 June – Coleshill Organics, Oxfordshire
Sunday 8 July – The RSC Dell Open-Air Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Saturday 14 July – St George’s Park, Bristol (Bristol Shakespeare Festival)
Wednesday 25 & Thursday 26 July – Poltimore House, Exeter
Sunday 29 July – Queen’s Drive Space, Exmouth

Go here to find out more about Sun & Moon Theatre.

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 powerful short film from Fractured Shakespeare, Was it Rape Then? makes unsettling use of Shakespeare’s words. Co-creator Charissa J Adams takes us behind the text

Was it Rape Then? from Lady Brain by Casey Gates on Vimeo.

How did the idea arise for using Shakespeare in this film?
“The idea originated with Shakespeare. For as long as I can remember, I have loved Shakespeare. Not just the plays and stories, but the words and metaphors he uses to express the human condition. A few years ago, the idea emerged to take Shakespeare’s words out of context and use them to express a new character’s thoughts and emotions. I then started playing around with pairing famous lines from different plays together to find new meaning. Last November, I set about forming a monologue on a subject which has resonated with me for a long time. This text was the result. From that monologue, this short film was made.”

Jessica Marie Garcia

Jessica Marie Garcia

The script includes lines from The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Macbeth, Henry V and Coriolanus. But the title doesn’t seem to allude to Shakespeare? What was your thinking behind that choice?
“The title and first section of text comes from Double Falsehood, which is most likely not Shakespeare’s words, but the passage was just too rich to ignore. And since it speaks to doubt in consent, the doubt surrounding the text’s origins seemed strangely appropriate. I could not ignore its usefulness, and it played such a crucial role in inspiring the creation of the piece, that it felt appropriate to leave it in.”

Karen Pittman

Karen Pittman

Double Falsehood is very rarely cited – what led to your interest in it? Was there a particular edition you used? And would you recommend it as a stand alone work?
“As I was creating this piece, I began searching any of Shakespeare’s text which dealt with consent and/or rape. This monologue of Henriquez is what surfaced. It is quite an interesting piece of text when you think about the time in which it was written. Consent is something we are much more aware of now, especially in the last five or ten years. However, here we have this man arguing with himself over whether or not he raped this woman.

Charissa J. Adams

Charissa J. Adams

“He uses the excuse that we often still hear men use today: ‘Twas but the coyness of a modest bride, Not the resentment of a ravish’d maid’. Essentially saying she was just shy and she didn’t say ‘No’. This is the very reason More Than “No” was started. Consent is more than not hearing ‘No’. It is a freely given, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not under-age, and an undeniable ‘Yes’, given verbally or non-verbally.

“In the end, he concludes: ‘While they, who have, like me, The loose escapes of youthful nature known, Must wink at mine, indulgent to their own’. Saying any other man would have done the same or ‘Boys will be boys’. This is the epitome of rape culture, which is exactly what we are trying to confront with Was it Rape Then?.

Sujana Chand

Sujana Chand

“As for the edition, I use the Shakespeare app produced by PlayShakespeare.com for a lot of my research. It is so easy to use! They site the year as 1728. That is all the information I could find about which edition they use.

“I would not recommend it as a stand alone piece. I think it is flawed in several ways – in the characters and especially the ending which seems to wrap up too quickly without fully dealing with each of the character’s arcs. I think that The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona are superior plays with similar themes.”

How Shakespeare’s vibrant London neighbourhood of Bankside will be celebrating the Bard’s life and legacy in April 2016

Please credit the photographer John Tramper
[Image by John Tramper]

Home to Shakespeare’s Globe, The Rose Playhouse, Southwark Cathedral and The George Inn, London’s Bankside celebrates its Shakespearean history with a host of special events including walks, theatre performances and themed menus.

Shakespeare’s Globe – The Complete Walk, 23-24 April
Visitors are invited on a journey along the bank of the Thames to experience an extraordinary celebration of Shakespeare’s works. 37 screens along a 2.5 mile route through Bankside and beyond will show a series of specially-made short films. Actors including Simon Russell Beale, Peter Capaldi, Dominic West, Hayley Atwell and Zawe Ashton will perform scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, shot in the places hovering in his imagination. Visitors can expect to see The Merchant of Venice’s Shylock within the Venetian Jewish ghetto, and Hamlet at Elsinore’s Kronborg castle.

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Actor Simon Russell Beale

Hamlet, 23-24 April 2016
The Globe’s unprecedented world tour of Hamlet returns home for a weekend of celebratory final performances, marking 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. Tickets are currently sold out but more are due to be released in the weeks before the performance.

Southwark Cathedral
The tombstone of William’s brother Edmund Shakespeare, who was an actor, lies between the choir stalls in Southwark Cathedral, the oldest cathedral church building in London. Shakespeare’s troupe of actors lodged here, and the choir at the Cathedral prospered during Shakespeare’s day when Southwark was the entertainment centre of London. A Shakespeare monument and stained glass window (depicting characters from some of his plays) is the Cathedral’s most popular memorial.

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In collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe, a specially curated service will take place at 11am on Saturday 23 April. The service is invitation only and will blend liturgical worship, music and performance, while drawing on material from Shakespeare’s late romances.

It will be followed by Find Me a Publisher at 2pm, the story of Heminge and Condell and the journey of the First Folio towards publication. The event will feature lute songs and performances from Arthur Smith, Rick Jones and Jane Jones. Find Me a Publisher is free and open to the public.

On Friday 22 April and Friday 29 April at 11am there will be guided walks uncovering the history of Bankside and the links between the Bard and the Cathedral.
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The Rose Playhouse
Bankside’s original Tudor theatre – where Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part I and Titus Andronicus were first performed – will kick off celebrations with a midnight performance of Much Ado About Nothing on Friday 22 April. Wolf Sister Productions and director Alex Pearson stage a modern take on the much-loved Shakespearean comedy.

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Measure for Measure
, co-directed by Simon Rodda and Rebecca Rogers, will follow from 10 May to 26 May 2016. Tickets £12

Every Saturday from 10am – 5pm, explore the fascinating history of The Rose and its exciting future. At present, two-thirds of the original foundations have been excavated and protected for future generations to experience. The Rose Theatre Trust is now engaged in raising funds to excavate the remaining third and to make the site a permanent display as an educational and historical resource for the public to learn from and enjoy.

WALKS AND TOURS

Shakespeare’s Bankside – a walk with John Constable
Wednesday 27 April at 7pm-8.30pm and Sunday 8 May at 2pm-3.30pm.
Join local historian, writer and playwright John Constable to discover Shakespeare’s Bankside.
On this free walk, visit the sites of famous playhouses – set among bear-pits and brothels. Constable’s popular Bankside walks reveal the human face of The Bard in the place where he and his fellow actors lived, worked and partied.
Walks start at Shakespeare’s Globe and finish at The George Inn. Duration: 1.5 hours.

FOOD AND DRINK

Bread Ahead bakery in Borough Market will be serving Honey and Mead doughnuts as the order of the day, filling their famous decadent doughnuts with an Elizabethan twist. On Sunday 24 April they will run two half-day workshops – The Bread Ahead Ye Olde Introduction to English Baking – where participants will learn how to make Lardy Cake, a classic white tin and Manchet, an Elizabethan bread recipe.
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British restaurant Roast will offer a special menu from 18-24 April, with typical dishes of the era, along with special cocktails. On 23 April, the bar will be full of themed activity including small plays, a children’s choir, mandolin guitar player, and a prize giveaway for all diners to enter.

Gordon Ramsay’s Union Street Café will celebrate Shakespeare with a special menu of authentic dishes from Venice, Verona and Vicenza – the exotic corner of Northern Italy imagined in The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentleman of Verona, and Romeo and Juliet. Enjoy a feast of baccala, bigoli pasta and Venetian fried cream from 23 April to 22 May.
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The four-course dinner menu, including a Romeo & Juliet cocktail on arrival, is £40 per person, or £55 with matching wines.

Following an extensive refurbishment, and to coincide with Shakespeare’s anniversary, the Swan Restaurant at Shakespeare’s Globe has re-opened its doors with a vibrant new look and new menu. Diners can experience a Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed afternoon tea for the occasion from 23 April. The new Hilton London Bankside will offer an honorary cocktail menu in The Distillery bar.

Bankside’s nearest tubes are London Bridge/Southwark, while its closest train stations are London Bridge/Blackfriars.

Go here for more information on all Bankside’s activities.