director | theatre maker | acting teacher
What a way to get Brexit done.
(What’s done cannot be undone … )
I spent this week in Madrid, a marvellous city I’ve never visited before, with the brilliant Teatro Kamikaze, working with a superb ensemble of actors at their 1920s art deco theatre, El Pavòn, on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. We explored four scenes from the play (1.1, 2.2, 3.1 & 3.2) spatially and psychologically, working on a new translation with an innovative approach to representing blank verse in Spanish metres; and we focused in on contemporary political resonance in the text, both Spanish and more broadly European.
In 1608, when Shakespeare wrote Coriolanus – which deals with the failure of a quasi-democratic system to provide for the competing demands of the people and the establishment – the English Civil War (or as it’s increasingly, and for our current moment more suggestively, known, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms) was just three decades away; Shakespeare evidently felt the tremors of the forthcoming seismic shock. The rhymes of history are everywhere to be heard in this explosively political play; and especially now. And those rhymes are just as distinct in Spain, with its recent history of Fascist dictatorship, and its contemporary democratic deadlock and secessionist movements.
Many thanks are due to the wonderful, creative, formidable actors who took part: María Pujalte, María Hervàs, Ana Cristina Bokesa, Laura Galàn, Fran Cantos, Ignacio Mateos, Pablo Béjar, Raul Prieto, Emilio Buale, Jose Fernández and Central alumnus Martiño Rivas (who organised the workshop); to translator and associate director (and Central alumna) Paula Rodriguez; to Artistic Director Miguel del Arco and the Kamikaze team for hosting us; and to Ross Brown and Maria Delgado at Central for backing the project. We had some interesting meetings following the workshop, and hopefully this won’t be the end of the story.
To turn to a story that has ended: on the evening of January 31st, as British flags came down across Europe, Paula and I went to the beautiful Teatro Infanta Isabel to see La Ternura, a hugely popular production approaching its 300th performance. Written and directed by Alfredo Sanzol, artistic director of the Spanish National Theatre, the play is an explicit and fantastical homage to Shakespearean comedy; and the performance, which showcased the exceptional craft of its six-strong company, was as credibly early modern in style as anything I’ve ever seen at the Globe. Of course, Spain has its own early modern theatre tradition, the voluminous and sophisticated work written for the outdoor corrales by Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Caldéron and others in a Golden Age pretty precisely concurrent with the golden age of Elizabethan, Jacobean and early Caroline theatre in London. That the two nations mirrored each other theatrically is both remarkable and inevitable: like Coriolanus and Aufidius, early modern England and Spain were locked in a deadly love-hate embrace, at war for the first half of Shakespeare’s career, then in the flush of a much wished-for but uneasy peace. Throughout my time in Madrid, whether strolling the 17th-century streets of the Centro district, working on Shakespeare in a theatre which briefly predates the Spanish Civil War, or gazing awestruck at the works of Velasquez in the Prado, I was mindful of this almost-forgotten early modern conflict; and being so, I was all the more sensible of the peace that has prevailed in Europe in my lifetime.
Leaving Infanta Isabel that night, in the final hour of the UK’s membership of the EU, I noticed these adjacent portraits adorning the foyer wall:
Shakespeare and Cervantes never met. But Shakespeare certainly read Cervantes, as he wrote a play, Cardenio, now lost, based on a story from Don Quixote. And maybe Cervantes heard of Shakespeare, after peace was restored to their nations in 1604. There’s this guy who’s making some really interesting work in London. Maybe you should try to get over there, Miguel? Well, why not fantasise? They shared a historical moment (Shakespeare died the day after Cervantes in 1616), and though they could not avoid its enmities and prejudices, they worked in very similar theatrical environments, stylistically and contextually; and they both applied to their art a similar worldly eye and wit. It’s our privilege to indulge in the theatrical fantasy of hindsight and imagine that perhaps, had Will and Miguel somehow encountered each other over an ale at the Globe or a copa at the Corral de la Cruz, they might have swapped ideas or inspiration; perhaps even made friends.
Now, more than ever, we need to keep the flame of international and intercultural artistic collaboration in Europe alive; to tend it carefully, and to amplify its beams wherever they alight on enmity or injustice. We’ll need to work hard to overcome the barriers to collaboration which the bureaucracies of intolerance and selfishness throw up; but the true proof of the humanity of our theatre will be in our resilience and persistence in doing so.
I’m tremendously excited to be heading to Madrid at the end of January to run a four-day workshop on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus with the actors of Téatro Kamikaze, winners of the Spanish National Theatre Award 2017.
We’ll be working on several of the public/political scenes from the play, exploring how they relate to current movements in Spanish, and more generally European, politics: democratic deadlock and media manipulation, historic dictatorship and incipient nationalism, secession and insurgency. We’ll also be working on developing a new translation of the play, which remains relatively unknown and very rarely performed in Spain.
I’m especially pleased that the project brings together two exceptionally talented former students, who have been instrumental in organising the work: Kamikaze ensemble member and star of Las Chicas del Cable Martiño Rivas, who was part of the first MA Acting cohort at Central in 2010, and actor/director Paula Rodriguez of Teatro Inverso, who was in the 2014 cohort.
For personal-political reasons, I’m also very glad that I will be in the EU, working on Shakespeare’s great study of hatred and enmity in the tongue of Elizabethan England’s great enemy, on January 31st. What miserable foolishness it is to leave this all behind.
Hasta la victoria siempre.
And did those feet, in ancient times … ?
Next project with Anna Healey: in April we’re opening the Courtyard Theatre in Central’s £16.7m North Block development. We’ve chosen something ambitious and timely to inaugurate a new performance space: Shakespeare’s late tragi-comic national identity myth. If it isn’t obvious why this feels like the play for this moment, we’ve decided to use the full early modern title of the Shakespeare play which contains the most uses of the word ‘Britain’. It’s strange beginning work on a play about Britain and not having any idea what Britain will be like when we stage it, in just 12 weeks’ time.
We’re excited to collaborate with Lizzy Leech as designer, and to work once more with Dan Balfour on sound, composer Paul Sartin, Josh Gadsby on light (with Sam Thomas) and fight director Bethan Clark.
The show runs from 10-13 April at 7pm, with 2pm matinees on the 11 and 13 April. Tickets can be booked here.
Cymbeline feels personally timely too, as one of the last explorations of the theme of father/daughter relationships which obsessed Shakespeare throughout his career; my daughter Aria Ruth made her first entrance in January:
Thou met’st with things dying, I with things newborn …
I haven’t posted news here about my scholarly work before, but maybe I should – even if only because I haven’t posted any news in a really long time.
Today was a day. In the morning, a paper on Shakespeare, Monstrosity, Acting and the Devilish at the Perdition Catch My Soul symposium at Shakespeare’s Globe; in the afternoon a presentation on my work with Pop-up Globe at the New Old Spaces colloquium at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. As the final act of a busy term teaching five groups of acting students from as many institutions, two papers in one day in august scholarly-theatrical environments, concentrating on two different and yet codependent aspects of my work: the scholarly and the theatrical, natch.
Because I idiotically double-booked myself.
Monstrous. So it goes. Next, there’s this buskin about to shake this great stage of fools:
See you next year …
Each day of rehearsals for The Rover feels like a workout. Last year’s MA Acting show, The Devils, contained an absurd number of technical cues – in the midi’d-360s, I think. This year’s The Rover contains at least as many complications and improbabilities. Solving its stylistic and dramaturgical puzzles is at least as hard as the hardest thing I’ve done …
As the media’s flames began to dance merrily around the feet of the patriarchy this autumn, I had a shameful revelation. Shameful in itself and shameful too that I hadn’t hitherto been aware of it.
I haven’t ever directed a play by a woman.
I should pause on this. I suppose, the fact that I make all the productions I make working very closely with women, has allowed me to either unconsciously ignore or subconsciously excuse that fact. (It’s no excuse.) Dead men roam unchallenged around the margins of my work.
High time to do a play by a dead woman, then. I’ve always known about Aphra Behn, never made her acquaintance before. Virginia Woolf wrote of her:
All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds… Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance.
Behn is an extraordinary character. Her background is mostly obscure, contradictory; she spent time at the fringes of the early English colonial project in Surinam, travelled widely, may have been a spy. As well as being the first professional female playwright in English, she wrote one of the first novels, Oroonoko, a plea for racial tolerance. No saint though: an unashamed elitist and anti-Semite – sharing, indeed, certain disagreeable qualities with her later admirer.
So, Anna Healey and I will be making The Rover with the 2018 MA Acting (Classical) cohort at Central, April 17-20 in the Webber Douglas Studio. We’re delighted to be working once more with Manuela Harding, Ed McKay and Dan Balfour. Booking details to follow shortly …
I’ve just returned from Aotearoa/NZ, where I’ve been re-rehearsing Othello for a season in Melbourne, Australia. We had to say goodbye to Te Kohe Tuhaka due to other commitments, but I was absolutely delighted to introduce the brilliant Regan Taylor to the title role. We found Regan through his extraordinary and innovative one-man version of Othello, performed with Maori masks. He’s one of the most interesting and creative actors I’ve had the good fortune of working with, and I think his performance is going to be very special indeed. You can book tickets to the Melbourne run of the production, which was highly critically acclaimed in its Auckland incarnation, here. Pictures and reviews of the Auckland show are here.
I’m about to head back to Aotearoa/New Zealand to direct the remount of Othello for a limited season in Melbourne, Australia. Pop-up Globe will be popping up by the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Kings Domain. Booking is now open until November 2017.
This production is wildly ambitious, technically complex, mentally exhausting and creatively stimulating. I’m working with a brilliant team and company. Come see it. One of the actors, the excellent James Haxby, put together some questions for the production’s WordPress page which made me write in a focused manner about the work. It’s here.