Paul Sartin, 1971-2022

I’m devastated by the sudden death of dear friend and frequent artistic collaborator Paul Sartin. Paul was an extraordinary musician and composer, a warm and supportive teacher and a witty, courteous, generous and deeply devoted friend. I first met him through Jon Boden, and followed with pleasure and pride his extraordinary career with Bellowhead and other award-winning folk bands. He wrote and performed exquisite music for my productions of Antony and Cleopatra, As You Like It and Cymbeline, King of Britain; we spoke earlier in the week about the next project we were going to do together, Lorca’s Blood Wedding. And now, unbelievably, he’s gone.

Paul was always brilliant to work with: patient and encouraging with singers and musicians of all levels, he brought the best out of all the students in our shows; and as an instinctive and generous creative collaborator, he was always able to burnish the aesthetics of a dramatic moment to glittering brilliance, and enhance and escalate its emotional impact. His music was precise, exciting, authentic and steeped in thoughtfulness: profoundly aware of tradition, playfully daring to be new. So many beautiful melodies, never played before, now will never be.

Above is a sadly imperfect phone video of technical rehearsal for Paul’s showstopper in our last collaboration, Cymbeline. An angular and challenging piece of music involving precise disharmonies performed by Zoë Clayton-Kelly and Jessica Bank, it’s fittingly a rendering of one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful lyrics about death:

Fear no more the heat o’the sun, nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done: home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.

Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust;

The sceptre, learning, physic must all follow this and come to dust;

All lovers young, all lovers must consign to thee, and come to dust.

Below, a video of Paul as I will always remember him from the deeply privileged position I had of simply watching him work, effortlessly spinning beauty from the harmony of human voices: a setting of the Unst Boat Song in rehearsal for the same production.

What indescribable loss. May his memory be a blessing.

Film of In Hell (after Gorky)

The filmed performance of In Hell, the collaborative adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s The Lower Depths which I directed with Natasha Fedorova in late 2021 at Central, is now available to watch on Vimeo. Click the image below to watch the film:

In Hell (after Gorky)

Next show: 15-18 December in the Embassy Theatre at Central. A collaborative adaptation/translation of Gorky’s Lower Depths, made with long-time teaching colleague Natasha Fedorova and a tremendously talented company of actors. Other brilliant collaborators on this deep dive include Anisha Fields on set, Manuela Harding on costume, Ben Jacobs on light, Beth Duke on sound, Bethan Clark on fights, Alex Bingley working the voices, and Cat McHugh, Devika Ramcharan and David Salter keeping everything in order. Click the image above to book.

Podcast(s)

I’ve been listening with avid interest to Robert Price’s fascinating and provocative podcast series on actor training in British drama schools, so I was delighted when Rob asked me to join him for an episode. We talked about contemporary Shakespearean pedagogy and about postgraduate actor training – you can listen to the episode here.

I’ll also be appearing shortly on an episode of Central’s Discover Central podcast, to share some more exciting news – keep your ears peeled.

Two Minute Tales

A really fascinating and challenging project came to me in late 2019: script consultancy on a new series of Hopster.tv’s Two Minute Tales. The brief involved condensing Shakespeare plays into two-minute versions suitable for 2-6 year olds, with the core of the plot or themes delivered in 120 seconds, and each with a clear ‘learn’.

Working with writer/animator/narrator Mole Hill and producer Ellen Solberg, we created versions of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Henry IV, The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, and one joyous animation, The Glovemaker’s Son, imagining Shakespeare’s early childhood and an encounter with some travelling players …

Watch it on Hopster now.

Hamlet

Excited and daunted to announce the next project: a hybrid and high-concept theatre-film of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a collaboration between MA Acting Classical at Central and Illuminations Media, with whom we worked last year on Cymbeline 19 & 37.

We’ll be making the work in a physically-distanced form over nine weeks, shooting in the Embassy Theatre in October, my first attempt at making a piece of corona theatre. I’ll be joined on the journey by regular collaborators Manuela Harding and Max Dorey (design), Rachel Bown-Williams (violence), Morwenna Rowe (voice) and Beth Cotton (stage management); and I’m tremendously excited to work with some formidable creatives for the first time: Ingrid Mackinnon (movement), Beth Duke (sound) and Ben Jacobs (light).

Kamikaze Brexit

What a way to get Brexit done.

(What’s done cannot be undone … )

I spent the last week of January, month of the two-faced god, in Madrid, a marvellous city I’ve never visited before, with the brilliant Teatro Kamikaze. I was honoured to work with their superb ensemble of actors at Kamikaze’s 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.

Kamikaze Coriolano

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.

Cymbeline 37/19

I’m delighted to announce that the two films we made with Illuminations Media and the MA Acting (Classical) 2019 cohort, of scenes from Cymbeline, will be screening in the Embassy Theatre at Central on Wednesday December 11 at 7:30pm.

Tickets are free and can be booked here.

Cymbeline, King of Britain

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 …