What’s different about the Globe’s visit to Cambridge Arts Theatre?
- Credit: Marc Brenner
Shakespeare’s Globe returns to Cambridge Arts Theatre with three of the playwright’s most popular plays – The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night from August 29 to September 1. And you get to choose which they perform. I spoke to director Brendan O’Hea.
Q: Why come see you on tour?
I really think we have a terrific ensemble - hugely talented - passionate about the language, wonderful musicians and generous and kind towards each other. I think the audience are affected by this. Also, this is a first for Shakespeare’s Globe. We’ve never taken multiple plays out on the road before and allowed the audience to choose which play they’d like to see, so come along and be part of that experiment.
Q: Tell me about the challenges of touring The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night?
They are arguably three of Shakespeare’s darker comedies. The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew are particularly tricky and there are some thorny moments. This tour poses practical challenges too. When you only have a company of eight actors, you have to be inventive with the casting and the design. It takes a particular type of actor to have three plays in their head and not know which one they’ll be asked to perform.
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Q: Touring with a small cast, in keeping with the tradition of Shakespeare’s time; it’s quite a romantic notion. Less horse and carts, more Ginsters pasties and service stations nowadays I’m guessing?
Well, some things have changed a fair bit. But we know that Elizabethan touring players travelled for months at a time with a whole programme of plays at their fingertips, just as this ensemble is doing now. And, as in Shakespeare’s time, we’ll be leaving the choice of play to the most powerful in the household – for us, that’s the audience. They’re the most powerful people in the room, so the choice of play is up to them.
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Q: Why these plays?
We wanted to choose three plays that would have a good chance of being selected. We didn’t want to offer two well-known plays and then one obscure play. I’m also attracted to the darker comedies. And I had to imagine them being played by eight actors, which eliminates some of the histories with their numerous characters.
Q: What can you tell me about how you’re staging them?
I’ve tried to make the storytelling crystal clear. I’ve not added anything. It’s wonderful hearing Shakespeare’s words getting the laughs. The presentation of the three plays is relatively simple, but it has to be. All the costumes and props for the three productions need to fit into one truck. The designer, Andrew Edwards, has been really inventive about how he uses clothes. I like parameters though, because they force us all to be more creative.
Q: We’re seeing more adaptations really play with the text - shifts in time periods, more women playing traditionally male roles, etc. What’s your view on the modernisation of Shakespeare?
Shakespeare has always been modern. And it doesn’t matter how many times you see a Shakespeare play, you will always discover new things. The language can always tell us about the times we live in now and hopefully help us to make better decisions for the future. And Shakespeare can take any amount of adaptations. He led the way in experimentation.
Q: What’s behind it all; a need to move with the times, the need to find different ways to engage with tired audiences and how do you avoid it all coming over as gimmicky?
Sometimes we need to go back to the past in order to understand the present and move into the future. In his pitch to build Shakespeare’s Globe, Sam Wanamaker once said that ‘we need to re-construct the original theatre as another way to make the old new, and to give the classics back their frightening novelty by renewing the original stage and staging. By taking the plays back to the original theatre a new and disturbing Shakespeare would be created’. I get nervous of novelty for novelty’s sake. Just try to tell the story as simply and as clearly as possible. Simplicity releases complexity. If you present the plays simply, they can be understood anywhere and audiences can bring their own interpretations to the stories.
Q: The Globe’s artistic director Michelle Terry recently took the role of Hamlet; ironic given men used to play women. It seems to me that it’s the right time to mix things up and challenge out-dated views?
Exactly. I’ve tried to match the essence of the character to the actor, regardless of gender or age. And I’ve found that very liberating.
Q: Do you think Shakespeare’s plays are more accessible than ever or do you still think there’s resistance among audiences?
I think Shakespeare is always relevant and that makes the plays accessible. People will always be in love or in despair, they’ll always be jealous or ambitious and we understand that when we see his stories on stage.
Q: Some people perceive London as the centre for culture in Britain but getting out to theatres of all shapes and sizes is important?
Absolutely. Theatres are shared spaces for people from all backgrounds, ages and walks of life to come together. Tours allow us to extend the Globe’s wonderful spirit beyond central London and they are a hugely important part of what we do. We also take what we’ve learned on the road back to the Globe.
Q: Theatre can be empowering, educational but still fun?
Theatre is essential. It is the best community. When it works, which I think it does at Shakespeare’s Globe, it is the perfect democracy because it brings people together. And theatre is certainly educational - drama teaches us how to work as a team, how to empathise.
Q: How do you feel reading, performing and directing Shakespeare?
Shakespeare reminds me of when I walk down Fifth Avenue in New York. I never feel dwarfed by those tall skyscrapers, I feel as tall as them. Seeing or acting in Shakespeare makes me feel as tall as the words.