Shakespeare: innovative and gender-blind

merely-theatre-romeo-and-juliet

By Jamie Murphy, 6.2, Drama Don

On Tuesday 21 February the Bedales Olivier Theatre was visited by Merely Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The company’s focus was on producing a ‘stripped-back’ Shakespeare where the text, as well as the relationship between performer and audience, is at the heart of every performance. With a sparse set and almost uniform costumes, the production focussed on Shakespeare’s writing and gave the actors room to experiment and pay close attention to the subtext of their lines. The themes of identity in Romeo and Juliet were explored by Merely Theatre through their use of gender-blind casting.

Juliet declares that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”; just as Shakespeare seemed to reject the importance of traditional identities and labels, Merely Theatre reject the significance of gender in representing character. All of the actors playing at least one role that wasn’t their assigned gender not only lent the production a sense of innovation, it also allowed for new interpretations of the narrative. For example, both Romeo and Juliet being played by men created a new layer to their forbidden love.

Merely Theatre’s production proved that Shakespeare can still be relevant to contemporary issues, and utilised a minimalist approach to create an engaging and intellectually accessible piece of theatre.

Sixth Formers watch striking performance of Othello

The most striking thing about Frantic Assembly’s Othello was how the poetry of the Shakespearian language had such tension with the modern aesthetic setting. As the audience walked into the Lyric Hammersmith theatre, they were met with loud, heavy music you would expect to hear in a club, which set up the stereotypical Leeds pub which was laid out for us on stage. As the first actor strutted on stage, the action began immediately as they broke into a dance sequence, prologuing the well known Shakespearian play. The first movement sequence lasted ten minutes during which we learnt the hierarchy and status of the characters. We could clearly distinguish the relationship between Othello and Desdemona in the first few minutes of the play and understood the environment where the story was taking place and the key emotions, which the characters portrayed; sex, jealousy and hate.

The acting in the play was very energetic, the characters were always very aware of each other. This gave the feeling of a community and that they have been going to this pub for a long time. Othello’s character was bold with a sense of presence and power over the other characters, which was obvious from the way the atmosphere completely changed when he walked onstage. For example, he was always centre stage, creating a whirlpool of action around him, circling and clinging on to his every move. His relationship with Desdemona was clearly a sexual and intimate one but didn’t seem to have much more depth. They were materialistic and lustful they were all over each other on stage, but behind closed doors it became obvious that they’re communication didn’t delve much deeper. As for the acting however, it was powerful and electric along with constant movement and flirtation.

Not only did the play deal with relationships, but also it dealt with how relevant these issues are today. Set in a Leeds pub, the setting was familiar and the stories became more realistic. Dressed in tracksuit bottoms, hoodies and crop tops, the costumes allowed the audience to realise exactly what kind of pub this was. No one looked out of place. The grubby graffiti on the loo walls and cigarette stained cushions, overlooking the typical crime scene car park made the outdated language seem strangely relatable. The poetry used to translate the stories of the play was seamlessly integrated into the typical modern setting.

From a movement perspective, some of the lifts required too many people, that it took away the fluidity from the drunken sequence therefore making the stage look over crowded. Having the lifts executed by fewer people could have easily solved this. In conclusion this way of telling the story of Othello highlighted key issues in our modern day society and made it more relatable for this younger audience. The Frantic way of using action and movement with dramatic physicality gave the piece an exciting edge. The relationship between the modern set and Shakespearian language created a dynamic contrast.

By Emily Cliffe, 6.1


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Book now for Petersfield Shakespeare Festival

Have you got your tickets yet for the Petersfield Shakespeare Festival at Bedales? If not, visit www.petersfieldshakespearefestival.co.uk or phone 01730 711599 to avoid disappointment. The Merry Wives will kick-off the festival at the Sotherington Outdoor Theatre from the 14-19 July, followed by Macbeth from 21-26 July. The performances will feature West End actors and local favourites, including Old Bedalians. Ste Johnston will return in triumph after his performance last year as Bottom, as Shakespeare’s fattest and naughtiest knight, Sir John Falstaff, who boozes and bounds his way through the bedrooms and bars of the English countryside. Bring your picnic, or order a gourmet pizza from The Cricketers, sit back and be entertained.

Portrait Photographer

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

Launching Petersfield Shakespeare Festival

By Jay Green, Festival organiser and Head of Drama
Actors of all stripes are invited to audition for outdoor performances of Shakespeare as part of the inaugural Petersfield Shakespeare Festival which will take place in July 2012. This new venture, to be held in the Bedales grounds, is a local community based creative outlet that will deliver high quality entertainment – for the local community by the local community – and will provide an opportunity for actors to work on Shakespeare productions with professional directors. The opening festival will feature productions of Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night. Auditions will take place on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 February at The Olivier Theatre. View more information and audition form. To register, please contact Georgina Harrison on 01730 711599 or visit Twitter or Facebook.

 

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Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music school. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.