Shakespeare. I'm often asked why I am so passionate about his work and about the work of Grassroots. Aren't there enough Shakespeare companies? What are we doing that is so different and who cares anyway?
It is a question that I have reflected a lot on over the past few years, and indeed, have scrutinised my own feelings and motivations as we have gone through everything from building a company, to having money stolen from us as well as business information, to performing at the RSC and becoming the first ever resident company at Leicester Square Theatre in the West End.
The only answer that I can really come up with that captures every thought and aspect of my feelings, is that I fell in love.
I remember the first time he caught my eye.
I was newly at secondary school and studying a speech by Oberon from A Midsummer Night's Dream, which we also had to memorise:
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.
Take thou some of it, and seek through this grove:
A sweet Athenian lady is in love
With a disdainful youth: anoint his eyes;
But do it when the next thing he espies
May be the lady: thou shalt know the man
By the Athenian garments he hath on.
Effect it with some care, that he may prove
More fond on her than she upon her love:
And look thou meet me ere the first cock crow.
|Max Wilson as Oberon and Emily Jane Kerr as Puck in our 2012/2013 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream|
The imagery of sweet musk-roses, eglantine (sweet briar rose) and woodbine (honeysuckle) captured my imagination, and I could hardly believe that a mere sequence of words could collectively have such transportive power to the extent to being able to evoke smell or the visions of this magical bower. What was this seductive, immersive sorcery?!
And it happened.
I was completely enthralled and enamoured. I kept asking when would we be studying the next Shakespearean play. We had to wait far too long in my impatience to learn more, but were so richly rewarded by Macbeth. The Tempest was enjoyable, despite the new relationship having to survive the obstacle of a truly painful production of the play. We stuck together and moved through it.
|Matthew Walker as Prospero in our 2012/2013 production of The Tempest|
Falling out of Love
But it was a difficult relationship.
We didn't always get on.
Sometimes he said things that were utterly obscure and I would think he was being difficult on purpose. It would upset me, and I consulted various books trying to figure out what on earth he was going on about. Maybe someone else out there could shed light on where he was coming from. I hoped. I wanted to stick with him, but it was trying.
Then I had to study and perform Cymbeline at RADA as part of my degree.
I definitely wasn't on amorous terms with him after that.
I can't entirely recollect what it was about that production that I disliked so much. From memory, it feels disjointed, lacking in clear storytelling, a gloss over what isn't exactly an easy play at the best of times.
I decided I'd had enough. It was far too much hard work and we didn't speak for quite some time. Years in fact. I buried him away and hoped he would go away.
It was rather like a coal burning away deep inside my heart. The more I pretended it wasn't there, or I ignored it, or buried it further down, the more it defiantly glowed with an annoyingly increasing intensity. Without me quite realising, he was wooing me all over again.
I don't really recollect an inciting moment, but I had become fed up of being afraid.
It was hard at first. It took a lot of humility. I struggled to admit that I was intimidated by Shakespeare, of what I didn't actually understand and to be open about the fact that I felt, particularly in light of having studied at such a prestigious school, so shamefully embarrassed about the work that I had to put in to try to comprehend those difficult passages or words.
I realised that I had put him on a pedestal, and in fact had stopped relating to the real man. It is impossible to sustain romantic feelings of first love. I had to go back to basics, on my own terms, and get to know who he really is.
It was so much more satisfying.
Something magical happened.
In being open and honest, I was able to really fall in love, not with an idea but with reality.
One of the things I tell all of our Grassroots actors is never feel ashamed in rehearsals about asking what you don't understand because I can guarantee no-one was born having complete knowledge of Elizabethan English, and everyone has had to study and learn. I encourage the use of dictionaries, and if actors are still stuck, I see no problem with using modern English editions to dig out the meaning, and then apply that insight back to the original text. In a collaborative, nurturing environment, which is what we encourage, this means that the actors was also provide support for each other in exploring the story. Together we can find out what is really means.
Most importantly, this work is crucial, because once we can grasp the heart of the play, we can communicate it to our audience. They too can feel the love we have for Shakespeare, that we want to share, because, to quote Juliet,
"My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
|Loren O'Brien as Juliet and Boris Mitkov as Romeo in our 5 star 2013 production of Romeo and Juliet|
Of course, it takes work, every good relationship does. To quote the modern wordsmith Steve Tyler, falling in love is so hard on the knees. But it is so rewarding. Seeing audiences who have come to the theatre for the first time ever because their friends have told them about the play, and to hear them say "I can't believe that was Shakespeare, I enjoyed it so much", which is something I heard regularly during our recent production of Twelfth Night, is absolutely thrilling.
And that is why I am passionate.
Because everyone deserves to fall in love.
|Tamaryn Payne as Lady Olivia and Ellie Nunn as Cesario/Viola in our 2016 production of Twelfth Night, celebrating Shakespeare 400 from London's West End|
Siobhán Daly is the Artistic Director and Producer of Grassroots Shakespeare London.
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