Friday, 29 November 2013

A Chat with Hollow Crown Fans & Grassroots Shakespeare London

At Grassroots, we love our social media and one of our favourite (ok, probably our favourite) Twitter accounts is the wonderful Hollow Crown Fans (@hollowcrownfans). We follow their themed #ShakespeareSunday, where fellow passionate Shakespeareans share their favourite quotes from the Great Bard himself.
Following a great Twitter exchange about opera and Shakespeare, Grassroots Shakespeare London’s Siobhan Daly sat down for a blog chat with HCF's Lis and Rose.

On Original Practices:

HCF: What does 'Original Practices' mean for an actor? For an audience?
Matthew Cavendish as Moth and Robert Nairne
as Don Adriano in rehearsals for
Love's Labour's Lost
SD: Original Practices for us means getting as close as possible to how Shakespeare’s actors would have worked and performed. I think that what most often surprises our audiences is that we have no director, but neither did Shakespeare’s players. For Elizabethan acting companies, there wasn’t a wardrobe or props department like we know it today. They would have had a small costume store most of which would be donated by patrons - however it would almost exclusively be slight variations on modern fashions, basically day-to-day dress. Having Grassroots source everything from what is in our everyday lives is a modern version of that. 

In terms of rehearsals, Elizabethan actors didn’t rehearse at all like you might think. They would probably walk through fights, entrances and exits, if that, depending on the play. A readthrough in the pub with the writer is probably the only time they would hear the whole thing before the actual performance.  The actors would have to form their own ideas of their characters before arriving at rehearsals. 

They would also use cue scripts, which is where you own have your own lines, and the cue words of the person before you.

So this inspired us. We started exploring rehearsing with shortened rehearsal periods, with our own props, costumes and developing our own characters because we wanted to see if it brought something new and fresh to performances. We discovered that it is exciting when you have a number of people giving creative input rather than just depending on a director’s approval, or relying on somebody else’s vision or creativity, which is quite lazy really. We have found that for actors to be engaged in this process, they will be real team players, willing to take risks and step outside their comfort zones. They are intelligent, courageous and love engaging with the text and with the relationships on stage.
A Beautiful Bride: Adam Blampied as Helena and Christian Kinde as Demetrius

            Also, Shakespeare’s actors were all male, so we decided to start casting gender blind. We have amusingly been accused of casting ‘heteronormative’ which made us laugh, because we actually cast the ensemble and then cast the roles. So it is talent that matters, we’re not making statements about gender, which other companies do excellently. We’re just looking at making the best production possible with the ensemble that we have. This has led to a male Helena, played memorably by Adam Blampied, or a female Philostrate/ Puck played by Emily Jane Kerr. Both actors are excellent and created imaginative characters.
For audiences, we hope that this brings a fun sense of irreverence, while bringing a textually rigorous, well performed production.

How does OP focus on clarity of text versus a single director's vision?

Siobhan Daly rehearsing for The Tempest with Stewart Heffernan
What we are really keen on is telling the story. I am sure that there are lots of wonderful productions of Shakespeare happening all over the world all of the time, that are well directed. I think for me, as an avid theatre goer, I’ve seen a lot of productions where the play has had a vision imposed, whether it fits or not. I recently saw a Shakespeare production which reminded me of this; the relationships and the story were very unclear, and words were added in to fit the director’s vision. It was awkward, clunky and my non-theatre going friend asked me if we could leave at the interval. I felt so sad because the play is wonderful but I could see entirely why she had failed to engage with this production. It had become introspective and self-congratulatory, rather than engaging.
Also, there is a freshness from hearing other creative people’s input, especially when they are doing all they can to hit every plot point and make everything crystal clear; that is when the heart of the story is communicated and I think that is often lost. It is why people say Shakespeare is boring, because undoubtedly they have seen productions that made them feel like this, but if Shakespeare speaks about the human condition, which we know he does, then we have to ask ourselves why this is happening.
I've found that a particular advantage to working in this style is that you can do without big lavish sets or any other crutches that can sometimes be used to prop up a production. You absolutely have to let the words do the talking, so you really need strong actors who love working the text.

David North as Don John in
Much Ado About Nothing, June 2012
Does a collective vision of a group of performers become a singular vision in the eye of the audience?

It takes a lot of work but yes it does. When the ensemble work together, they start to create a singular vision. 

An example of this was in 2012, we ended up staging two completely different production of Much Ado About Nothing. The first one was held around the time of the Jubilee celebrations, and very organically, the cast created a world inspired by VE Day, with soldiers returning from war. 

Boris Mitkov as Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing
August 2012

The second production we did was later in the summer with another cast, and they created something much more modern and militaristic, getting themselves two Off West End Award nominations along the way. I was involved with both productions and I made a point of deliberately not influencing the second cast’s choices, so for me it was absolutely fascinating to see them work and come up with their own original ideas.

When Original Practices is done well, the audience shouldn't really be thinking about the method, but engaging with the play.

Do you embrace or avoid contradictions in collective interpretation?
The Grassroots Dramaturg, Lauren Amy Pakes

We try to avoid them because ultimately we want to tell the story, so we do everything we can to keep that as simple and as straightforward as possible.

How do you democratically agree on how to edit or cut scenes from a play? Do egos ever get in the way (e.g., “you’ve cut my part down 50%!”)?

We have a Dramaturg, Lauren Amy Parkes, so she does the major editing work these days, and between her, Boris Mitkov (the Assistant Artistic Director) and myself, we come to a happy agreement on the final script. 
Sometimes, when we give the scripts to the actors, they will ask to put bits back in. We don't object to doing this, as long as they are intelligible inserts that fit with our edit and it doesn't impact too much on the running time!

On Shakespeare in new millennium and new audiences

Rupert Christiansen made a point that opera has seen success in concert style performances versus fully staged productions. Some responses to this is that type of production of Shakespeare’s work would be elitist. Is that something you think wide audiences would want to see? What would be the benefit or con of creating a concert style production?  Can Shakespeare’s work be appreciated fully without a reference point (such as staging)?

Daisy Ward as Hermia and Kane Surry as Lysander
in A Midsummer Night's Dream
I enjoy opera very much and see a lot of it, but I don’t think you can compare an opera concert style performance to a play. I don’t think a concert style play reading is something with wide appeal. This isn’t about having a large set, lighting or costumes. It’s about seeing actors standing in a line, trying to dramatically interact with someone who is standing at the other end of the line. I can’t see how it could be engaging or interesting. How will you see the relationships clearly? Or feel the drama? You might as well be listening to someone read the phone book.
Of course, this is entirely different when you’re listening to a singer and a full, or even reduced, orchestra, as the music often carries a lot of the emotion, and you’re not relying on the same things actors are.

With Shakespeare’s work becoming more widely available in text and performance online there have been debates on whether or not there should be an authoritative presence for performers and amateurs to reference to. Do you believe there should be authoritative standards for performers? Should the academia establishment limit performance interpretation? (in terms of being viewed as a valid interpretation, not in terms of policing).

In terms of having authoritative and trusted editions to turn to, yes, I do. I think that people like Eric Rasmussen and Jonathan Bate produce beautiful, scholarly edits for the RSC, and the Arden editions are invaluable when trying to edit a script. There’s many a debate been had at Grassroots over different words listed in the Arden! There is a wonderful essay by Jonathan on the RSC’s website about editing, including a fascinating discussion on Hamlet’s ‘sallied, sullied or solid flesh’ (he argues for the Folio’s ‘solid’) and it is an artform. I do think you need scholars who are passionate enough to wade through years of study to help practitioners, and at the same time, I think practitioners need to make their own minds up too. The work of academics can help you to do that. I personally love the work of James Shapiro. I think he is a brilliant academic and writer who brings Shakespeare and his world to life in a way I have never encountered before.
I’m not quite sure who would decide on valid interpretations. I think ultimately that will be down to the audience. I would worry about an establishment deciding because I think that could be limiting for artists and the beauty of Shakespeare is that people engage with it so widely. I recently saw Wu Hsing-kuo, a Taiwanese actor who produced a version of Macbeth called Kingdom of Desire using Peking Opera techniques. He told us that doing this had gotten him labelled a revolutionary agitator by the political establishment, for taking an iconic national artform and changing it to perform Shakespeare. I am glad that he could use Shakespeare's story of Macbeth in his own way because it became a cultural milestone.

What is more important for Shakespeare to thrive with new audiences? Entertain or enrich?

Hopefully a bit of both! 'New audiences' isn’t a synonym for 'stupid audiences', which I think can be implied by some people within the industry. You can entertain and enrich at the same time. They’re not exclusive and one is not more highbrow than the other. Shakespeare did both and I can’t see why well performed productions today can’t do the same.

Recent Shakespeare film/tv adaptations like The Hollow Crown, Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus - or going further back to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet or Mel Gibson’s Hamlet use popular celebrity actors to bring audiences to Shakespeare.  Does this help or hurt theatrical Shakespeare productions that don’t feature a big name celebrity (particularly with respect to setting expectations)?

I think the movies can help with developing audience awareness, because it makes it possible for entirely different demographics to have access to Shakespeare's stories. Some people have never been to the theatre and if the first time they encounter Shakespeare is in a cinema thanks to Baz Luhrmann or Mel Gibson, I don’t mind, and considering how commercially minded Shakespeare was, I don’t think he would have minded either. If these film goers who have never been to the theatre, do then go and see a theatre production as a result, then this can only be positive.
Established film actors are often performing on stage. We currently have Jude Law playing Henry V in the West End and Tom Hiddleston about to play Coriolanus, or there's Orlando Bloom as Romeo on Broadway.
Productions such as the current Globe rep season on Broadway of Twelfth Night and Richard III are anything to go by, audiences don't mind seeing excellent productions which don't feature A-List celebrity names. Actors that might be well-known here in the UK, are less renowned in the US, but the shows have had excellent press and are selling well.

How large a role does social media play into promoting your theatre company?

A large one! We have most of our followers on Facebook, so we try to engage very regularly with our audiences on there, and we also add our voice to Twitter. We like chatting with people. We are friendly and enjoy engaging people with Shakespeare's work. Social media isn't pretentious and neither are we. 

Our next show is Othello, and will be celebrating Shakespeare's 450th birthday from London's West End at the Leicester Square Theatre, from 2nd - 26th April 2014. When we announced this on social media, we had a fantastic response. We were so pleased as the whole team work really hard and with genuine passion to produce high quality, accessible productions of Shakespeare. The response you get on social media is also immediate. Rather than waiting until April, we've been able to talk to our audience now, and that is great.

We hope you enjoyed our chat! Next time, we'll be chatting with the Hollow Crown Fans and finding out more about their fantastic Twitter account and their love for Shakespeare!

About Hollow Crown Fans

Hollow Crown Fans started 30th of June 2012 at the start of the BBC's broadcast of The Hollow Crown.  The group was originally set up to petition the BBC to publish a commemorative book of photographs of the series. However, the effort quickly evolved from that original purpose to a broader vision that celebrated The Hollow Crown, its cast and crew, and all of Shakespeare's work as portrayed in text and performance. It evolved yet again in October 2012 with the advent of the weekly #ShakespeareSunday Twitter event. #ShakespeareSunday is an all-day Shakespeare flashmob of sorts where people from all over the world tweet their favourite quotes from the Bard. Participation in the event is steadily growing and currently ranges between 500-600 tweets from followers each Sunday.

To encourage participation from followers we've held an original art competition, judged by 2 cast members of The Hollow Crown, and a popular Cento Poetry writing contest that was judged by The Shakespeare Institute. We have a great time linking Shakespeare (in text or performance) to people's pre-existing interests. For example, recently promoted that there are 4 prominent Hamlets playing key roles in 'Skyfall' or 3 incredible Macbeth's in the X-Men franchise. By these activities, we love connecting fans with performers with academia - it's a blend of practices that we've yet to see on social media for Shakespeare.

Essentially we believe that Shakespeare can be a part of pop culture and should be accessible to everyone - be they enthusiasts, performers, academics or novices.  On a more personal level, we are run by two admins, one from the UK (who was an extra in Henry V!) and one from the US. Both share a life-long love of Shakespeare, history, theatre and film and bring that energy to the 3000+ followers on Twitter every day. Our motto: Come for The Hollow Crown, Stay for the Shakespeare!

Lis & Rose

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Siobhan's Guest Blog for West End Frame!

Our Artistic Director & Exec Producer, Siobhan Daly, was recently thrilled to be asked to be the first ever guest blogger for the theatre site, West End Frame!

Here it is just for you!

Guest Blog: A Summer of Love with Grassroots Shakespeare London

Siobhan Daly
I recently read that although Shakespeare spent most of his life working, acting and writing in London, we really only associate him with Stratford-upon-Avon, a place where he spent relatively little time. Perhaps it’s fitting then, that as a Londoner, I established Grassroots Shakespeare London in my home town and capital city with a fun and vibrant ensemble of top young classical actors to bring his works to life in a fresh and exciting new way.

I’ve always been compelled by the beauty of his language and the emotion of his plays. I remember being at school and studying Oberon’s speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows….”, and being completely stunned by the depth of the imagery, how instantly you could picture exactly what he was describing, the sights, the smells, the atmosphere.

This wonder never left me, but as I grew up, I was confused to realise that many people didn’t share my enthusiasm. As I asked why, I found that it wasn’t that they didn’t like Shakespeare, but that they felt it was somehow for other people, those with university degrees perhaps, or a special innate knowledge into the mysterious workings of The Bard; a bit like an elite club for people who spoke in booming, deep voices and about things like ‘iambic pentametres’, as though it was a secret password into attending the theatre, which of course, it isn’t at all. You don’t need any of these things. Yes of course, they can deepen your knowledge and help the actors, but most of all, and most importantly, Shakespeare was written to be performed and enjoyed. He wanted people to engage with the stories, to laugh, to cry, to leave the theatre thinking about what they’d just seen, to share in the experience.

To try and get back to basics, Grassroots is an Original Practices company. This means that as much as possible, we try to follow the rehearsal and production methods of Shakespeare and his actors, so we work without a director as they would have. We cast gender-blind and collaborate to devise a show that is full of imagination and excitement rather than fitting into a director’s concept of what the show should be. This creates a production that is accessible and intelligible; we have twelve imaginations instead of one.

And it seems that people like it. We performed our first show in August 2011 and by 2012, we had launched the More London Free Festival during The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, headed up to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) to perform Much Ado About Nothing as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, got nominated for two Off West End Awards for Best Ensemble and Best Production, and produced a Five Star, sell-out Christmas rep season where we were having to turn people away as we just couldn’t fit them in.

This year we’re performing a six week Summer of Love rep at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington of the heart-breaking classic Romeo and Juliet and the romantic comedy, Love’s Labour’s Lost with one talented cast. This is a brilliant opportunity for Shakespeare on the London Fringe as most runs are only four weeks, so we’re hoping to bring these great works to as many people as possible.

I’m also passionate about identifying and nurturing the top young classical actors and giving them an opportunity to showcase their outstanding talents. Our Assistant Artistic Director is Boris Mitkov, a 22 year old Arts Ed graduate who is also a writer, professional photographer and director. He has already had a play translated, supported by the British Council, and it is currently playing in rep in Sofia. He has also taken his own plays up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where they have received five star reviews. Boris is playing Romeo and Costard in our current season and has been leading the rehearsal process for both shows. He’s a great all-round talent including on our multimedia, script editing, lighting shows or building set! Or there’s Matthew Cavendish, a recent graduate from LAMDA who was a finalist in the prestigious Stephen Sondheim Student Performer of the Year competition and who is playing Lord Capulet/ Apothecary and Moth/ Mercade this summer; or Christien Bart-Gittens, a 20 year old who I auditioned last year and have subsequently seen go from strength to strength. He has just finished his Foundation Year at East 15 and is auditioning for drama school. The future of theatre is very bright with actors like these.

Apart from their great talent and your ability to see them now before they’re off to Hollywood, is the fact that they can truly communicate the story. Part of setting up Grassroots was to help break down any elitist barriers to appreciating Shakespeare’s work but also to present intelligent, textually rigorous productions. We’ve all seen boring productions of Shakespeare where the actors have just learned their lines and not really understood a thing they’re saying. Good actors don’t let this happen. They want to communicate with you and they do. It’s a whole different experience.

We try and keep our shows as affordable as possible and we’ve kept our prices this year to the same as they were in 2012. We’re also hoping to keep running a free summer show at Victoria Embankment Gardens under Grassroots Offshoots, an ensemble of actors who are at Foundation degree or drama school audition stage. This year, Christien Bart-Gittens is leading a production of As You Like It for us in early August. We love nothing more than people stopping by to enjoy the show and then surprising themselves when they realise it’s Shakespeare!

Grassroots is fun, exciting, experimental, ground-breaking, passionate and bursting full of talent. I hope you can join us for our Summer of Love.

Siobhan Daly

Siobhan Daly is the Artistic Director and Executive Producer of Grassroots Shakespeare London. She is a RADA graduate and SOLT/ TMA Stage One West End Producer where she worked on the 2012 Olivier Award winning ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ (tour and West End), ‘The 39 Steps’ (tour and West End) and ‘The Ladykillers’ (Tour and West End). She is the Associate Producer for Theatre Royal Haymarket Productions which is currently co-producing Lee Evans and Sheila Hancock in ‘Barking in Essex’.

Grassroots Shakespeare London will be performing Romeo and Juliet and Love’s Labour’s Lost in repertory as part of a Summer of Love at the Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington.

Tuesday 18th June – Saturday 27th July 2013 at 7.30pm. Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm.
Tickets: £15/ £12 conc. (booking fee applies to online and phone bookings)
Booking line: 0844 412 4307

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Introducing our first guest blogger....Joe Staton!

Budding young actor Joe Staton impressed us here at Grassroots Towers when he emailed us to say he'd heard about us through a teacher and was coming all the way from Spain just to see our Christmas performances! We were delighted to meet such a passionate and committed student, so when he asked to interview us, we said yes. Joe wrote up his experiences for his school magazine and we're delighted to share his impressions with you.

Please give a warm Grassroots welcome to our first guest blogger, Joe Staton!

Arranging the interview

Facebook is truly a wonderful tool for every actor. Why? Because in this industry, contacts is everything. And what better way to build your contacts than by simply adding them onto Facebook?

During my many visits to London, I was adamant that I wanted to see a Shakespeare play performed. My A Level Drama and Theatre Studies teacher told me of Grassroots Shakespeare London, a group of actors who had begun in London by performing Shakespeare in public areas. Needless to say, my interest was sparked and I immediately sought them out on Facebook and booked a ticket to see, to my utter delight, their performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest.

By this time, I hadn't learnt the importance of Facebook. Fate must have intervened as I commented on one of their photos and almost immediately received a reply! After summoning up some much-needed courage, I was then able to arrange an interview with actress and founder of the Grassroots Shakespeare London, Siobhan Daly.

So on the night of the show, I headed down to the theatre and was delighted by the completely unique and wonderful performances of two of Shakespeare’s most wonderful comedies.

A quick review of the shows

This is the first time I have ever seen a Shakespeare on the stage. I can honestly say, I wasn’t disappointed!

One of the greatest things about the Bard’s works is the fact that there are very little stage directions. Why? Because that opens up opportunities for a wide range of interpretations! In the case of Grassroots, I was intrigued to learn that the group does not contain a director, instead working as a team to create their performances. That also means that when one goes to see Shakespeare on stage, no one can truly guess what to expect. 

The show was entertaining and if anyone was worried that they would not understand that big, complex and elevated diction that Shakespeare annoyingly utilized in his writing, they soon forgot these fears. The group worked tirelessly, each one emitting sparks of explosive energy that grasped the audience throughout both pieces. 
Max Wilson as Caliban in The Tempest

The time it would take to describe in detail how awesome each actor in their characters were would require at least another fifty pages, therefore I am unfortunately forced to be brief. Siobhan Daly was astounding in her role as Titania/Hippolyta in A Midsummer Nights Dream and Sebastian in The Tempest, highlighting her unbeatable talent! Max Wilson performed a brilliant portrayal of Caliban in The Tempest, adopting a Gollum like posture and a croaky voice.  Emily Jane Kerr was possibly the funniest Puck I have ever seen, completely blowing Stanley Tucci from Michael Hoffman’s film version of the show, completely out of the water! Her energy and commitment to the role was exactly 100% and her costume was sublime. I think my special mention however will have to go to Adam Blampied who, living up to the context of the Renaissance period in which women were forbidden to act on the stage, humourously portrayed the gorgeous Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and during his portrayal of Ariel in The Tempest, decided to adopt an extremely masculine voice and dress up as Batman (as I said, you never know what to expect at the theatre!).
Siobhan Daly as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream

All in all, a most enjoyable first experience of a live Shakespeare performance! 

The group has now begun rehearsal for a production of Romeo and Juliet and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Book your ticket now and don’t miss them!

Interview with Grassroots Actors Siobhan Daly (Titania/Hippolyta and Sebastian) and Matthew Walker (Nick Bottom and Prospero)

The meeting took place after the actors had changed and the audience departed. Meeting up at the theatre itself, they were able to provide me with some of their own back stories, a history of Grassroots, and the challenge of performing Shakespeare.
Matthew Walker as Bottom and Siobhan Daly as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream

So I guess my first question would be, where did you guys start out?

Matthew: Well, my mother was concerned that I was shy as a child so she sent me to drama lessons outside school and from about 11 onwards, that was it! I just loved it! So I very fortunately landed a few roles in TV between the age of 16 and 20, and then work kind off tried up so I went to drama school from the age of 22 to 25 and I've now been out for about three years. I've done a lot more theatre work since.

Siobhan: How did I start out? I probably started out at primary school when I wanted to star in nativity plays! I was one of those kids who enjoyed singing and dancing! I used to put on performances for the local kids and get them all involved, which is funny because it’s what I do now! So I kept acting, I studied at RADA, then I set up Grassroots and it’s been going for about 18 months now!

Do you prefer theatre?

Matthew: A healthy mix, I think. When you’re doing one you want to do the other!

Siobhan: I think I prefer stage. I think Matt said the really good answer! But I like stage more because it’s more immediate and every night’s different! Also, T.V and film can be quite hard because you've got to hit a mark and look a certain way. I like the freedom of the stage.

I never know what to expect when I see a play and what you guys did was definitely unexpected! What inspired the idea behind Ariel dressing up as Batman?

Siobhan: The actor himself came up with it. We don’t have a director and one of the things I love about it is that it gives the actors the room for creativity and freedom to come up with these ideas! Because otherwise you’re working under somebody else’s concept. I'm not trying to put directors out of work, but the freedom and creativity encourages actors and gives them the license to be themselves and play a little. I always say to people that it’s like being a kid again! You've got a dressing up box and Adam said, “Can I be Batman?” and everyone agreed!

So Grassroots started up as street performances?

Siobhan: Yeah! When we first started up our first performance was A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Hyde Park. Our idea was to make Shakespeare accessible so we decided to do it on the band stand and people would walk past and think “What’s going on?” and then stop, engage and then realize we’re doing Shakespeare and think “Oh my God! This is so funny! And it’s Shakespeare?!” So I see us as a sort of access point. I used to work in opera and I think it’s like that: if you get people to see the easier things first then they’re more willing to engage in the harder bits! This is our way of helping people enjoy live theatre!

What advice would you give to anyone who struggles to understand and enjoy Shakespeare?

Matthew: It’s daunting because it’s foreign to some people and people think they won’t understand it. They are exactly the sorts of people who we want to come and see Grassroots because they think they will struggle; they don’t think Batman will be in it. A lot of the themes Shakespeare talks about - love, honour, dishonour- they’re all relevant in modern times. It’s just about breaking people’s stereotypes towards it.

Siobhan: I totally agree with Matt! Shakespeare wrote about the human story, the human experience! As Matt says, the themes are universal. It doesn't really matter that it’s written in old English because people still fall in love, they’re still ambitious, still murderous, still vengeful. I think a lot of the time it’s in the playing of Shakespeare. When you get actors who know what they’re saying, who understand what they’re saying, then you can actually understand what’s happening on stage and you can relate it to your own experiences. One of the things we always say at Grassroots is that often people feel they have to speak like Lawrence Olivier with a big actor’s voice-

Matt: Which I do!

Siobhan: I was thinking when Matt was doing his Bottom as Pyramus, people often feel that’s how Shakespeare should be played all the time but really you should understand what your saying as if it was modern English as Shakespeare himself wrote in a language that was common to the people and his plays were for the people. I think that Shakespeare was a man that wrote about things close to his life and wanted people to understand that!
Matthew Walker as Prospero in The Tempest

Matt: I think people have this impression of him as well. He was actually just a man, a highly intelligent man. He was actually arrested outside the Globe for assault! I love that! He was just an ordinary bloke. There is a reason why his plays lasted for 500 years; the language is beautiful and so well written. There’s a reason why they will stand the test of time. I’m sure that in a hundred years it will still be performed.

Do you find it challenging publicising Shakespeare to the masses?

Siobhan: Yes and no. I think that now because we engage a lot in social media and by using that we can appeal to young people who use Facebook or Twitter. So that’s one of the ways we can engage with people. Of course there is also the highly theatre going crowd who bring their friends as well. But one of the most difficult things is, where does one spend their money? If you go to the West End, it can cost you up to 90 pounds per ticket! Plus you have to get the train in which can cost you 30 pounds, and you also want to eat as well, one can easily spend 150 pounds on a day out! So I think that by offering tickets for 10 pounds, with the promise of highly experienced and trained actors with great talent- it is a West End worthy performance for 10 pounds! Which is fantastic! We also do free shows during the summer. Like all theatre companies, we need to keep our funding and pay our actors. There are always things to be paid for down to Triple A batteries! You wouldn’t believe some of the things needed to make a production happen! We also don’t use a very complicated set which is very much the Grassroots ethic- it’s not needed! Without a director’s concept and a set designer’s vision, with only the actor’s devising you don’t need much to tell the story! You only need the actors!

Matt: The nice thing with devising is that it’s not planned, it just grows! Someone brings in a hat, another brings in a pair of boots and we just decide how it will go!

Well, thank you so much for your time. I loved the show and I love what you’re doing! I will most definitely make an effort to come back!

Joe Staton - young actor and Grassroots' first guest blogger!