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


  1. Very inspiring read Siobhan! I'll be moving to London on the 13th of September to start my Foundation at Italia Conti and I am, for definate, going to make it to Grassroot's next production. I'm still incredibly dissapointed to have missed R&J and Love's Labour's Lost, but As You Like It is one of my favourites! I won't miss it!

  2. Hi Joe! Congrats on Italia Conti! See you at Othello!