Thursday, 16 June 2016

Falling in Love is so Hard on the Knees: Siobhán Daly on the power of falling in love

Falling in love

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,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
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.

He didn't.

Realistic Love

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.

Mature Love

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
We long to strip back the pretence that has accumulated around Shakespeare, the fear and the intimidation. When we dispense of these unnecessary additions, a heart to heart connection can be made. Finally. You don't need to dress up, talk differently, be on your best behaviour, pretend to be someone else because you can connect from where you are, as you are.

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.

To join the adventure, please check out

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Shakespearean Spring Jam: Chris Thomson on partnering with Grassroots

It is not a foolish assumption of mine, I hope, to say that we can all agree that theatre is pretty much a good thing. Personally I would go so far as to say it is a great, exciting and valuable thing, but then, I am an actor. It is rather like Bob the Builder telling you about the joys of scaffolding. Not joyous to all, but indisputably a good and necessary article. 

The Team in Leicester Square for the Shakespeare 400
'Dawn Til Dusk' Launch (L-R: Kit Loyd, Chris Thomson, Siobhán Daly,
Louis Labovitch, Benjamin Bonar, Richard Soames)
During the run of Twelfth Night we experienced an overwhelmingly positive reaction both in and out of the theatre, you need only peruse the Grassroots' Twitter feed to validate such a claim. Never before have I experienced such a consistent enjoyment from an audience on a nightly basis. Standing ovations, repeat visits, raucous laughter, children on the edge of their seats; this last one in particular, for me, is signifier that we were doing something right.

I have generally been pretty lucky with my acting jobs so far in my career; mostly working in friendly, well-intentioned and creative environments, working with Grassroots for the first time was no exception. Notably with this job though, I made a great many advances and breakthroughs in realisations on how I wish to function within this business. For an actor, the ensemble way of working is indeed intense, but forces one to treat the art, and other actors, with dexterity and care; an approach which I hope comes through in their work’s execution.

Chris Thomson in rehearsals for Twelfth Night
Here’s the thing though; as grateful as we are for them, hordes of positive tweets doth butter no parsnips. For all the great press in the world, the cogs of theatre will undoubtedly grind to a halt should they be neglected by the oil of finance. Of course I believe that your support should be given, from my point of view this kind of job is in short supply in terms of creative and educational opportunity for an actor, and I could go on for pages about why I think we should be given a chance ahead of all the other ventures racing towards the bottleneck of theatrical success and longevity. But why should YOU support it? What’s in it for you, the viewer? Well, I have prepared a short listicle (if the internet has taught me nothing else, it’s that we all love a little listicle) of reasons why you might wish to lend us your support.

1.     Original Practices

Grassroots are a company whose hook is that we work with original practices. What does that even mean mate? Well, essentially it means that we have taken inspiration from the way in which a theatre company might have worked 400 years ago, and incorporated it into the structure of the Grassroots work and performance ethic.

Jim Conway, Ellie Nunn & Darrell Davy in
rehearsals for Twelfth Night
For us, as actors, the main curve from the contemporary system is that we are without a director, and therefore shape the work as a collective. This has it benefits as well as its difficulties. Although it perpetuates a lot more debate, it also means that a larger pool of ideas and angles are there to play with. This, so far, has ended in a very carefully crafted and well-rounded product.

Original practice also refers to a return to original intentions. Centuries ago, before theatre was a corporate machine that needed feeding with big names and fancy lights, before it was decided that spectacle was required at the expense of quality content to keep the masses happy, before we started making theatre for the actors and stopped making it for the people, the role of theatre was to entertain and to educate. It was not the reserve of the spangle-dangled gentleman and glitter-knickered madam, it was intended for all to enjoy, from Lord to latrine monitor. Grassroots’ wish is to help create a landscape where good theatre, and indeed Shakespeare, is easy to find and enjoyable to behold. Which bring us to…

2.     Accessibility

We hear a lot about this in entertainment. Are we really sure what this is actually supposed to mean? I suppose it comes down to a combination of things. To our understanding this is what it means:
Tamaryn Payne as Lady Olivia in Twelfth Night

-       Clarity. I know when creating Twelfth Night our biggest priority was to tell the story really, really well. You do this by knowing the text inside out and making every thought absolutely clear. Productions too often get caught up in all the concept and spectacle of a production and forget about the foundation of the art, storytelling. This is a Grassroots core value.

-       Price. As we know, one of the issues in encouraging people into the theatre is price, and in that vein, value for money. A night at the theatre is, in general, expensive and a rare treat. On top of that, if you have just spent a lot of money on something not so great, you are most unlikely to go again and feel like it was money well spent. No wonder so many feel unwelcome. Not only do Grassroots very carefully craft their plays with the audience at the forefront of their thoughts, they will continue to do their very best to ask a reasonable price in return.

-       Welcome. Come one, come all. Young and old, theatre goers and novices. Bring your popcorn (a girl bought some really decent smelling lentil soup in one night, she wouldn’t give me any. Had to settle for a cashew nut biscuit from the lad behind her. It was fine, bit dry), bring your commentary, bring your slippers. Make yourself damn comfortable, we are here for you, not you for us. When you come and see us it should feel as comfortable as if you were in your own living room, come as you are. We want you coming back, we are building…

Siobhán Daly and Emily Jane Kerr promoting Twelfth Night
Up at the O2, 52m above London

3.     Community

There is concerted effort to break down the divide between actor and audience. Grassroots love to encourage communication between their actors, Online and offline. A show is not complete without its audience; you are just as valuable an ingredient as the text, the actors, the music, the costumes, all of it. When you re-visit us in the future we want it to feel as if you are coming back to see and old friend. It is club, but everyone is invited, all are welcome. It all adds to the…

4.     Quality

The care and fierce detail observed in the rehearsal room is top drawer. All in the name of putting the best experience together for the viewer. However, we realise that what we arrive with on opening night is by no means the final product. You, the viewer, are instrumental in rubbing that last sheen of quality on to the theatrical surface. Every laugh you offer, every gasp, every grunt and every silence is important to us; we listen to every one. We are not afraid to grow and change, we hear you. Every reaction helps us to add detail and to produce the finest vintage for you. We are striving…

5.     The best of intentions…

Richard Soames as Feste in Twelfth Night
All of the above points, and all the attributes I have probably missed, fall under the blanket of good intention. This company is built on nothing but love for the work and desire to bring our audiences the best. Capital gain is not how we measure success here, but we do need a little financial support to keep going towards the point at which we might deem ourselves successful. We only wish to be able to sustain the ability to keep bringing the public the best, by being able to hire the best people to do that.

So help us out here chaps. Perhaps you can’t empty your pockets for us, or even toss us a copper right now. At the very least do your best to get the word out. Go forth and slather this article over the internet like Shakespearean Spring Jam over a Bardy Brioche. To paraphrase Grassroots Associate Artist, Emily Kerr, ‘If you like what we are doing, please support us in any way you can. If you don’t… don’t.’ 


If you would like to financially partner with Grassroots Shakespeare London and join our journey, we have a number of campaigns including '10 for £1k', Give What You Can, Legacy Donations and corporate sponsorship to suit fellow adventurers like you! 

Please head over to our website and check out our 'Support' page where you can donate via Paypal, or for larger donations, please email