Very little is known for certain about William Shakespeare. Yet few could argue that, since his time in the 1500s, any other playwright could rival him in legend.
Though over 400 years old, the feat of directing and producing a Shakespearean play remains great. It has been said that practically all of Shakespeare’s plots were borrowed. It was his treatment and command of the English language that made them his own. Romance, poetry and drama were united by him. Therefore to retain the Shakespearean spirit is a considerable challenge.
This month we take a look at how Shakespeare is conducted in the 21st Century.
In Shakespeare’s own time, writers created their character to suit the actor, and the actors received only the script particular to their role. So were entrances, exits, songs, costumes and accessories seen to by the actors. Audience and actors always interacted in Elizabethan theatres. Shakespeare’s company had to compete against the noise of the crowd who shouted; hurled oranges and tried to join in with their performance on the stage.
These days, production is a different picture. In practical terms, each stage of production from the casting to stage management; set, props and costumes; lighting and sound; and support teams must all work together technically to produce a seamless vision of an historic period.
For the artistic direction, the meeting of two ages and languages proves a meaty challenge, as does keeping centuries old stories fresh. Shakespeare may be thanked for providing such richness in text and endless fodder for directive skill and imagination.
The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company brings Othello to audiences this month. Recent productions from other companies include Dundee Rep Ensemble’s production of Macbeth, and performances around Scotland of Hamlet, Julius Caesar and The Two Gentlemen of Verona to name a few.
Adaptations of Shakespearean have also touched Scotland with varying degrees of abstraction. For example, The Merchant of Venice was reset in the frontier of the American West by the Pirated Shakespeare Group last month. The Reduced Shakespeare Company provides another example of a different approach.
See the feature on the TAG Theatre Company, and the featured Director, James Brining, for examples of how present day companies can excel in achieving a contemporary take on Shakespeare.