Shakespeare’s first and last

Hull-born rising star Laura Elsworthy is taking on a new summer challenge at the Brockley Jack Theatre. She’s taking on roles in not only one, but two, Shakespeare plays as part of Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn’s rep season at the theatre, entitled ‘BookEnds: The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Two Noble Kinsmen‘.

So what’s the concept behind the season – other than the theme of two men? “These two plays bookend Shakespeare’s career,” Elsworthy explains, hence the season’s title. “It’s been really interesting to discover the change from his first work to his last. I think this will be extremely exciting for an audience, especially as both are rarely performed.”

Two Gentlemen of Verona, written long before Shakespeare’s pen touched a comedy piece, is a play about the consequences of falling in love as four young people make the unavoidable mistake. In contrast, The Two Noble Kinsmen follows Shakespeare’s infamous tragedies but is no less powerful, moving and evocative as it explores a world where the person you fall in love with isn’t always the one you have to marry.

Love and marriage tie the two plays – but in very different ways. From light to dark, young to old, comic to tragic, these plays highlight how much Shakespeare changed and evolved during his career as a playwright. But Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn also seek to explore how much also stayed the same by playing these productions in rep. But this in itself presents challenges, as Elsworthy quickly realised when starting rehearsals.

“I’ve never performed Shakespeare before, let alone in rep. It is difficult in ways: mainly as we have had four weeks’ rehearsal meaning basically two weeks per production. The thought of learning the lines was also pretty scary. However, I love playing the different characters, and the two productions are so different, which means it’s really refreshing to go from one to the other.” She tells me more about the roles she’s tackling: “In The Two Noble Kinsmen I play The Jailor’s Daughter, which is an absolute privilege. She is such a strong, beautiful character who goes on a massive journey, which is why it’s so heartbreaking when things break down for her. I also get to play her with my Hull accent which is lovely. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona I get to play multiple parts: Lucetta, The Hostess and 3rd Outlaw. I have loved multi-roling, especially characters without names as you can create so much for them.”

I ask Elsworthy more about the background in Hull she alludes to and she tells me more about how she got involved in the industry. “I did a lot of youth theatre in Hull when I was younger and after my A-levels starting working in a clothes shop. I got a call one morning from a director, Jane Fallowfield, saying that she’d got my number from a youth theatre leader in Hull and asking me to audition for Spacewang, a monologue by Tom Wells. I auditioned and got the part which is basically where ‘proper’ acting started for me.” Tom Wells went on to write The Kitchen Sink, which won him the prestigious George Devine award for most promising playwright as well as the Critics’ Circle best playwright award following its run at the Bush Theatre last year. The Kitchen Sink receives its regional premiere at Hull this autumn, and it’s clear Elsworthy’s relationship with Wells is still going strong.

“I will be going back to lovely Hull, to Hull Truck, in October to play Sophie in The Kitchen Sink. I’m really excited to work with Tom again and I get to stay with my mum which is always nice!” Elsworthy already has an impressive list of credits to her name from Hull to London, recently performing at the Old Vic Tunnels with Viscera Theatre and now performing at the Brockley Jack in South London. “I’ve never performed at Brockley Jack before, but it is such a lovely space and the community is really supportive of what goes on there, which makes it a very nice place to be.”

It’s this embracing and joyful approach that characterises the company, with the production directed by Rafaella Marcus and Matthew Monaghan. Marcus is also co-artistic director of the company with fellow English Literature graduate Heidi Stancliffe. They named the company after its dual structure of producing existing dramatical works and creating playful new contemporary drama, and Elsworthy is enjoying their unique approach to the text. “I haven’t worked with the company before but it is lovely to work with two young directors who have such a passion for Shakespeare. I think that it is really important for us to keep Shakespeare’s work alive. If doing this production has taught me one thing it’s that Shakespeare’s work is uncannily relevant today. Matt and Rafaella have really concentrated on making the relationships between characters as full as possible and it’s that fullness that keeps Shakespeare so exciting.”

Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Two Noble Kinsmen play at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until 8th September. For full performance schedule and to book tickets, visit www.brockleyjack.co.uk. For more information about the company, visit their website www.perfectshadowmingledyarn.com.

Image credit: Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn