Tag Archive | "Regents Park Open Air Theatre"

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Blog: The classics reinvented for children

Posted on 17 September 2013 by Camilla Gurtler

A WINTER’S TALE by ShakespeareIt is hard to entertain children these days. Growing up in a multi-technology world with a billion apps substituting real life events, children’s concentration spans are as short as a walk from the TV to the sofa. Even tiny babies are now being distracted by Baby Einstein and various absurd and slightly disturbing creatures on CBeebies and Milkshake (children’s programmes, for those of you who try to stay at least 100m away from little ones). Entertainment has to be fast, loud and colourful in order to keep up with technology-bred children, especially in a fast-paced city like London. I find it sad that lots of quality entertainment such as reading and theatre is being put aside, when I believe the modern child actually needs these more than ever.

Luckily some theatre-makers are swimming against the stream and are developing new captivating performances to stimulate children today. I recently attended one of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s Shakespeare re-imagined shows and was blown away by the response from the younger audience. Often when I mention my passion for Shakespeare and the classics to adults outside the strange world of theatre-making, they stutter slightly and tell me gruesome tales of old-fashioned English teachers plodding through Romeo and Juliet. So many people create a fear of Shakespeare and classic literature because of bad childhood experiences. Obviously we need to address the problem at its root – our children’s early years, and not just in schools but also at a very young age when they are exposed to different areas of the arts.

Back to the Shakespeare re-imagined. The Open Air Theatre has made it a tradition to stage a Shakespeare play in consultation with the Young Shakespeare Company in order to pitch the stories to a younger audience. By using storytelling, dress-up, music and dance it manages to engage its target audience (who sometimes are under the age of six) even though they won’t understand most of what the actors are saying. The performances have been carefully planned to suit the age group and what triggers them, and I found myself at 10am on a Saturday morning cheering for the little ones they had brought on stage to participate in competitions.

And the Open Air Theatre is not the only theatre realising the need to reach out to a new generation and how important it is to pitch the classics to them in a way that competes with the twenty-first century technology distractions but also retains the roots of the writing and tries to cultivate the young. The Young Shakespeare Company tours with different Shakespeare plays re-invented for children and teaches workshops around the country to try and involve the young in the arts. Shakespeare Schools’ Festival has its annual festival this autumn to inspire children of all backgrounds to challenge themselves through performing.

And it’s not only Shakespeare who is being made accessible for today’s children. As part of the annual free open air theatre season at the Scoop at More London, Tower Bridge, director Phil Willmott has created a production of Prince of Thebes taking the little ones on a journey through ancient Greece with the young Oedipus, teaching them the myth and working as a runner-up to the tragic and more grown-up version later in the evening. Using music, slapstick and interaction with the audience, the classic tale is made understandable and is hugely entertaining for a younger audience, hopefully inspiring them to have a go at the classic version.

Shakespeare and the classics are not all about the verse and words most of us have to look up in a dictionary. They are also about universal truths that are essential to us now, even as children – stories of friendships, hope and magic that are as relevant now as ever. It’s a cultural legacy for children in the UK, and though it’s obligatory in school, it should still be fun, exciting and fuel creativity even in a world where four year-olds have smartphones and know how to work an iPad.

As a five year-old audience member said at Ria Parry’s The Winter’s Tale Re-imagined at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre: “Daddy, that was the best movie ever.

Photo of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s The Winter’s Tale Re-imagined. (c) Johan Perrson.

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla is currently training as a director on the Young Directors’ Programme with StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Camilla has worked as a director, actress and writer in Denmark and London, and loves Shakespeare, greek tragedies and children’s theatre. She’s obsessed with coffee, dislikes ranting on stage and hates the colour yellow. Especially mustard-yellow.

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The Play’s the Thing: Shakespeare for young people

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Jude Evans

If Shakespeare has always been considered an integral part of young people’s learning, then the past few years have seen an even greater push towards a creative approach to Shakespeare, arguably how his work should be known and taught. This is most evident in theatres and their efforts to create productions specifically for younger audiences, for example the Royal Shakespeare Company, Little Angel Theatre, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the work of Tim Crouch.

Theatre critics and public audiences, especially young people, seem to be acclaiming theatres’ productions as worthwhile and necessary efforts. Michael Billington’s comment that the Young People’s Shakespeare The Comedy of Errors is for everyone “aged 9 to 99″ emphasises this point nicely. But in gearing these productions towards young people, breaking down the script and shortening the play, is there a danger that Shakespeare becomes too simplified? Do we need separate Shakespeares? Or are these productions an integral part of young people’s relationship with the bard?

By condensing Shakespeare’s plays for young people, there is inevitably the charge of stripping the works of their subtleties and nuances – much of what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare. Taking the most famous of the soliloquies as an example, do young people not lose the essence of craft, creativity and the sheer power of dramatic language by stripping “To be, or not to be” to its bare bones? In making the plays more accessible and watchable, perhaps we are doing a disservice to young people. Why does there need to be a division between Shakespeare productions for young people and a theatre’s usual output? Surely there are lots of ways to make the latter exist for the consumption of both younger and older audience members. Indeed, many theatres already make this possible.

Then what about the flipside of the coin? Perhaps it is necessary to break down the plays to a point which is seemingly on a level with young people. Rather than seeing the productions as simplifying or stripping the plays of their subtleties, they serve to draw out themes, emphasise key lines and ultimately make them understandable and accessible, and provide their audiences with a window into the world of Shakespeare.

The most prominent and striking elements of these productions are the playful, creative and physical devices, among which are tap dancing (Comedy), puppetry (The Tempest), and music devised and played by the acting company. Their function is, usually, two-fold: an entertainment device, and a means by which character and language can be conveyed. Through these elements, Shakespeare productions for young people demonstrate how Shakespeare can be played with, presented and thought about imaginatively, and offer ways in which young people might creatively approach Shakespeare themselves.

I have asked more questions than I have answered, precisely because I am undecided on this matter. With the tragedies and late plays, the most complex and nuanced of all, often taking centre stage, I am left with the question: what can these productions really do for young people which others can’t?

Image credit: Marie Il

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Review: Lord of the Flies

Posted on 07 June 2011 by Yessi Bello

One is captivated upon entry. Catching a glimpse of this season’s much talked about set is a real privilege. The set, a piece of an art installation in its own right,  features the tail-end of a torn passenger plane surrounded by the all too real debris of human belongings, perfectly scattered amongst the stage. As night falls, the audience is thrown into the disturbing tale of human savagery.

William Golding’s famous novel Lord of the Flies tells the story of a group of young school boys who find themselves stranded on an island following a plane crash. Initially, the boys are excited at the prospect of living without adult supervision. Soon, however, their adventure transforms into the uncanny power struggle between Ralph (the elected leader) and Jack (a very forceful discrepant). This power struggle between Jack and Ralph divides the group; creating two very different factions, making way for an unruly, almost familiar, descent into primal violence.

It is a privilege to see that the production’s director, Timothy Sheader, has managed to remain faithful to Golding’s vision whilst preserving the essence of Nigel William’s adaptation to the stage. Sheader skilfully uses a mixture of enchantingly atmospheric music, energetic physical movement, the incessant stomping of feet, blood, fire and the repetition of tribal chants to create some breath-taking moments.

Generally, the production fails to disappoint. The only criticism would be that the first half of the performance felt a little stretched out, often relying on the over-enthusiastic performances of some of the cast members. The dialogue proved repetitive at times, fooling the audience into a false build-up and then rather disappointingly falling somewhat flat.

The second half over-compensated for the above. As London descended into night, the performance came alive with a magnificent albeit sombre glow, adding to the spooky liberation of human savagery, paving the way for the show’s outstanding performances. James Clay engineered Jack’s transformation into evil both confidently and convincingly, whilst the performance’s element of madness can be  mostly attributed to his loyal sidekick Roger, artfully played by Matt Ingram. George Bukhari was cast perfectly as Piggy, playing him with unremitting conviction, during his professional debut.

A visual spectacle. An inspiring showcase of young talent, creative genius and intelligent direction.

Lord of the Filies is playing at Regents Park Open Air Theatre until 18th June. For more information and tickets, see the website here.

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Review: Into The Woods

Posted on 05 April 2011 by Eve Nicol

Regents Park Open Air Theatre is a naturally brilliant setting for Into the Woods. The stage seems to have sprung up from the surrounding trees in a tangle of wood and metal like a mistreated Sylvania Families play set. It’s a tree house any kid would long to play in.

There are few songs from Into the Woods that you would get away with at karaoke but that ain’t no bad thing. Sondheim is a tricky little beast. Brits seem to feel more at ease with the potted pop that Andrew Lloyd Webber hammers out, where the hit songs from the show sit easily in the singles chart. If you’re looking for something hummable, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Into the Wood features one of Sondheim’s best scores. Interwoven and complex, melodies grow organically from one another making the relatively lengthy 2hrs 30 zip along at a raring speed.

The humour of the show is brilliantly sent up, tongues firmly in cheek throughout. The cast seem to be having a great time on this show, none more so than Michael Xavier. He is helped by having the juiciest roles; the bit of rough wolf fresh from a snack at Smithfields, and a conceited prince, channelling a touch of a cyber goth Russell Brand on his best behaviour.  Xavier thrusts and bounds his way throughout the show, his buoyancy matched with superbly witty vocal performances. His scenes are a real highlight in a fantastic production.

There has been a lot invested into the smaller details of the show. This is where Digital Theatre comes into its own. Sitting comfortably at home, you’ve got the best seats in the house and get to have a good old stare at Cinderella’s nose ring or the brilliantly gruesome plucked out eyes of the Prince.

The charming hotchpotch nature of it all begins to unravel towards the end of the story. The cameras appear to have difficulty capturing the quick turns of the story against the on-set of night and the previously sharp quality of the recording diminishes.

Just as The Sound of Music would be a much more tune-filled and pacey story if you cut out the faff with the Nazis, Into the Woods could end quite neatly at the close of the first act. The grimness of Into the Woods doesn’t take centre stage until the second act but this is sadly underwritten with a creeping sense of déjà vu with numerous reprises. It’s a minor niggle, one more rooted in the score than in the perky staging on offer here.

A smart addition to this production is in the casting of a young boy as the Narrator, which adds a real emotional heart to the fantastical fairy tales. When the boy’s make believe story starts to riot against him, the stakes are raised all the higher.

Into the Woods is a fantastic addition to the Digital Theatre library . Point your telly out the window, hook up a couple of speakers and kick back in the garden with Pimm’s. Though no match for enjoying the actual performance under the stars, this is a fun and impressive piece of digital theatre crying out to be enjoyed in the open air.

You can download Into the Woods from Digital Theatre, find out more here.

Eve Nicol

Eve Nicol

Eve is the Scottish Regional Co-ordinator of A Younger Theatre. Working from Glasgow, Eve tweets to eat, managing social media for artists and theatre companies, including the National Theatre of Scotland She blogs about social media in the theatre industry and vlogs about productions she’s seen. Eve is on a mission to find the best interval ice cream.

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