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Tag Archive | "World Shakespeare Festival"

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Review: The Dark Side of Love

Posted on 29 June 2012 by Jake Orr

I’m an emotional person, this much I know about myself, but when it comes to theatre I have developed a heart of stone. I’ve spoken previously about how music can make my heart swell, but when it comes down to sitting and watching a theatre show, my tear ducts remain dry and any attempt at moving my hard heart is fruitless. That was the case until I found myself watching The Dark Side of Love at Roundhouse as part of London International Festival of Theatre and the World Shakespeare Festival. Developed by teenagers from London and Brazil and directed by Companhia Bufomeccanica artist Renato Rocha, this promenade piece in the hidden tunnels beneath the Roundhouse looks at Shakespeare’s most tragic and fragile relationships. Drawing on Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet to name a few, The Dark Side of Love is a poignant, visual and emotive piece that brought me to silent tears.

If truth be told I was apprehensive about The Dark Side of Love. There is a certain idea that has built from previous experiences of promenade work in tunnels with young people, but thankfully these were completely blown out of the water by the young participants in this piece. Few people would realise that beneath the expanse of the Roundhouse auditorium there is a network of tunnels that make up the creative spaces and studios for the Roundhouse’s young people’s programmes. Here, The Dark Side of Love acts as the perfect playspace where characters from Shakespeare’s play are manifested and dissolved into the darkness.

We are encouraged at first to wander through the circular tunnel where performers are stationed, most covered in blood and lost in their own world of delivering a combination of song, spoken word or reciting lines that merge both Shakespearian text and contemporary variations. There are a smattering of different languages that interplay between the performers, and at times we find ourselves peering into buckets of water within which projections shimmer. Whilst not entirely original, this sets the atmosphere and tone of the piece well, before we are encouraged to enter a central vault with fabric constricting our movements. Here projections play about us, and a general sense of anticipation is met before, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, the fabric is removed by force and we are faced with the performers staring at us. A very powerful moment.

What is curious about The Dark Side of Love is the way in which it manages to produce poignant visual images whilst navigating the various characters and themes of Shakespeare’s plays. The company distills the essence of Shakespeare into images of teenage love and loss. We forget at times how universal the loss of a love can be, no matter at what age or how much time has elapsed since, and this is certainly what these young performers portray. Whether it’s Ophelia reading the letters of Hamlet, or Romeo drinking the poison over the loss of Juliet, these young figures seem to resonate with the performers. Rocha, with Co-Director Keziah Serreau, directs the piece with a playful spirit, feeding from the performers’ abilities. There is much made of repetitive movements and dance, building images and creating songs which interplay with projected work. A particularly striking image is a mass of balloons held by the ensemble that burst leaving only Romeo’s balloon intact, as he stares towards Juliet.

The company does well to manipulate the space, moving the audience and dividing them throughout the vault. Projections by SDNA creative studio play out across the walls offering a shimmering reflection of the performers, and with Richard Williamson’s lighting design there is an altogether haunting atmosphere. Yet it is the performers’ commitment and emotional response to the work of Shakespeare that rings through The Dark Side of Love. There is a particularly strong spoken word poem that one performer delivers whilst being thrown about and beaten back by another. Her lyrical words were filled with such emotional depth that I couldn’t help but weep.

Whilst there are some niggling issues with fracturing Shakespeare’s words and characters into a theme of love and teenage angst, there is much to be admired within The Dark Side of Love. It’s an emotive 45 minutes that reminds us how fragile our lives and loves are, how they twist, turn and ultimately end. It’s not a perfect production, but it certainly rendered me somewhat broken and emotional afterwards, haunted by fragile images of love and loss.

The Dark Side of Love is playing at the Roundhouse as part of LIFT Festival and the World Shakespeare Festival until 8 July. For more information and tickets, see the Roundhouse website.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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Shipwrecked: Emily Taaffe takes on a Shakespeare trilogy

Posted on 27 June 2012 by Marése O'Sullivan

With only five years having passed since her professional stage début at the Liverpool Everyman, Irish actress Emily Taaffe has since taken the acting world by storm. She has performed as Irina in Three Sisters at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, as Daphne in the National Theatre’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Nation and as Abigail in The Crucible at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. But treading the boards as three of the Bard’s lead characters in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Shipwrecked Trilogy, she thinks, will be the most challenging of all.

It all began at the age of 13 when Taaffe joined her local youth theatre. She went on to study drama and theatre at Trinity College Dublin. Her involvement with her university’s drama society, Players, encouraged her to firmly set her sights on an acting career, and she had soon secured a place at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

“I applied to [postgraduate] drama school and was lucky enough to get in,” she smiles. “I’m really glad I chose to go to LAMDA. I had a lot of instincts and quite a bit of experience from being at Trinity. What was nice about Trinity was that I worked on all the aspects of theatre: I’d done stage management, as well as a bit of writing and directing, so I’d seen how everything worked. But LAMDA gave me technique, I would say, and the tools to be able to approach different parts. It kind of broadened my range in that way.”

Taaffe is now starring as Luciana in The Comedy of Errors, Miranda in The Tempest and Viola in Twelfth Night, at the Roundhouse Theatre. She laughs at the suggestion that there may be a well-kept secret to landing such amazing roles. “I think I’ve been very lucky in the parts that I’ve got. I’ve tried to work as hard as I can and I’m always prepared. You never know when you’re going to get a good audition. I think it’s your job to go in as well prepared as you can, because if you don’t get the job, at least you know you’ve tried your best and you’ve done as much as you can. There could be so many mitigating factors as to whether or not you get a job, so at least give yourself the best odds.”

Her three characters each have their own personal appeal: “Luciana doesn’t want to push her own interests. She’s always worried about other people. So what takes her by surprise is falling in love with, as she thinks, the wrong man – her brother-in-law – and it gives her a moral dilemma. Also, she’s quite prim and proper and that’s always fun to play. With Miranda, it’s a fascinating idea to play someone who hasn’t lived in the world as we know it – she’s never been culturally influenced like we have. Her relationship with [both] her father and Caliban was a really interesting starting point. I think she feels very conflicted between being loyal to her father, but at the same time missing Caliban. Then she starts to rebel. Playing that was great: wondering where that comes from, and how suddenly someone can just go from being very obedient to finding her own voice and her own desires, and following them through. Finally, there’s Viola, who is – for me – the most fascinating. She decides she’s going to disguise herself as a boy, so I had the challenge of playing somebody who’s playing somebody else. It was also interesting for me to think about the reasons why she chooses to keep that pretense up all the way through the play. They’re three very different characters, but they’re all great girls.”

Taaffe first auditioned for director David Farr to get the role of Viola, before meeting Comedy of Errors director Amir Nizar Zuabi to be seen for Luciana, followed by meeting them both for the Trilogy. The most difficult part about bringing each character to life was doing them all at once, the actress says. “I’d never done that before. Normally, when you’re rehearsing a play, you get to focus so completely on one character and one world that you can really immerse yourself in it, whereas we didn’t have that luxury with our three plays. I could have been rehearsing Twelfth Night in the morning and then Comedy of Errors in the afternoon, or a bit of Comedy and then some Tempest. Having to learn to switch between them was quite difficult, because like I said they’re very different. [The entire company] works hard though and we’re all in it together. There’s a great ensemble feel because everybody’s having a very similar experience; we can all support each other.”

Having never performed Shakespeare in front of a live audience before, Taaffe’s priority was to not be daunted by the Bard’s reputation. “I’m just trying to make it sound fresh and natural, sort of like it’s just coming from me rather than from something that’s been learned off.” Exactly how pressured does she feel, acting in some of the most renowned plays ever written, with all the audience’s expectation, particularly during the World Shakespeare Festival? “We began the show in Stratford,” says Taaffe, “and initially I was really intimidated. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. It’s the Royal Shakespeare Company. You look at the women who’ve played these parts before and you pale a bit, because you just think, ‘Oh my God, how have I sneaked in here?’ That’s really when you sit back and think about it, though, or when you’re talking to your friends, and suddenly you look up and see the RSC’s logo. But, actually, when you’re doing it – the show is a great company of 18 people – it’s just like doing any other play. You’re just always trying to do your best to tell the story and hopefully the audience is enjoying it. That’s really all you can do: try and do justice to the text, and be in [the zone] every night. I think that’s the challenge no matter where you’re doing a play; that’s always the aim.”

She remarks that while the plays may be centuries old, the characters’ emotions are timeless. Her favourite line of her character Viola’s is when she is confessing her true feelings for Duke Orsino, while still dressed as a man:

She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy,
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?

“That bit’s just so beautiful,” grins Taaffe. “She’s concealing [herself] and at the same time telling him that she’s totally in love with him.”

Taaffe has several other Shakespearean characters that she’d love to tackle one day, namely Rosalind in As You Like It, Goneril or Regan in King Lear, and Lady Macbeth. “I’d really love to do Juliet too, before I get too old! Although the parts for women in Shakespeare are fewer and they might not necessarily always have as many lines, I think they’re incredibly powerful characters and brilliant to play, because they’re so complex – which, when you consider how long ago they were written, is really amazing.”

The actress says one of the best aspects about working in the theatre is the fact that she gets to collaborate with a team. “The designers, the director, the other cast members and stage management [all come together] to create a show. I just absolutely love this world, so I’d be delighted to carry on doing great theatre. I’ll mix in some film and television; hopefully, I’ll just keep doing interesting and good work. That’s my aim.”

The best advice Taaffe can offer any aspiring actors is to not compare themselves to others and to love what they do. “Remember, everybody’s experience and journey is different, so do what interests you.” She also points out that your passion will shine through during a performance. “Enjoy acting, it’s a great job, and I think if you’re enjoying yourself on stage, it makes it a lot easier for the audience to enjoy themselves. Personally, I really notice when I’m watching a show if someone’s having a good time. So if you work hard and have fun, hopefully a little piece of luck will fall into your lap.”

You can see Emily Taaffe perform in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s What Country Friends Is This? Shipwrecked Trilogy (The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest) at the Roundhouse Theatre, London, until 5 July. The shows will then return to Stratford until 7 October. Tickets are available on the Roundhouse website.

Image credit: Simon Annand

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The Dark Side of Love: Dealing with emotion in Shakespeare

Posted on 22 June 2012 by A Younger Theatre

Continuing our The Dark Side of Love blog series is cast member Rosy Morris, who talks about accessing emotion in Shakespeare’s work.

When we first started devising The Dark Side of Love at the Roundhouse we were sent into a whirlwind of emotion – for me it was love, a raw one. Having just split up with my boyfriend was at the core of my reasons for wanting to take part in the project. Welcome to the universal world of Shakespeare and his on ongoing relevance in people’s lives.

The beginning of the process was all about opening up, telling our own stories of love and loss. Not all of us had been in love, however everyone has obviously experienced love of some sort whether it be a lover, friend or a family member.

However, the theme of loss seemed to be much more provoking. It seemed the older cast members had lost a lover – myself being one of them – but the interesting point here was that when we relate our own stories back to Shakespeare’s, he understood humankind perfectly. He was able to grasp the subtleties of people through language. It was here I realised I related most to Ophelia from Hamlet. She is rejected without knowing why. A common question I think a lot of women have – both young and old – is why men in particular have such a tendency to reject with such ambiguity. Why all the secrets? Why does society repeat itself with the insistence on hiding the reasons behind our dismissive actions? Does one who is rejected not deserve the respect and right to know why they have lost this relationship?

But, moving on from the dark side of love and onto a jolly subject: death. When our Brazilian director Renato Rocha asked us to imagine a freshly dead person, we all had to delve deep into our imaginations. He was quietly shocked by this, explaining that he had experienced people being shot in the streets on a regular basis. I guess this is one way London life protects us from reality; police arrive almost instantly on the scene of a crime and clean it all up. It seems that Brazil’s knowledge of death shares similarities with that of Shakespeare’s time. He wanted us to improvise a scene of death, bringing objects into the space relating to them, asking ourselves what they meant, why we were using them and what their significance was. By doing this we created a montage of thought-provoking images allowing us to think further about the significance of death and what it means to different people.

Further into the devising process, we worked on acting on instinct, which for most of us was an initial struggle especially when doing so in front of an audience – as performers our initial reactions were to ‘act’ our responses to our surroundings. Removing ourselves from this was a great relief once we got the hang of it and allowed us to use it as a tool further on, whether that meant it simply helped us relate to our characters or even just playing around with our speeches.

Overall, the last 10 months have taught us all so much about how to create and devise your own piece of theatre. By interpreting the great Bard’s work one can see that his stories are so universal that even when you do play around with them a lot of the ideas from the original plays are still highly distinguishable. And if you ever find yourself questioning why Shakespeare still lives on today, all you need do is look around, because he’s in everything and everyone.

The Dark Side of Love will be staged at the Roundhouse 26 June – 8 July. Commissioned by the Roundhouse and LIFT, it forms part of the World Shakespeare Festival.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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Review: The Tempest

Posted on 17 June 2012 by Ryan Sullivan


Put your programmes down, stop talking and please switch off your phones – or you’ll be given a severe pinching. The lights come up and we are thrown headlong into the storm; The Tempest certainly starts with a roar. In act one, the marooned Duke of Milan, Prospero, recounts to his daughter, Miranda, how they both were betrayed and set adrift at sea. Since then Prospero has become a great sorcerer and set in motion a grand scheme to exact revenge against those who exiled him.

Jonathan Slinger brings great power to the role of Prospero. His control is often shattered with outbursts that give him an air of impending violence. He seethes with rage, often taking it out on his monstrous slave Caliban, but shows tenderness to his daughter. His mood is as mutable as the vast sea that surrounds him and makes him just as formidable.

Prospero owns the show, with the spirit Ariel sharing the spotlight further down the billing. Another servant to Prospero, Ariel is an island native bound to him – tempered by tailoring as the spirits wear the same suit as the sorcerer. And so, chaos is contorted into a imitation of order. This relationship was the most interesting to me and the two characters were the most well developed. The intimacy in their scenes was truly moving and held more depth than the relationship seen between father and daughter.

Another stand out performance came from Kirsty Bushell, playing King Alonso’s treacherous sibling, Sebastian. Whilst her character may be called Sebastian, having him played by a woman was inspired and felt to be such a good fit for the character you couldn’t imagine seeing it played by a man. Overlooked for the crown because of her sex, you could see why the anger could boil up. My only qualm would be how the witty banter between Sebastian and Antonio disappears as they are found out, it was a highlight and a shame it had to end simply because they were caught.

The Tempest is a strange beast, a bit misshapen like Caliban, where large swathes of it feels like a tragedy until the last scene where miraculously everything is restored to how it ought to be. To lighten the mood we are given the comic foibles of Trinculo and Stephano. They are dressed in marvelous costumes and have all the wit and mannerisms of petulant children. It makes for highly entertaining viewing.

Tragedy and comedy are well represented, and then we have the love story. Prince Ferdinand and the innocent Miranda fall in love instantly. The action of the whole play is said to only last three hours so they must have been engaged a brisk 90 minutes after meeting each other. It is a pretty romance but the characters can’t compete for attention with some of their bolder island dwellers, they even get upstaged by the staging itself.

The set is deceptively simple at first glance. Broken floorboards, a few rocks, and an ominous glass cube are all you can see. But as the play progresses it is used in increasingly clever ways that make the most of the space. The masts of the ship loom into view, the box becomes a crystal ball into which we can peer, and spirits disappear into the floor as if it was thin air. The lighting and music brought you the rest of the way to this magical island.

The costumes were strong but I could not get my head around the nymph costumes; sheer silver suits with ruffs are definitely a statement, I just have no idea what it was meant to say. It conjured up images of naff 90s sci-fi and stuck out when all the other costumes appeared to be so meticulously thought out, especially the imposed uniform of Prospero and Ariel; it said a lot when the former held his sturdy staff and the latter a light violin bow.

The central relationship between Prospero and Ariel was so well done that it made a good show quite brilliant. It goes to show that all the cleverness and magic of theatre is the glamour but when you come down to it, it’s the heart of the show that matters; two wonderfully talented actors delivering excellent dialogue.

The Tempest is playing at the Roundhouse as part of the World Shakespeare Festival until 5 July. For more information and tickets see the Roundhouse website.

Ryan Sullivan

Ryan Sullivan

Ryan is a writer and director interested in every medium that will have him: working on everything from sitcoms to comic books. Moonlights as an office worker.

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