I had a fabulous day on Saturday at the Barbican’s Shakespeare weekender, wittily entitled “Play On”.
There were a host of activities – I didn’t manage to try out the glitter disco or the t-shirt painting (or, indeed, making your own film with puppets) but I did spend a little time at the RSC dressing up box, trying to wrest costumes out of the hands of small children and try them on myself…
There were some more serious (well, slightly more serious) talks – I caught a fun interactive workshop which basically one of the RSC’s vocal warm-ups and ended up feeling up and then insulting a total stranger. It’s all right folks – she did the same back to me, it was part of the exercise (and actually, I’ll be taking the advice about using your “best voice” – higher in pitch than your normal voice – into my next work presentation. But maybe without the accompanying hip-shake…). I only caught the end of the Shakespeare bingo, alas, but it looked awesome, as did the stage fighting demonstration (no interactivity there – the first rule is Always Be Safe and that means not letting members of the public try headlocks on each other).
As well as the costumes, the Museum of London brought medieval artifacts to fondle (well, touch – but it’s hard not to get a little carried away when you’ve got a 16th century dagger before you). And there were a number of dramatic events on offer from the terrifyingly intimate “The Dresser” where you get a one-on-one with an actor in the last ten minutes before he goes on stage (I genuinely couldn’t decide if I was happy or sad it was fully booked up before I got there), to the slightly surreal Tabletop Shakespeare.
This was actually my starting point for the weekend – I had heard a lot about their astonishing trick of telling Shakespeare’s stories with the aid only of household objects. I had my doubts about the why – when, after all, they paraphrase Shakespeare himself rather than using his language it seems a little bit odd – but they were entirely unfounded. I caught Antony and Cleopatra, with Antony as a dressing jar and Cleopatra played by an elegant silver teacup. It managed to be an astonishingly intimate experience, given a reasonably sized audience, and Cathy Naden, who did the story-telling, was brilliantly gifted not only at holding the audience but also at conveying emotion in the way she moved an eggcup. I wish I had managed to book tickets for more than one show – but alas since they were spread over six days I don’t think I could have caught all of them…
The day finished with some wonderful son et lumiere at the Guildhall, done by the Guildhall itself (using the massed talents of the Library, Art Gallery and School of Music and Dance). This was a technical marvel, if a little over-reliant on the obvious bits of Shakespeare (“shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Well, only if you must, it’s been done rather a lot…). I cannot fail to be stirred by his speeches, though – even on a very cold and damp evening.
As a Shakespeare400 kick-off, I can only say, roll on the rest of the year!