A séance to summon up Shakespeare

Thursday 28 March 2013, 12:02

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So much is written and thought about the great bard that anyone attempting to write a fresh play about him could be forgiven for feeling daunted by the great weight of the literary canon.

But an intriguing new production being staged at Sherman Cymru next month will attempt to explore the interior world of William Shakespeare in a unique setting - that of a séance.

To Live, To Love, To Be is written by DJ Britton and directed by Phil Mackenzie and based on the thoughts, memories and imagination behind Shakespeare's plays.

It was commissioned by the theatre and written specifically for its Company 5 group, which was set up in 2008 as an extension of the Sherman's youth theatre programme.

Company 5 is a group drawn from across the community with actors ranging from 19-61 and varying degrees of experience.

The characters will summon up the spirit of Shakespeare and key people in his life as they explore what kind of man he truly was and how the voices he heard and the sights he saw became the words and images we know so well.

I spoke to playwright DJ Britton, who also writes for BBC drama and is senior lecturer in dramatic writing at Swansea University, about the collaborative approach he embarked on when writing this piece.

DJ Britton DJ Britton

Like his recent hit play about Lloyd George, The Wizard, The Goat and The Man Who Won the War, it evolved in conjunction with input from the cast over a period of about 18 months.

He told me: "It includes material from Shakespeare himself and one of the medieval mystery plays I adapted a while ago.

"I wrote an original draft and then I have grown it to suit the performers

"I've worked professionally with Phil Mackenzie before on a version of the Oedipus trilogy so I know how he likes to work. He is extraordinarily imaginative and his very physical type of theatre means you need to pitch the words above simply a naturalistic sort of intimate conversation.

The idea of the séance table was Phil's. He described it as: "an experience like no other.

"The company will be sat around this slow turning six metre table... It is like a séance, summoning the ghosts of Shakespeare's past.

"Audiences will be sat around the edge of the theatre looking down onto the performance as if looking on to the mysterious world of the afterlife."

David said that whereas so much is known about the facts of Lloyd George's life, a vast proportion of the literature surrounding Shakespeare is speculative.

He hopes this means that audiences won't mind that his play is, in his words, "not a scholarly piece".

He said: "The use of the spirit world means we can explore all the preconceptions or thoughts that exist about Shakespeare and then ask him why he writes the way he does.

"It enables that journey of exploration rather than taking a historical biographical approach which wouldn't translate so well into theatre.

"The play features characters like a teacher, a priest and a band of travelling players who all have different views on who Shakespeare was and are arguing that theirs is the right one.

"But I think it shows that Shakespeare was all these things - he liked a bit of fun, he was a poet, he learned all the classics, he had a Welsh grandmother.

"The play gives us the opportunity to have that moment of understanding that pigeon holing somebody for what they write and their ideas rarely gives the whole answer and in fact it's a combination of factors and influences that make us who we are."

The sound score has been constructed using only pieces of music that have been composed in response to the work of Shakespeare and has been created by the well known Welsh composer John Rea.

To Live, To Love, To Be will be at Sherman Cymru in Cardiff from 17-20 April. For further information contact 029 2064 6900 or visit shermancymru.co.uk.

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