The Barn Theatre in Cirencester has built on its broadcast earlier in lockdown of Henry V to develop a sequence of thirty-five monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.
Series one begins with the theatre itself and a stirring speech from Henry V, but as well as touching on the great tragedies (Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Lear) it also highlights lesser known texts such as Sir Thomas More, King John (a video message in election vein) and Two Gentlemen of Verona.
In presenting “Shakespeare’s greatest chsracters in lockdown”, there are a variety of approaches: the news bulletin of Julius Caesar, the Twitter viral video of Hermoine in The Winter’s Tale, Richard II as a self-obsessed confessional vlogger.
In using the archaic language and new technology, the texts are given new interesr and urgency, as well as political and cuktural reference to now (Jaques’s As You Like It speech is mixed with pandemic images and video; Richard III‘s opening speech begins as part of a boozy Zoom call).
Hamlet and Iago’s speech from Othello strip back the gimmicks to focus on the performer/character is isolation, which pulls us deep into their soliloquies, but retain a cinematic edge. Isabella’s plight in Measure for Measure becomes a story of a woman trapped in a domestic abuse situation.
Comedy pieces take flight: Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as a pizza delivery biker in silent and deserted streets works well with the cheery nature of the character; and Petruchio (The Taming of the Shrew) sending unwanted visitors packing from his garden feast is fun.
We keenly feel the boredom and shyness of Romeo, confined in his kitchen across from “the fair Juliet”: meanwhile, one of the Dromios from Comedy of Errors watches a reality show which features his twin, and Much Ado’s Benedick catches our sympathy as he tries to social distance in a park.
We are privy to family and friend issues faced by Prospero (played by a woman here) and Mistress Page, from The Tempest and The Merry Wives of Windsor respectively. And Macbeth’s beleaguered Porter feels like Noel Coward in The Italian Job, marching proud with elusive loo roll.
A sequence of six heroines in succession (Comedy of Errors’s Adriana on FaceTime, Cleopatra sending a message to Antony in ICU, Othello’s Emilia talking on Insta of “husband’s faults”, Lady Macbeth in desperate debt, Juliet as an angst-ridden teen, Rosalind on a group call) gives a sense of chill to the final piece from Titus Andronicus as he prepares to consume his last meal.
I enjoyed seeing a female, cold-blooded, hot-tempered Hotspur having an argument on the phone in Henry IV:1, and Bottom knocking back the bevvies after a day at the office – for once, his dream makes perfect sense!
I wonder who the audience for this project is deemed to be: seasoned theatregoers or Shakespeareans, traditional film fans, social media experts, those who heavily follow celebrity YouTubers? In fact it can be all or any of these, as there is something for everyone.
Presenting the Bard in this way may reach those who find the plays too highbrow or impenetrable, as regular and familiar situations (park walks, family memories, text messages) make the monologues accessible.
As films, camera and sound distortion is used within some of the monologues to complement the text, and all of the pieces gain additional currency by escaping from the accepted confines of “theatre”.
Co-produced by Aaron Sidwell, Hal Chambers and The Barn Theatre, Bard from the Barn is an entertaining and fresh take on the largest body of plays from the Tudor age and reimagines them in an uncertain 21st century setting.