Shakespeare Magazine 11

The shiny new-look Shakespeare Magazine 11 is adorned with a stunning cover image of Lily James and Richard Madden in Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet. Also in Issue 11, SK Moore tells us about his compelling new graphic novel of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, while broadcaster Samira Ahmed turns her magnificently mercurial mind to the subject of Shakespeare. We have words with Pub Landlord comedian Al Murray about his recent brush with the Bard (and Judi Dench) at RSC Shakespeare Live. And our Editor raves about a 3-DVD box set of 1960s TV Shakespeare classic The Wars of the Roses. We chat with the great Don Warrington, star of Talawa Theatre’s earth-shaking King Lear at Manchester’s Royal Exchange – youthful co-star Alfred Enoch joins in too. Also this issue: we imagine what Tom Hiddleston’s Hamlet would look like, we explore the life of Elizabeth Siddal, Victorian Ophelia, and Bristol’s Insane Root scare the living daylights out of us with their Macbeth!

The shiny new-look Shakespeare Magazine 11 is adorned with a stunning cover image of Lily James and Richard Madden in Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet. Also in Issue 11, SK Moore tells us about his compelling new graphic novel of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, while broadcaster Samira Ahmed turns her magnificently mercurial mind to the subject of Shakespeare. We have words with Pub Landlord comedian Al Murray about his recent brush with the Bard (and Judi Dench) at RSC Shakespeare Live. And our Editor raves about a 3-DVD box set of 1960s TV Shakespeare classic The Wars of the Roses. We chat with the great Don Warrington, star of Talawa Theatre’s earth-shaking King Lear at Manchester’s Royal Exchange – youthful co-star Alfred Enoch joins in too. Also this issue: we imagine what Tom Hiddleston’s Hamlet would look like, we explore the life of Elizabeth Siddal, Victorian Ophelia, and Bristol’s Insane Root scare the living daylights out of us with their Macbeth!


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shakespeare<br />

At last! A magazine with all the Will in the world<br />

FREE<br />

Issue <strong>11</strong><br />

Top of the<br />

Bottoms<br />

Al Murray and<br />

Judi Dench at<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live<br />

Macbeth<br />

A dark new<br />

graphic novel<br />

and an edgy<br />

underground<br />

production<br />

A Victorian<br />

Ophelia<br />

The tragic death of<br />

Elizabeth Siddal<br />

Hiddleston<br />

is Hamlet<br />

(As imagined<br />

by us)<br />

Love Kills<br />

Richard Madden and Lily James:<br />

From Cinderella to Romeo and Juliet<br />

with Kenneth Branagh<br />

Plus Talawa’s King Lear Samira Ahmed The Wars of the Roses

Welcome <br />

Welcome<br />

to Issue <strong>11</strong> of <strong>Shakespeare</strong> <strong>Magazine</strong><br />

As you may have noticed, 2016 is a pretty big anniversary year<br />

for <strong>Shakespeare</strong>. Indeed, there’s been so much going on that we<br />

haven’t come close to covering it all. But what never fails to<br />

surprise me is how controversial <strong>Shakespeare</strong> still is.<br />

Yes, the Bard certainly arouses extreme emotions. (To the extent<br />

that some people passionately hate the very term “the Bard”)<br />

I think the controversy stems from the fact that <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

remains alive to us in ways that no other artist from the past does.<br />

Which means that people appraise and judge <strong>Shakespeare</strong> the way they<br />

would any other present-day creative force in theatre, literature or film.<br />

Every day on Twitter I see sweeping statements of the “<strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

would have loved/hated this” variety. Personally, I try to exercise a<br />

more cautious approach. <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s my hero, but if I think I know<br />

his mind, I’m probably kidding myself.<br />

It can get exhausting, all these battles and wars that are always being<br />

fought over <strong>Shakespeare</strong>. But it’s also exhilarating, because no other<br />

figure from history has such an ongoing impact on global culture.<br />

One can’t help but wonder what the man himself would have made<br />

of it all. Well, he’d have made a bloody good play of it, probably.<br />

Enjoy your magazine.<br />

Photo: David Hammonds<br />

Pat Reid, Founder & Editor<br />

Donate to <strong>Shakespeare</strong> <strong>Magazine</strong><br />

Donate here<br />

shakespeare magazine 3

Planning to perform<br />

a short selection<br />

from <strong>Shakespeare</strong>?<br />

The 30-Minute <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

Anthology contains 18 abridged<br />

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Every scene features interpretive stage<br />

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and monologue notes, all “road tested”<br />

at the Folger <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Library’s<br />

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The 30-Minute <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Anthology<br />

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NICK NEWLIN has performed a comedy and variety act for international audiences for more than 30 years. Since 1996, he has<br />

conducted an annual teaching artist residency with the Folger <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Library in Washington, D.C.<br />

The 30-Minute <strong>Shakespeare</strong> series is available in print and ebook format at retailers<br />

and as downloadable PDFs from 30Minute<strong>Shakespeare</strong>.com.

At last! A magazine with all the Will in the world<br />

shakespeare<br />

FREE<br />

Issue <strong>11</strong><br />

Top of the<br />

Bottoms<br />

Al Murray and<br />

Judi Dench at<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live<br />

Macbeth<br />

A dark new<br />

graphic novel<br />

and an edgy<br />

underground<br />

production<br />

Love Kills<br />

Richard Madden and Lily James:<br />

From Cinderella to Romeo and Juliet<br />

with Kenneth Branagh<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> <strong>Magazine</strong><br />

Issue <strong>11</strong><br />

October 2016<br />

Founder & Editor<br />

Pat Reid<br />

Art Editor<br />

Paul McIntyre<br />

Contributing Writers<br />

Stephanie Pina<br />

Jenny Richardson<br />

Kayleigh Toyra<br />

Thank You<br />

Mary Reid<br />

Laura Pachkowski<br />

Thomas Xavier Reid<br />

Real Design & Media<br />

Katie Nicholls<br />

Web Design<br />

David Hammonds<br />

Contact Us<br />

shakespearemag@outlook.com<br />

Facebook<br />

facebook.com/<strong>Shakespeare</strong><strong>Magazine</strong><br />

Twitter<br />

@UK<strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

A Victorian<br />

Ophelia<br />

The tragic death of<br />

Elizabeth Siddal<br />

Hiddleston<br />

is Hamlet<br />

Plus Talawa’s King Lear Samira Ahmed The Wars of the Roses<br />

(As imagined<br />

by us)<br />

Website<br />

www.shakespearemagazine.com<br />

Newsletter<br />

http://tinyletter.com/shakespearemag<br />

Please Donate to<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> <strong>Magazine</strong><br />

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com/category/donate-toshakespeare-magazine/<br />

Contents<br />

6 Italian<br />

Rhapsody<br />

Richard Madden and Lily James<br />

dazzle in Kenneth Branagh’s<br />

Romeo and Juliet.<br />

13<br />

Heart of<br />

Darkness<br />

A compelling new graphic novel<br />

inspired by Prague <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

Company’s Macbeth.<br />

20 A Front<br />

Row Seat<br />

Broadcaster Samira Ahmed has<br />

some fascinating things to say on<br />

the subject of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>.<br />

28<br />

Show Us<br />

Your Bottom!<br />

When Al Murray found himself<br />

parachuted in to play the role of a<br />

lifetime opposite Judi Dench…<br />

36<br />

Oh, What A<br />

Lovely War<br />

The legendary BBC production of<br />

the RSC’s The Wars of the Roses gets<br />

a DVD release.<br />

40<br />

Monarch of<br />

Madness<br />

Don Warrington and Alfred<br />

Enoch talk about Talawa Theatre’s<br />

powerful King Lear.<br />

46<br />

Tom Hiddleston<br />

is Hamlet<br />

<br />

But here’s what we think TH’s<br />

<br />

52<br />

The Girl In<br />

The Frame<br />

Reappraising the life and death of<br />

Elizabeth Siddal, the Victorian model<br />

for Millais’ Ophelia.<br />

58<br />

My Nation<br />

Underground<br />

Insane Root’s Macbeth takes<br />

audiences into a claustrophobic<br />

cavern beneath the earth.<br />

shakespeare magazine 5

Romeo and Juliet<br />

Italian<br />

Rhapsody<br />

In this version of Romeo and<br />

Juliet, the Capulet Ball evokes<br />

modernist sophistication with<br />

touches of surrealism.<br />

6 shakespeare magazine

Romeo and Juliet <br />

Inspired by Federico Fellini’s<br />

La Dolce Vita,<br />

Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford’s<br />

2016 production of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s<br />

Romeo and Juliet is an Italian feast<br />

for the eyes and ears.<br />

Words: Jen Richardson<br />

Pictures: Johan Persson<br />

shakespeare magazine 7

Romeo and Juliet<br />

Fatal encounter:<br />

Tybalt (Ansu Kabia)<br />

and Mercutio<br />

(Derek Jacobi).<br />

Broadcast to cinemas in black and white, this version<br />

of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s tragedy is stylish and fast-paced.<br />

Previously paired together in Branagh’s 2015<br />

Cinderella film, Lily James and Richard Madden<br />

embody the title roles with adolescent fervour.<br />

The youthful energy of their portrayal is faultless,<br />

but perhaps it’s played just a little too young to give<br />

their love true credibility. It is the leads’ undeniable<br />

chemistry, though, that carries them through to a<br />

dramatic and well-executed end.<br />

Laced with comedy, this version of the play<br />

is a slight departure from traditionally depressive<br />

interpretations. Meera Syal’s bawdy Nurse provides<br />

the most farcical of comedic elements, whilst<br />

Michael Rouse makes for an oddly young-looking<br />

Capulet patriarch. Peppering the action with<br />

Italian phrases and Mediterranean music, Branagh<br />

and Ashford immerse us in “fair Verona”. Designer<br />

Christopher Oram’s set is imposing and beautifully<br />

lit – the large piazza makes a particular spectacle.<br />

From languid espresso-sipping to desperate<br />

sword-fighting, the action that takes place there is<br />

beautifully balanced throughout.<br />

The famous balcony scene loses some of<br />

its metaphorical value by placing the starcross’d<br />

lovers within unusually easy reach of<br />

each other. Charmingly, “O, Romeo, Romeo!<br />

Wherefore art thou Romeo?” is delivered by a<br />

tipsy Juliet swigging from a champagne bottle.<br />

Detracting from the anguish of this speech, this is,<br />

8 shakespeare magazine

Romeo and Juliet <br />

Lily James and Richard Madden<br />

as Romeo and Juliet at London’s<br />

Garrick Theatre, 2016.<br />

“It is the leads’ undeniable chemistry that carries<br />

them through to a dramatic and well-executed end”<br />

shakespeare magazine 9

Romeo and Juliet<br />

Branagh: <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s<br />

Everyman Knight<br />

A BAFTA winner and Oscar nominee,<br />

Sir Kenneth Branagh’s true expertise<br />

arguably lies in his theatrical roots.<br />

Once the RSC’s youngest ever actor<br />

to play Henry V, Branagh was born to<br />

produce and perform <strong>Shakespeare</strong>.<br />

This staging of Romeo and Juliet follows<br />

the highly successful Branagh/Ashford<br />

collaborations on both Macbeth and<br />

The Winter’s Tale. It is the penultimate<br />

play in the Kenneth Branagh Theatre<br />

Company’s year at The Garrick, and<br />

the last <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an piece. In this<br />

400th anniversary year of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s<br />

death, Branagh’s bounty is, it seems, as<br />

boundless as the sea…<br />

Kenneth Branagh working<br />

with Lily James in rehearsal.<br />

Montague Men: Mercutio<br />

(Derek Jacobi), Romeo<br />

(Richard Madden) and<br />

Benvolio (Jack Colgrave Hirst).<br />

10 shakespeare magazine

Romeo and Juliet <br />

“The charismatic Richard Madden’s run as Romeo<br />

was cut short by an acutely painful ankle injury”<br />

Juliet (Lily James) takes the<br />

microphone for a suitably<br />

stylish musical interlude.<br />

nevertheless, a pleasing bit of characterisation. It<br />

is Sir Derek Jacobi’s mature Mercutio, however –<br />

reputedly based on an ageing Oscar Wilde – that<br />

is the production’s biggest triumph. His advancing<br />

years give new interpretation to some of the lines,<br />

bringing hindsight and wisdom to the fore.<br />

Stealing the show, Jacobi’s Queen Mab speech<br />

is faultless and like a <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an masterclass in<br />

articulation. It is only in Mercutio’s death scene<br />

that the tragedy of ‘a young life cut short’ is lost.<br />

Sadly, also cut short was the charismatic Richard<br />

Madden’s run as Romeo. Suffering an acutely<br />

painful ankle injury, Madden was later replaced by<br />

Freddie Fox (after understudy Tom Hanson also<br />

injured his leg). Having recently played Romeo at<br />

Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, Fox was praised for<br />

stepping in at such short notice. His performance<br />

met with critical acclaim and allowed the run to<br />

seamlessly continue.<br />

Adding this to his long list of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an<br />

successes, Branagh delivers a sublimely watchable<br />

production of Romeo and Juliet. Far from biting our<br />

thumb at him, we can only hope that Sir Ken’s next<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>an adaptation isn’t far away.<br />

<br />

shakespeare magazine <strong>11</strong>

Macbeth <br />

Heart<br />

of<br />

Darkness<br />

Completed in just 28 days,<br />

Stewart Kenneth Moore’s graphic novel<br />

of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s Macbeth is a starkly<br />

powerful descent into blackness.<br />

Delving deeply into history and myth,<br />

he told us its fascinating backstory.<br />

Interview by Pat Reid<br />

shakespeare magazine 13

Macbeth<br />

T<br />

ell us about your association with the Prague<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> Company, and how your<br />

version of Macbeth came about?<br />

“Several years ago, I started sketching actors at<br />

work in rehearsals. I’ve done a fair bit of acting<br />

myself and theatrical elements have long been<br />

a theme of my work. But my ‘Stagecraft’ series<br />

began with the Prague-based group Blood, Love<br />

and Rhetoric in rehearsals for Rosencrantz and<br />

Guildenstern Are Dead and Faustus. I admired<br />

PSC’s Macbeth and asked Guy Roberts (Director/<br />

Actor) if I could make similar sketches of their<br />

work, and they kindly agreed. It’s a pretty sensitive<br />

time for an actor, so I’m grateful to be allowed<br />

access. I sketch in the shadows where no one can<br />

see me – I’m a ghost.”<br />

Your adaptation is very true to <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s<br />

text, and yet you’ve added what feels like<br />

a pagan, Celtic sensibility. Where did that<br />

come from?<br />

“My Macbeth follows the work of PSC very closely,<br />

the play has been reduced for a small theatre and a<br />

limited troupe of actors. Visually, I tried to nest my<br />

Macbeth in the archaeology of the Grampian and<br />

Highland regions. I have had a life-long interest in<br />

archaeology and in particular neolithic stone-circle<br />

sites. I decided I wanted to transfer the Prague<br />

stage performances to the Scotland that lives in my<br />

memory, where I grew up, and the very ground<br />

that was home to the historical King Macbeth.<br />

“The North East is strewn with standing-stone<br />

sites, there are probably more there than anywhere<br />

else in Britain. Some of the most interesting stones<br />

have been worked and are known as ‘symbol<br />

stones’. The meaning of the symbols is mostly<br />

lost on us. But these particular stones date from<br />

around 900AD. In terms of menhirs, that’s fairly<br />

recent and not all that far away from the time of<br />

the historical King Macbeth. MacBheatha mac<br />

Fhionnlaigh was born in the year 1005. I began to<br />

combine what I knew of the world of the historical<br />

‘King Macbeth’ and the character of the play that<br />

was written much later, around 1606.<br />

“Holinshed’s Chronicles state that King<br />

Macbeth did consult sorcerers. <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

would have worked from these chronicles, and<br />

the sorcerers may have been the last of a dying<br />

Celtic system of belief. Although <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

made them wretched characters Holinshead<br />

refers to MacBheatha’s witches as ‘creatures of the<br />

elderwood’. To the people of the year 1000 those<br />

symbols and that ‘Elderwood’ would likely have<br />

had a very real meaning. In addition ‘Sueno’s Stone’<br />

stands at the edge of Forres and may or may not<br />

refer to an attempted invasion of Scotland by sea,<br />

an invasion mentioned in the opening lines of the<br />

play as repelled by Macbeth.”<br />

Is there anything significant you decided to<br />

add or take away from <strong>Shakespeare</strong>? If so,<br />

what were your reasons?<br />

“I think it’s an elegant reduction that manages to<br />

combine or remove characters without losing the<br />

drive of the play. But one thing I did do was reintroduce<br />

Fleance, Banquo’s son, in one scene, as I<br />

wanted to show that he escaped to Wales. Also, in<br />

the PSC version, Macbeth kills Banquo, whereas in<br />

my version I re-introduce his murderers.<br />

“I wanted to transfer the Prague stage performance of<br />

Macbeth to the Scotland that lives in my memory”<br />

14 shakespeare magazine

Macbeth <br />

shakespeare magazine 15

Macbeth<br />

“So I started drawing the PSC version but had<br />

one eye on where I could bring more in from the<br />

original play.<br />

“If I ever produce a special edition of the book<br />

I may show Macbeth repelling the attempted<br />

sea invasion of Sueno ‘Forkbeard’. <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

mentions it at the beginning of the play. This and<br />

a battle with Irish cavalry. Two very exciting scenes<br />

that I’d quite like to go back and draw.<br />

“I had to be careful to avoid ‘talking heads’ so<br />

I kept showing memories and extrapolating on<br />

statements. In one case – as Macbeth speaks his<br />

plans for Banquo – I realised I could give it a very<br />

ironic turn by beginning with Macbeth, showing<br />

the flight of Banquo and Fleance and ending with<br />

Banquo facing assassination. This, to me, gave the<br />

meaning of the text to both characters. If I were<br />

to film it, I’d switch voices midstream, because in<br />

doing so it can be seen as a victory for Banquo,<br />

those could be his words too. As if the ghost that<br />

later raises a glass to Macbeth is already gloating at<br />

having saved his son and his line.”<br />

If I had to describe your graphic novel in one<br />

word, it would be “blackness”. What led you<br />

to such an uncompromising visual approach<br />

for Macbeth?<br />

“Atmosphere, speed and economy. I decided<br />

Macbeth could and should be legible, even if<br />

produced on the worst Xerox copier. I’ve done<br />

other works that have fine lines and wild colours<br />

and have been hampered by how impossibly<br />

expensive they are to print. One reviewer wrote<br />

that I treat ‘white’ as an afterthought – it was a<br />

compliment. It’s a dark play, so my method works.<br />

I like that some things won’t be obvious at first<br />

glance, like shadows on paper. Technically, in<br />

scenes rich in shadow, it’s quicker to pick out light<br />

than it is to build up shadow.”<br />

I was reminded of Alan Moore’s exploration<br />

of the occult in From Hell, in that the<br />

supernatural element seems very real in<br />

your book. Is this intentional?<br />

“It is intentional. I believe <strong>Shakespeare</strong> wrote<br />

Macbeth as an almost Oedipal fever-dream and<br />

not as a ‘real’ set of events like other plays. Sleep<br />

and sleeplessness and the mention of dreams come<br />

up again and again. As though it’s a ‘Midwinter<br />

Haunted: Stewart’s original oil painting<br />

of the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth.<br />

Night’s Nightmare’ and not events in real time.<br />

The way he doesn’t show the murder of Duncan<br />

and the transition of before and after in this<br />

scene just evokes the strange inevitability of some<br />

dreams. Magic is real in dreams, and daggers can<br />

dance in the air in our nightmares. Foreboding can<br />

spring up in a dream and we can feel we have done<br />

something terrible without having dreamt it.<br />

“But there is politics at play here too. Banquo’s<br />

line is that of James I, the king on the throne in the<br />

time of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>, and the Bard is re-enforcing<br />

that James is of the rightful kingly line. James I<br />

was originally James VI of Scotland and he worked<br />

hard to make himself seem a goodly Christian king.<br />

I think it may be true that the English population<br />

was very suspicious of him. Those who were<br />

tortured at the Berwick witch trials suggested the<br />

devil was out to get this king, I believe this was an<br />

elaborate propaganda message for a superstitious<br />

population. If the devil was trying to kill the king<br />

he must be a good king, right?<br />

“My suspicion is William <strong>Shakespeare</strong> was at<br />

some level poking fun at this king and the more<br />

spurious claims surrounding his line, but I can’t be<br />

certain.<br />

“I have included quotes from ‘Newes from<br />

Scotland’ in a section at the back of the book. This<br />

was a London pamphlet that <strong>Shakespeare</strong> clearly<br />

used as a source. The witches in Macbeth claim to<br />

16 shakespeare magazine

Macbeth <br />

“I’d like to show Macbeth repelling the attempted<br />

sea invasion. This and a battle with Irish cavalry”<br />

have power over ‘land and sea’. It was said at the<br />

trials that witches, at the behest of Satan, had tried<br />

to sink a royal ship carrying the queen, Anne of<br />

Denmark. In a time rife with witch-burnings this<br />

was a form of ‘bread and circuses’.<br />

“People will confess to anything under torture,<br />

and I believe all the statements recorded were put<br />

there to advance the Stuart line of kings in the early<br />

days of the union.”<br />

Alongside all the martial manhood, there’s a<br />

great deal of female power in this play – with<br />

the Witches and Lady Macbeth. How did you<br />

approach this element?<br />

“I must admit I enjoyed it. It was refreshing to see<br />

such strength of purpose in the female characters,<br />

in fact startling – it seems very modern because it<br />

is so uncompromising. Admittedly Lady Macbeth<br />

does seek strength by asking to be ‘unsexed’ but she<br />

is already so much more determined than Macbeth<br />

himself that it’s a wonder she would need any kind<br />

of transformation. We are journeying into her<br />

mind here and it’s a dark place. To some extent<br />

it was just easy to watch and draw the excellent<br />

performances of Jessica Boone (Lady Macbeth)<br />

and the various witches. But then I also felt that I<br />

didn’t have to worry too much about maintaining<br />

a graceful appearance for Lady Macbeth. As the<br />

story progressed I let her change in some panels to<br />

become more witch-like herself. But I made her<br />

more graceful again when she began sleep-walking,<br />

perhaps to reflect a kind of remorse that I think is<br />

there in the play. They both have those moments of<br />

reflection.”<br />

Many Macbeth productions take place in a<br />

shakespeare magazine 17

Macbeth<br />

kind of nightmare landscape, but you were<br />

inspired by some very real and specific<br />

locations?<br />

“Yes. I briefly lived near Cawdor in the early<br />

’90s and so Nairn beach makes an appearance. I<br />

also slept in a cave on the coast somewhere near<br />

Findhorn in 1986. I’ve since learned about pagan<br />

ritual items found in some of these coastal caves.<br />

My memory of the cave and those beaches appears<br />

in this book. My castles are fanciful but based<br />

on the rubble ‘causeway’ atop Bennachie. The<br />

remnants of an ancient vitrified citadel, now long<br />

gone, inspired this. One of the stones on the cover<br />

is from the foot of Bennachie. The middle stone is<br />

based on ‘Sueno’s’ at Forres. The stone on the back<br />

is there to honour Prague, it is the Stone Shepherd<br />

located 50 miles from Prague.”<br />

You completed the graphic novel incredibly<br />

quickly, in what sounds like a near-Olympian<br />

feat. Can you tell us about the process?<br />

“I was completing four or five pages a day at<br />

times. I did all the drawing in 28 days, one cycle<br />

of the moon was the goal. With other books<br />

I would sketch, refine, then ink the drawings.<br />

With Macbeth I just drew it finished right away,<br />

and allowed no refinement. The flow was the<br />

most important thing, it was high-energy and<br />

low maintenance. I decided not to look back or<br />

fix anything. In that way it was very automatic.<br />

Refining things can actually halt production,<br />

and, to a certain extent, elegance and fine-line art<br />

wouldn’t work. It had to be brutal and raw and<br />

jarring and horrifying, just like the story.”<br />

There are other <strong>Shakespeare</strong> comics out<br />

there – graphic novels, manga, spin-offs<br />

like Kill <strong>Shakespeare</strong> and Toil and Trouble.<br />

Were you influenced by any of these?<br />

“No. I was unaware of them at the outset. But I<br />

soon saw they were out there and barred myself<br />

from looking. I did the same with film, I would<br />

not watch the films. The night I finished I watched<br />

Polanski’s version. I was disappointed that he<br />

showed the murder of Duncan. That was a stupid<br />

decision, <strong>Shakespeare</strong> didn’t do that and he didn’t<br />

do it for a very good reason. Polanski totally missed<br />

the point of that non-scene in my view. I think<br />

our Macbeth is more terrifying, I have yet to see<br />

Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood or re-watch the Orson<br />

Welles version, I saw it as a boy.<br />

“I’ve since seen some of the comics and it<br />

delights me there are so many ways to tell this<br />

story. I am aware that at least one is fully based<br />

on the original First Folio Macbeth, whereas my<br />

version is a study of Prague <strong>Shakespeare</strong> in action.<br />

So mine is more like a documentary in that sense<br />

because it is based on real actors.”<br />

Will you be exploring more <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

works in this medium? If so, which will you<br />

be taking on next?<br />

“I hope so. I began sketching Richard llI, but it<br />

really will depend on how well Macbeth sells.<br />

It is now available from Gosh! Comics in London,<br />

and I’m delighted to say that I received an<br />

order out of the blue from the National Theatre<br />

Bookstore. So if anyone wants more of my<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>, please support my work via these<br />

stores or on Amazon. ‘Stagecraft’, my ongoing<br />

sketches of actors at work, will continue either way.<br />

As an actor and artist, I’ll do that all my life, I’ll<br />

always draw my friends on the stage.”<br />

<br />

Stewart Kenneth Moore’s The Tragedie of Macbeth:<br />

A Graphic Novel is available now. Order from:<br />

Amazon<br />

National Theatre Bookstore<br />

18 shakespeare magazine

Samira Ahmed<br />

“The best productions I’ve seen have often been<br />

international ones. A South Korean Midsummer<br />

Night’s Dream, a Kabuki Twelfth Night,<br />

a Samurai Coriolanus with great warrior<br />

robes and swords and loads of blood”<br />

20 shakespeare magazine

Samira Ahmed <br />

A<br />

Front Row Seat<br />

Best known for her work as co-presenter of<br />

BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, Samira Ahmed is one<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

Interview by Pat Reid<br />

You’re a massive pop culture aficionado, able<br />

to discourse on everything from religion<br />

in Star Wars and the passion of early ’70s<br />

British Asian David Bowie fans to the politics<br />

of superhero films and feminism in ’50s<br />

Westerns. Do you view <strong>Shakespeare</strong> as part<br />

of this – or does it reside in a separate highculture<br />

universe?<br />

“Of course <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s at the heart of it all.<br />

The real revelation was when I went to see<br />

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, which he’d petitioned<br />

Marvel Studios to be allowed to direct, and which<br />

he transformed into King Lear in Asgard. Tom<br />

Hiddleston’s Loki was clearly Edmund, Anthony<br />

Hopkins was Lear, and – if only Hollywood<br />

allowed women to do anything – Renee Russo<br />

would have had an interesting Gertrude from<br />

Hamlet-like relationship with Loki.<br />

“I asked Bryan Singer about casting in<br />

superhero films and he said he deliberately got<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>ans Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart<br />

on the first X-Men film because you need that epic<br />

understanding to make superheroes come alive.<br />

He said he was inspired by Christopher Reeve –<br />

a great, Julliard-trained stage actor – and Glenn<br />

Ford in Superman. Everyone does it now, but<br />

Superman was the first to put the two together.<br />

Tom Hiddleston, one of our greatest superhero-<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> hybrids, was directly inspired by Reeve<br />

too, noting how Reeve was mocked by fellow<br />

students, and indeed by highbrow figures in the<br />

theatre world, for daring to treat a comic book hero<br />

with respect and love. I miss Reeve so much.<br />

“And there are loads of Westerns which are<br />

quite overtly <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an, most obviously in<br />

those big themes about revenge and cruelty and a<br />

quest for power, but more literally too on a plot<br />

level. Red River is an all-male King Lear, but with<br />

a happy ending. Yellow Sky is The Tempest. There’s<br />

something about the rules of the Western, like the<br />

rules of the sonnet which enable great creativity<br />

because of the constraints. It’s what you can do<br />

within the format when everyone knows the rules<br />

and the tropes that audiences come to see.”<br />

shakespeare magazine 21

Samira Ahmed<br />

Samira presented<br />

The National<br />

Theatre’s NT Live<br />

cinema broadcast<br />

of As You Like It in<br />

February 2016.<br />

Did you have a formative <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

experience? I know from experience that<br />

parents who place a high value on education<br />

often drum the Bard into their children...<br />

“Although my mum’s an actress I had no predirection<br />

towards <strong>Shakespeare</strong>. In fact, when we<br />

first read Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar and<br />

The Merchant of Venice in Year 8 at my school, I<br />

decided I loathed him. The language is undeniably<br />

hard at first encounter and Merchant is a bizarre<br />

choice to foist on children at that age. I felt<br />

genuinely cross at all the fuss being made about<br />

this writer! There’s much more innovative teaching<br />

now to get younger children into <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

through exposure to the theatricality of it. About<br />

six years ago I saw the RSC did a great Twitter<br />

Romeo and Juliet around the streets of London<br />

in a kind of real time – so brilliant. I can’t even<br />

recall what <strong>Shakespeare</strong> play we did for O-Level<br />

but I do know that my English teacher Mrs<br />

Anne Kirman was amazing and she transformed<br />

my understanding of him. We did Measure for<br />

Measure and Hamlet at A-Level and I fell in love<br />

with Hamlet like teenagers do. The transformative<br />

moment was probably being taken to see Hamlet<br />

for the first time in the lower sixth in 1984 or ’85.<br />

It was with John Duttine at the Thorndyke Theatre<br />

in Leatherhead, in Elizabethan costume. It all came<br />

alive – I loved it.<br />

“The single greatest <strong>Shakespeare</strong> experience of<br />

my life was Robert Stephens as Falstaff in Henry IV<br />

Part 1 and 2, with Michael Maloney as Hal. First<br />

time back on stage after decades in a Falstaffian<br />

real-life wilderness of his own, and I was very close<br />

to the front row. It was a faultless, charismatic<br />

performance. It felt like he made eye contact with<br />

every member of the audience.<br />

“They have such great plots, too. I never fail to<br />

be excited at the way Hamlet builds to that climax<br />

with all those bodies strewn across the stage at the<br />

end, and you think: WTF, how did we get here?<br />

“It was school trips that made me discover<br />

theatre. It wasn’t something my family did. Mrs<br />

Kirman took her small Oxbridge class to the<br />

“Interestingly the Fiennes/Goold Richard III has<br />

almost no blood in it. The horror is all in the<br />

presentation and the ghastly menace on stage”<br />

22 shakespeare magazine

Samira Ahmed <br />

National Theatre as a treat after the exams and I<br />

suddenly realised how it was a place where you<br />

could feel comfortable and enjoy yourself. Little<br />

things, like her buying us programmes and ice<br />

creams, that made it fun. That started me off.<br />

After I graduated I started going regularly to the<br />

National and the Barbican when the RSC was<br />

there and started following the careers of all these<br />

young talents like Simon Russell Beale and Penny<br />

Downie and Ralph Fiennes, who I first saw in The<br />

Plantagenets. To interview some of them 20 years<br />

later as their careers mature has been all the more<br />

delightful as a result.”<br />

You told me that you had “the best<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> teacher in the world at<br />

university”. Can you tell us about this<br />

experience, and what kind of light it shone<br />

onto <strong>Shakespeare</strong> for you.<br />

“I was lucky to be taught by Reggie Alton shortly<br />

before he retired at St Edmund Hall, Oxford,<br />

where I read English. He was such a kind and<br />

modest tutor but so brilliant. We didn’t do<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> until the second or third year of our<br />

degree, so by the time we got to it I was a bit jaded<br />

and, after all the detail of study for A-level and<br />

Oxbridge entrance, I didn’t think there was much<br />

more to learn.<br />

“But little things – the way he recited lines was<br />

really moving, the way he explained the power of<br />

the ideas in the lines – took me by surprised and<br />

jolted me out of my complacency. He made me<br />

fall in love with Much Ado – probably my favourite<br />

play ever since. We would read out extracts in class<br />

and once he told me afterwards that I was rather<br />

good and he could tell there was a performer in me.<br />

I was so incredibly flattered that he thought so, and<br />

it boosted my confidence.<br />

“Reggie had fought in the War and been<br />

decorated and then come back to college to teach,<br />

but never talked about the terrible things he’d seen.<br />

I tried to imagine how that must have affected such<br />

a sensitive man when he studied all those history<br />

plays about violence and cruelty. He made callow<br />

young students like me learn to trust our instincts<br />

on analysing writing. I felt ashamed if I did inferior<br />

work. It took me years to realise how much his<br />

lessons had influenced me. They changed my<br />

attitude to everything.”<br />

Ralph Fiennes’ Richard III at London’s Almeida Theatre<br />

made a powerful impression on Samira.<br />

I’m going to quote some rather fabulous<br />

words of your own back at you: “I saw<br />

Richard III last night with Ralph Fiennes and<br />

have come up with a whole theory about<br />

that play and Hamlet…” Tell us more!<br />

“It just came to me after watching Ralph Fiennes’<br />

Richard III. Richard is Hamlet’s evil twin. An<br />

Anti-Hamlet. A Hamlet of Dark Matter. A mirrorimage.<br />

The plays were only written a few years<br />

apart. They’re both 30-ish. Richard was apparently<br />

32 when he died. Both are on a mission within<br />

a family dynasty to gain the throne, both treat<br />

wives/girlfriends and mothers pretty appallingly.<br />

But where one is crippled by procrastination,<br />

Richard is all action despite his physical disabilities.<br />

Both have a direct relationship with the audience<br />

through soliloquies, and when Hamlet speaks<br />

of “how all occasions do inform against me” – it<br />

could be Richard, not Fortinbras that he’s watching<br />

with admiration and self-loathing. Imagine them<br />

confronting each other through a portal between<br />

dimensions. I can imagine Fiennes’ Hamlet seeing<br />

his Richard III and realising that, in a way, there’s<br />

really nothing between them.”<br />

You also said that the Ralph Fiennes<br />

Richard III gave you “very violent dreams”.<br />

I’m intrigued by this statement, as a lot of<br />

shakespeare magazine 23

Samira Ahmed<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> seems to happen on a kind of<br />

dream level. And obviously Freud was very<br />

interested in <strong>Shakespeare</strong>...<br />

“I’d recently watched The latest Hollow Crown<br />

on TV when I went to see Richard III, with<br />

Vanessa Redgrave’s haunting Margaret, and had<br />

memories of Fiennes’ Henry VI for the RSC too.<br />

It all merged, and I dreamt of Sophie Okonedo’s<br />

Margaret covered in blood – absolutely drenched<br />

in it, with more blood being poured over her.<br />

Interestingly the Fiennes/Goold production has<br />

almost no blood in it. The horror is all in the<br />

presentation and the ghastly menace on stage.<br />

To be fair, my dream was as much about stagecraft<br />

– I was thinking about how much stage blood was<br />

left in the bucket. It wasn’t about Freud at all.”<br />

When you were working for the BBC in Los<br />

Angeles, you covered the shocking and<br />

hugely controversial OJ Simpson trial, which<br />

I think at the time, 1995, was already being<br />

described as ‘like a <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an Tragedy’.<br />

What are your recollections of that now?<br />

“I’m sure I never said it was <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an. It<br />

wasn’t. When you stripped away the celebrity status<br />

and the circus of news media around him it was<br />

an all too familiar domestic violence case. A man<br />

who had beaten up his wife, then stalked her after<br />

their separation. I guess there’s something of the<br />

<br />

and director Michael Pennington.<br />

arrogance of celebrity that matches the delusional<br />

self-importance of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s royals.<br />

“I don’t think Brits have ever understood<br />

that OJ Simpson was to Americans what David<br />

Beckham is to us. A golden idol. People didn’t<br />

want to believe that he was a nasty wife beater. I<br />

remember the details of the knife wounds, how<br />

the civil court damages included amounts of a<br />

few hundred dollars for the slashed clothing of<br />

Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. I worry that in<br />

covering these real-life cases too many news reports<br />

underplay the violence. I watched the American<br />

news journalists and they were caught up in the<br />

glamour. Some even went to a barbecue at his<br />

house during the civil trial. I couldn’t believe it.<br />

But I don’t think there’s anything tragic about OJ<br />

Simpson. I remember seeing him outside court.<br />

He was a handsome man with a warm smile, a lot<br />

of money and a great lawyer. I’d seen him in those<br />

comedy films he made, and never had a clue about<br />

what went on behind closed doors in his home.<br />

There are many more men like him who abuse<br />

their partners, but they’re not famous.<br />

“I notice how often good productions<br />

emphasise the long, drawn-out violence of murder<br />

– like the death of Desdemona in the Adrian Lester<br />

Othello. But if we’re honest, <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s audiences<br />

got titillation out of them. He knew what he was<br />

doing. Look at Titus Andronicus. I think we’re<br />

fortunate that his writing is so good that these acts<br />

of violence take place in plays that are emotionally<br />

powerful and moving, too.<br />

“Michael Pennington told me recently the<br />

power of <strong>Shakespeare</strong> is the catharsis, which is<br />

why he doesn’t think Lear is unbearable to watch.<br />

I think that play actually is unbearable. I would<br />

prefer a happy ending. I really would.”<br />

I saw an interview with you where you<br />

discussed your fashion influences – things<br />

like Bette Davis and Rita Hayworth in the<br />

’40s and Eleanor Bron in the ’60s. I wondered<br />

if this aesthetic preference extended to<br />

productions or films of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>,<br />

favourite actors and actresses and so on?<br />

“I saw a Powell and Pressburger-style RSC Merry<br />

Wives of Windsor at the Old Vic some years back<br />

in ’40s costume. It was wonderful. They had gas<br />

masks and everything. I think there’s a lot more<br />

24 shakespeare magazine

Samira Ahmed <br />

“There’s something about the rules of the Western, like<br />

the rules of the sonnet which enable great creativity<br />

because of the constraints”<br />

mileage in ’40s costume, especially in these vintageloving<br />

days. But I just like being surprised.<br />

“When I started going to <strong>Shakespeare</strong> a lot in<br />

the 1980s there was a real fashion for everyone to<br />

be in ’80s suits, like yuppies. It was still a new idea.<br />

Suits had taken over the world. We were in awe of<br />

their secret codes of dealing and their money. I saw<br />

Measure for Measure the first time that way at the<br />

Young Vic. It was amazingly effective.<br />

“I think it became a bit of a lazy cliché<br />

sometimes, but it’s interesting how often it still<br />

works. Sometimes, though, I feel short-changed.<br />

I want spectacle, and I wonder if it’s because actors<br />

don’t tend to wear suits every day that they like<br />

dressing up that way. For the audience, it can feel<br />

like you’re just back in the office and I find myself<br />

thinking, Did you get that dress and jacket from<br />

Hobbs? Or Wallis?<br />

“On another period, If I’m honest I don’t see the<br />

point of Edwardian costume. It’s become a boring<br />

fall-back. The best productions I’ve seen have often<br />

been international ones where they’ve transplanted<br />

the whole play to another culture with its costumes.<br />

A South Korean Midsummer Night’s Dream, a<br />

Kabuki Twelfth Night, a Samurai Coriolanus with<br />

great warrior robes and swords and loads of blood.”<br />

Last year you wrote an article for The Big<br />

Issue about how disturbing you found the<br />

unsanitised anti-semitism of The Merchant<br />

of Venice (in a production at <strong>Shakespeare</strong>'s<br />

Globe) and you drew some chilling<br />

comparisons with the UK today. How do you<br />

feel about that, a year on?<br />

“Jonathan Pryce’s performance and the whole<br />

production was a transformative experience. Its<br />

power was in how you saw it from two different<br />

perspectives at the same time – the racist, antisemitic<br />

romp for Elizabethan crowds, which still<br />

draws laughs, and the modern self-aware drama in<br />

which the ‘heroes’ are, as Pryce himself has said, a<br />

bunch of Bullingdon-type toffs used to getting their<br />

<br />

The Hollow Crown featured in Samira’s dream.<br />

way. Adding the conversion scene at the end, where<br />

you see the punishment inflicted, is a moment of<br />

genius.<br />

“Let’s follow the logic, the director is saying, the<br />

happy ending means this. It’s a moment of absolute<br />

horror. I was so unsettled by the experience. It’s<br />

been great to see the story, like Marlowe’s The Jew of<br />

Malta, get re-staged in the past year because we have<br />

a chance to question the mindset of the past. What<br />

passed for fun, how people were dehumanised and<br />

demonised.<br />

“To question how do you play these characters<br />

now? I wonder if we ought to think about some of<br />

these comedies as ’70s sitcoms. Who would think<br />

of re-making them word-for-word sincerely now?<br />

There’s got to be an awareness and a challenge to old<br />

attitudes, even while you celebrate what’s still fun<br />

about them.<br />

“In a Britain where the EU referendum campaign<br />

brought out all these bizarre false memories of an<br />

authentic ‘lost’ happy pre-immigration, pre-women’s<br />

and pre-gay liberation Britain, it seemed especially<br />

relevant.”<br />

shakespeare magazine 25

Samira Ahmed<br />

You also made a connection with some of<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s cross-dressing romps and the<br />

much later British entertainment staple of<br />

Carry On films. Again, tell us more, please!<br />

“I love drag so much, I can’t tell you. And,<br />

of course, most of us grow up never seeing<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> in this really artificial way. Instead we<br />

see it cast with the characters gender-true, instead<br />

of dragged up. But if you look at some of the best<br />

Carry Ons, they’re brilliantly playful about gender<br />

and love. Men are always going undercover as<br />

women. Funny how <strong>Shakespeare</strong> didn’t do that<br />

double drag.<br />

“There’s a terrific romance at the heart of Carry<br />

On Matron. Kenneth Cope is rather a handsome<br />

hero, forced to dress up as a nurse for his father’s<br />

scam. There’s a great scene where Barbara Windsor<br />

realises he’s a bloke and they start snogging, both in<br />

their nurse dresses. And he gets hideously sexually<br />

harassed by Terry Scott’s leering doctor, who the<br />

nurses call ‘The Taxidermist’. Now, as much as<br />

in 1972, it’s a very clever, funny way to present a<br />

rather serious issue. Like <strong>Shakespeare</strong>, they’re just<br />

trying to be fun, but there’s really charm in the<br />

romances sometimes, set against broader comic<br />

players and plots. Roy Castle and Angela Douglas<br />

in Carry On Up The Khyber are a great example. I<br />

also notice how often Carry Ons feature terrible<br />

complications, but in the end the pompous fool<br />

is exposed and all’s well that ends well – with a<br />

wedding, just like a <strong>Shakespeare</strong> comedy.”<br />

Am I right in thinking that one of your recent<br />

gigs has been presenting live <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

broadcasts such as the NT Live As You<br />

Like It? Can you tell us what that involves<br />

for you? And also what you think about<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>an ‘event cinema’ in general?<br />

“As You Like It was my first and only experience of<br />

NT Live so far. Because it was a very technically<br />

complex staging – with all the desks and furniture<br />

hoisted up in a remarkable visual scene change to<br />

transform into the Forest of Arden – I didn’t get<br />

to be on the stage doing any interviews. But I’d<br />

love to do more, as I really appreciate the idea of<br />

enabling the audience to get a little behind-thescenes<br />

insight into these amazing productions.<br />

“The crews who film these are all talented<br />

TV and film personnel who’ve worked on big<br />

“It was school trips that made me discover theatre…”<br />

Samira pictured as a sixth former in the 1980s.<br />

outside broadcasts like The Proms. Watching the<br />

rehearsals with cameras on booms and cranes,<br />

I realise how there’s a whole new tradition of<br />

visual interpretation being developed in these live<br />

screenings, very much more complex and satisfying<br />

for the audience than the old filmed stagings of<br />

years ago. Jim Dale, who Laurence Olivier brought<br />

into the National Theatre <strong>Shakespeare</strong> comedies<br />

at the same time as Dale was still working on<br />

Carry Ons, told me how none of his stage work<br />

had ever been properly recorded. There are a few<br />

photographs of his <strong>Shakespeare</strong> work. There’s<br />

one recording on a static camera from the back of<br />

the theatre of his Barnum. That’s such a loss for<br />

future generations. How brilliant that with cinema<br />

live, not only can many more people experience<br />

something of the thrill of live theatre – and while<br />

it’s better than nothing, I’d still hope it doesn’t<br />

replace the real thing as the GCSE drama row rages<br />

on – but also it’ll preserve the work of so many<br />

great stage actors for future generations.”<br />

<br />

Listen to Samira on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row<br />

bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qsq5<br />

26 shakespeare magazine

Al Murray<br />

Show us your<br />

Bottom!<br />

The full cast of <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

Live performers on stage<br />

at Stratford-upon-Avon on<br />

Saturday 23 April 2016.<br />

28 shakespeare magazine

Al Murray <br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live saw the BBC<br />

team up with the RSC for one<br />

of the great television events of<br />

2016. And one of our favourite<br />

moments was when ‘Pub<br />

Landlord’ comedian Al Murray<br />

tackled the role of Bottom<br />

from A Midsummer Night’s<br />

Dream alongside <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an<br />

acting legend Dame Judi Dench.<br />

Here, Al tells us all about the<br />

experience…<br />

Interview by Pat Reid<br />

Pictures: Helen Maybanks<br />

Fairy Queen Titania<br />

(Judi Dench) woos the<br />

transformed and bewildered<br />

weaver Bottom (Al Murray).<br />

shakespeare magazine 29

Al Murray<br />

t<br />

Oberon (David Suchet) and<br />

Titania (Judi Dench) are<br />

reconciled at <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live.<br />

took a moment for realisation to dawn<br />

that the man playing Bottom onstage at the<br />

world-renowned Royal <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Theatre<br />

was in fact the pint-slinging British comedy<br />

institution Al Murray, The Pub Landlord.<br />

And when the unmistakable voice of Judi Dench<br />

unfurled the immortal the line “What angel wakes<br />

me from my flowery bed?” it was clear that we had<br />

entered the realms of the legendary TV moment.<br />

Several months after the event, we asked the<br />

talented Mr Murray how it all came about…<br />

Al, I’ve always wanted to see you tackle<br />

some ‘proper’ acting, but it simply didn’t<br />

occur to me that you might have a crack at<br />

the Bard – sorry! Was this something that<br />

had always been on your bucket list?<br />

“Yes, but not something I thought would come<br />

about the way that it did. I did some <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

after school, youth theatre stuff, and always liked<br />

the essential puzzle of how to make the words<br />

work – because if you can make them work there’s<br />

nothing like it. I played Oberon and Theseus in a<br />

30 shakespeare magazine

Al Murray <br />

“Everyone was nervous. But a problem shared<br />

between a hundred people is a problem dissolved”<br />

production of Dream – I can still remember one<br />

speech from that – and then I played Antonio and<br />

Orsino in Twelfth Night. But comedy drags you<br />

away from thoughts of such legit endeavours.”<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live certainly chucked you in at<br />

the deep end with one of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s alltime<br />

greatest comedy roles…<br />

“It was the most amazing experience. In February,<br />

I think, we had a call asking if I was interested.<br />

Was I interested! Greg Doran then called, and we<br />

had a short conversation, when perhaps you might<br />

expect a longer one. I just said ‘Yes, sure, of course,<br />

yes please, I’ve always wanted to play Bottom’. And<br />

we sort of left it there –‘We’ll send you the sides,<br />

put April 23rd in your diary’. As the RSC had<br />

been running A Midsummer Night’s Dream with<br />

the mechanicals played by local casts, dropping me<br />

in to play Bottom made lots of sense, but I’d have<br />

agreed to do it on ice, upside down, whatever.”<br />

Were you always aware that you would be<br />

doing a scene with Judi Dench? How did it<br />

feel when you were told?<br />

“Well, initially it wasn’t going to be Dame Judi.<br />

I forget who I’d agreed to be playing opposite. I’d<br />

been in Australia for the Melbourne International<br />

Comedy Festival, so when I got back there was a<br />

call about booking rehearsals into the diary, but<br />

this time ‘with Dame Judi Dench’. This was a<br />

shock, to put it mildly – and naturally my bragging<br />

rights soared in value!”<br />

As you can probably guess, <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

<strong>Magazine</strong>’s readers absolutely adore<br />

Judi Dench. She’s one of the greatest<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>an actors, the finest speaker of<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>an verse, she’s THE voice. Did<br />

you feel daunted?<br />

“Daunted, thrilled, determined not to make a<br />

mess of it! She was wonderful to work with, calm<br />

personified. And when she turns to you as Bottom<br />

and says ‘I do love thee’ – well, she means it.<br />

Top: Rufus Hound and Henry Goodman<br />

perform ‘Brush Up Your <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’.<br />

Above: Cleopatra (Harriet Walter) with<br />

Charmian (Amy Rockson, left) and Iras<br />

(Bathsheba Piepe, right).<br />

shakespeare magazine 31

Al Murray<br />

And as Bottom, with those ears and whiskers and<br />

general ugliness, you believe it.”<br />

Did you have a lot of rehearsals, or was it a<br />

case of the old ‘just turn up and do it’?<br />

“I had several rehearsals earlier in the week and<br />

then the day before. I’ve played the RST (Royal<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> Theatre) before, doing my own shows<br />

when it’s been dark on a Sunday, but this was all of<br />

a different order. Waiting in the wings with John<br />

Lithgow… I’ve a long way to go to top that.”<br />

It’s also quite a saucy moment for Titania and<br />

Bottom, which Dame Judi delightedly played<br />

up to. Prompting a priceless pile-up of facial<br />

expressions from Bottom...<br />

“Well, the thing is, with Dame Judi you know<br />

you’ve not got a lot to do. The basic piece of<br />

direction Greg gave me was to just listen and the<br />

rest will follow.”<br />

Your backstage selfies from <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

Live were beautiful – Al Murray, Judi Dench<br />

and the actors playing Titania’s fairies. It was<br />

actually the most popular thing <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

<strong>Magazine</strong> has ever tweeted – well, apart<br />

from Benedict Cumberbatch. Were you<br />

aware that <strong>Shakespeare</strong> was quite a thing on<br />

social media?<br />

“No! But the night was clearly going to be a big<br />

deal. It reminded me of the sort of thing the<br />

BBC used to do – ambitious, deliberately highbrow-meets-populist,<br />

having the confidence in<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> and a lot of talent to take over a whole<br />

night of television. More please.”<br />

Apart from your own role, what were your<br />

highlights of <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live?<br />

“Being part of a company. I am so used to doing<br />

my own stuff, and when we tour we travel in<br />

a small touring party – my tour manager, my<br />

technical guy and me. When I wait in the wings<br />

it’s just me, and it’s a long time since I got that<br />

Top: Beatrice (Meera Syal) and Benedick<br />

(Sanjeev Bhaskar) from Much Ado About Nothing.<br />

Above: <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live’s suitably sparkling hosts<br />

David Tennant and Catherine Tate.<br />

nervous. At <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live everyone was nervous<br />

– live TV, a huge juggernaut of a show that you<br />

didn’t want to make a mistake in or hold things<br />

up. And each part of the show was called down<br />

to backstage to be mic’ed up, and everyone was<br />

nervous. And because everyone was nervous it was<br />

shared, and a problem shared between a hundred<br />

people is a problem dissolved.”<br />

“The basic piece of direction Greg Doran gave me was<br />

to just listen to Dame Judi – and the rest will follow”<br />

32 shakespeare magazine

Al Murray <br />

“Someone came and measured my head, and two<br />

weeks later there were amazing lifelike hairy ears”<br />

“What angel wakes me<br />

<br />

Judi Dench’s Titania<br />

with attendant fairies<br />

in <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live.<br />

I think it was GK Chesterton who said that<br />

Bottom is a better part than Hamlet, and<br />

over the years I’ve come to appreciate the<br />

role’s comedic brilliance. What’s your take on<br />

it? Do you have a favourite line or moment?<br />

“It’s a great part for a comic. You get to occupy<br />

the place astride the fourth wall. You’re in both the<br />

magical and the real worlds in the story, taking the<br />

place of the audience member, earthing the magic<br />

to the base metal of the human animal spirit and<br />

libido. I had the advantage of playing opposite<br />

Dame Judi so I could surrender easily to the<br />

business of being perfectly upstaged.”<br />

Needless to say, I have to ask you about<br />

Bottom’s rather magnifcent ears.<br />

“Someone came to my house and she measured my<br />

head, and two weeks later there were ears, amazing<br />

lifelike hairy ears. I spent all day in makeup on the<br />

Friday for rehearsals and they fell off. On Saturday<br />

a new way to fit them was devised, which meant I<br />

had to leave them on all day. All. Day.”<br />

A few weeks after <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live, the BBC<br />

transmitted the Russell T Davies version of<br />

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Matt Lucas<br />

taking quite a low-key approach to Bottom.<br />

Is this a role that every comedian should<br />

tackle at some point? It seems to be like a<br />

decathlon for comedic ability...<br />

“I didn’t see it, but it’s a great role for a comic.<br />

You have to let your inner donkey out.”<br />

Have you had a life-long relationship with<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>? What have been the key<br />

components?<br />

shakespeare magazine 33

Al Murray<br />

“The night was clearly going to be a big deal:<br />

ambitious, deliberately highbrow-meets-populist”<br />

Guest starring Prince<br />

Charles, <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Live’s<br />

‘Seven Hamlets’ sketch<br />

delighted fans of the Bard.<br />

“My parents took us to Stratford as well as the<br />

Barbican – ‘in order to make us cultured’ was the<br />

joke. We saw Ken Branagh’s Henry V, Macbeth,<br />

Romeo and Juliet, a very bawdy Winter’s Tale and<br />

plenty of other plays. Sometimes my parents<br />

would have a dinner thing with friends and we’d<br />

read a play – when I think about that, it’s utterly<br />

absurd but wonderful too. But there was lots of<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>, as well as A-Level English. We did<br />

Hamlet – which I love – and Othello, which I did<br />

not get on with at all!”<br />

I recall a Twitter exchange we had over the<br />

‘cakes and ale’ line from Twelfth Night – you<br />

pointed out that <strong>Shakespeare</strong> was poking<br />

fun at puritans. Was your Pub Landlord<br />

character influenced by some of those<br />

boozy, anarchic <strong>Shakespeare</strong> characters like<br />

Falstaff and the Twelfth Night roisterers led<br />

by Toby Belch?<br />

“Yes, very much so. These characters as we receive<br />

them in <strong>Shakespeare</strong> are iterations of such solid<br />

archetypes that I’m quite happy to be a small part<br />

of that echo.”<br />

Finally, will we be seeing you in any more<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> roles? And are there any you<br />

would particularly like to tackle?<br />

“Oh, whichever ones I’m lucky enough to be<br />

offered!”<br />

<br />

Al Murray The Pub Landlord is currently on tour.<br />

He performs at the Royal <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Theatre in<br />

Stratford-upon-Avon on 14 May 2017.<br />

Full tour dates here<br />

34 shakespeare magazine

Nick Sample<br />

Creative Graphic Design & Print for Theatre<br />

As featured in<br />

Posters, leaflets and postcards<br />

Programmes<br />

Banners and pop-up stands<br />

Company ID and logo design<br />

Promotional brochures & newsletters<br />

Souvenir Items<br />

For further information or to receive a PDF portfolio,<br />

simply e-mail Nick at njcsample1@mac.com<br />

or call +44 (0)7950 332 645 or visit his web thing at www.nicksample.com<br />

‘Is it not strange that design should so many years outlive performance?’ Henry IV, Part II (well, almost)<br />

Hillbark Players 19th – 24th June 2017<br />

An open-air production in Royden Park, Frankby, Wirral, Merseyside, U.K. All seats under cover.<br />

William <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s greatest tragedy<br />

For further information about Hillbark Players, and to apply to take part in the Open Auditions, visit<br />

www.hillbarkplayers.co.uk<br />

OPEN<br />


28th November –<br />

5th December 2016<br />

You could play Hamlet!

Review: The Wars of the Roses<br />

Oh,<br />

What a<br />

Lovely<br />

War<br />

Eight hours of spectacular<br />

1960s RSC <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

captured by the BBC in<br />

glorious black and white…<br />

With as much intrigue,<br />

betrayal and calamity as the<br />

Bard could imagine, TV epic<br />

The Wars of the Roses is at<br />

last available on DVD.<br />

Review by Pat Reid<br />

36 shakespeare magazine

Review: The Wars of the Roses <br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

On television, the <strong>Shakespeare</strong> landmark of 2016 is<br />

the BBC’s The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses.<br />

But at least a few of you reading this will recall an<br />

earlier scaling of this <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an peak – five<br />

decades earlier, to be precise.<br />

In 1963 the Royal <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Company<br />

was but a bright young thing under the visionary<br />

leadership of Peter Hall and John Barton. And it<br />

was they who hacked and cajoled <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s<br />

Henry VI Parts 1-3 and Richard III into a single<br />

entity, first for the Stratford and London stage, and<br />

then, in 1965, for the small screen.<br />

Fifty-one years later, I sat down to watch The<br />

shakespeare magazine 37

Review: The Wars of the Roses<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

Wars of the Roses with a slight sense of trepidation.<br />

It’s well known that John Barton made literally<br />

hundreds of cuts and rewrites to <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s<br />

text. Had he “done a Colly Cibber”? Would<br />

the effect be a kind of cod-<strong>Shakespeare</strong>an<br />

pantomime? I stopped short of watching the<br />

production with one eye feverishly checking an<br />

Arden <strong>Shakespeare</strong> text, but it was a gnawing<br />

concern. I soon relaxed, however, and I have to<br />

admit I couldn’t spot any obvious interpolations<br />

– and certainly nothing of the glaring “Yo, my<br />

lords, how’s it hanging?” variety.<br />

Now, big confession time: I haven’t watched<br />

the entire eight hours of the production yet. And<br />

not only that, I haven’t even watched it in the<br />

correct sequence. Rather comically, I started on<br />

the wrong DVD, but I found The Wars of the<br />

Roses so instantly engrossing that I couldn’t bring<br />

myself to stop and go back to the beginning until<br />

40 minutes had elapsed. And yet, isn’t that the<br />

whole point of owning the moveable feast of a<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> box set? You watch it when you want<br />

to, and how you want to – and no one can tell<br />

you off for watching it wrongly.<br />

For instance, I particularly loved the staging<br />

of the Jack Cade rebellion, so when it finished I<br />

immediately watched it again. Roy Dotrice (who,<br />

impressively also plays Edward IV) is an anarchic<br />

delight as Cade. I also spent an hour or two<br />

happily zipping between any scenes I could find<br />

38 shakespeare magazine

Review: The Wars of the Roses <br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

with Janet Suzman (who plays both Joan la Pucelle<br />

and Lady Anne) and Ian Holm (Richard III), both<br />

brilliant. Equally watchable is David Warner as the<br />

unfortunate Henry VI. Warner projects an ethereal<br />

sense of intelligence as Henry vacillates between<br />

regal entitlement and hapless indecision.<br />

As today, the RSC harboured a mixture of<br />

rising young talent and venerable old veterans. In<br />

The Wars of the Roses you definitely get a sense of<br />

the acting profession’s tectonic plates grinding in<br />

new directions. In his early forties at the time, the<br />

much-loved Donald Sinden (York) already seems<br />

a bit old-fashioned, while the 56-year-old Peggy<br />

Ashcroft steals the show as Margaret of Anjou, her<br />

rage conveyed with an odd, trilling voice.<br />

The 1960s political refercences may have lost<br />

their edge, but the production’s fire remains. For<br />

me, this three-DVD set will be a much-savoured<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>an treat for many years to come.<br />

<br />

The Wars of the Roses (Illuminations Media)<br />

3-disc DVD / 505 minutes including extras<br />

£29.99<br />

Buy your copy here<br />

shakespeare magazine 39

King Lear<br />

“While we unburdened<br />

crawl towards death…”<br />

Lear (Don Warrington) sets<br />

out to divide his kingdom<br />

among his three daughters.<br />

Monarch<br />

of<br />

Madness<br />

Don Warrington has national treasure status for his<br />

inimitable presence in TV comedies from Rising Damp<br />

to Death in Paradise. This year, the veteran British<br />

actor has taken on perhaps the most powerful<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> role of all – King Lear. A collaboration<br />

between London’s Talawa Theatre Company and<br />

Manchester’s Royal Exchange, the production also<br />

featured rising star Alfred Enoch as Edgar.<br />

Pictures by Jonathan Keenan<br />

40 shakespeare magazine

King Lear <br />

“I was scared of it, and I think that’s a telling sign.<br />

In theatre, if something frightens you – do it”<br />

The blinded<br />

Gloucester (Philip<br />

Whitchurch)<br />

encounters a Lear<br />

who has lost his<br />

grip on sanity.<br />

For over 40 years, British audiences have had<br />

the chance to see you on stage, on TV and in<br />

film. How do you select your projects?<br />

“I don’t really choose my projects as such. Sarah<br />

Frankcom asked me if I wanted to do it. I was<br />

scared, I was frightened of it, and sometimes<br />

I think that’s quite a telling sign. If something<br />

frightens you, particularly in the theatre, do it.<br />

Because the theatre demands a great deal from you<br />

in terms of commitment. This is only the second<br />

theatre production I’ve done in three years and I’m<br />

very happy to do things like this.”<br />

You are the first black actor to play King<br />

Lear since Ben Thomas in Talawa’s 1994<br />

production and, prior to that, Ira Aldridge in<br />

1860. What is the significance of this?<br />

“It is a fact, there were black people in this time<br />

period. Racism didn’t actually exist back then as<br />

we know it today and I think that’s important.<br />

This is what history does and if you can do history<br />

properly, then do it. In this case that means saying<br />

‘Look! We were here, end of story’.”<br />

How did you prepare for performing the role<br />

of King Lear every night?<br />

“Every night you begin at the bottom and you<br />

work your way to the top. In a sense it’s easier, but<br />

in another sense, every time I come to the theatre<br />

before the show, I’m nervous. It’s a long way up<br />

and I’m hoping I get to the end. That’s the nature<br />

of the play, I think.”<br />

Is it reassuring to have a fan base that will<br />

come out to see you in theatre productions?<br />

“I have no idea whether fans of mine come to see<br />

me at the theatre, but when I meet people that<br />

have come for the first time, that’s very thrilling.<br />

I met a boy last night who had never been to the<br />

theatre before and he had never seen King Lear.<br />

He had never read it, he didn’t know what the<br />

story was, and he was overwhelmed by it. I think<br />

that is fantastic.”<br />

<br />

shakespeare magazine 41

King Lear<br />

How did your involvement in the Talawa<br />

production of King Lear come about?<br />

“This production came about because I had<br />

worked with Michael Buffong at the Royal<br />

Exchange Theatre before [in a critically-acclaimed<br />

production of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons]. Sarah<br />

Frankcom asked me to have a cup of tea with her.<br />

We had a cup of tea in the cafeteria and she said<br />

‘How about Lear?’ I looked at her and really didn’t<br />

think she was serious, so I said ‘Yeah, why not?’<br />

That’s how it started, and three years later we find<br />

ourselves doing it.”<br />

This is one of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s most physically<br />

challenging roles. Did you do anything<br />

special to prepare for it?<br />

“With Lear I thought more than physical<br />

preparation I needed mental preparation. I started<br />

thinking about it a year ago and I read it over and<br />

over again. I would take it with me wherever I<br />

went and I would spend a lot of time looking at<br />

the text. I watched lots of versions of Lear and just<br />

absorbed as much of the material as I could before<br />

we started. I thought about what kind of Lear I<br />

wanted to do and decided that what I want to<br />

present is the man. What sort of man is he? What<br />

stage is he at in his life? That’s where I started.”<br />

Recent studies have likened the behavioural<br />

traits of King Lear to those of a person with<br />

dementia. Was this something that you<br />

considered when preparing for the role?<br />

“I really think that <strong>Shakespeare</strong> is writing about<br />

dementia. I suspect that a member of his family<br />

had it and he studied them closely before writing it<br />

down. For me, dementia becomes a very important<br />

aspect of the play. It shows itself in his rages which<br />

suddenly overcome him and he doesn’t quite know<br />

where he is. That was the route I took.”<br />

You have a famously powerful voice – how<br />

do you sustain it for a role like this one?<br />

“I do voice exercises… I just warm it up and try<br />

and use it properly.”<br />

What do you feel is the importance of a<br />

<br />

Lear’s duplicitous<br />

daughters Goneril<br />

(Rakie Ayola) and<br />

Regan (Debbie<br />

Korley).<br />

“I really think that <strong>Shakespeare</strong> is writing about<br />

dementia in Lear. I suspect he studied it closely”<br />

42 shakespeare magazine

King Lear <br />

Alfred Enoch<br />

(Edgar)<br />

Already a familiar face to<br />

UK <strong>Shakespeare</strong> fans, the<br />

versatile young actor talks<br />

about Talawa Lear.<br />

Edgar disguises himself<br />

as a vagabond, calling<br />

himself ‘Poor Tom’.<br />

Stage to Screen is still a relatively new genre<br />

– do you have prior experience of a filmed<br />

theatrical performance? And did you adapt<br />

your own performance to take the cameras<br />

into account?<br />

“I’ve done a few filmed performances, I’ve done<br />

a couple of NT Lives. I was in a production of<br />

Timon of Athens at the National and a production<br />

of Coriolanus at the Donmar. It’s interesting,<br />

because it can be a challenge from an acting<br />

perspective, just because you’re trying to gauge how<br />

much to be aware of the cameras or not. That’s<br />

something I thought about as we were getting<br />

ready to film Lear. We absolutely trust the crew<br />

and leave it completely up to them and, because<br />

we don’t have to police ourselves in that way, that’s<br />

one of the nice things about it. We’re not trying to<br />

make the movie of King Lear, we’re trying to give<br />

people a sense of what it would have been like to be<br />

in this room for the performance and get a feel of<br />

what that live performance is like.”<br />

How did you end up getting the role of<br />

Edgar in this production of King Lear?<br />

“I was mid-way through the second season of<br />

How To Get Away With Murder, which is a job I’m<br />

doing over in the States, and the way the season<br />

works is that we shoot for seven months of the year<br />

and then have a five-month gap. So I wanted to<br />

come back home and do some theatre, hopefully<br />

some <strong>Shakespeare</strong>. My agent let me know that<br />

they had fixed me up with a taped audition for<br />

Lear. They told me Don Warrington is going to<br />

be playing King Lear, Michael Buffong is going<br />

to be directing, and it’s going to be at the Royal<br />

Exchange, and I thought ‘This is exciting!’ I had<br />

my recall, in person, in London and they gave me<br />

the good news in November, which was lovely.”<br />

This play has of course seen you working<br />

closely with Don Warrington. As a young<br />

actor, are you thankful for experienced role<br />

models like him?<br />

“It’s important on a job to have someone at the<br />

helm of it. Don playing King Lear is such a big<br />

part and he’s got so much responsibility. One of<br />

the main responsibilities – that some people may<br />

not actually realise – is he sets the tone of how<br />

the things go along with the director and in the<br />

rehearsal room and the way he conducts himself.<br />

“Don’s been fantastic in that respect, he’s<br />

created a lovely atmosphere here and he’s very<br />

open and very precise. Working with someone like<br />

Don, with all his experience, is fantastic and – for<br />

me, certainly – it has been a pleasure to get to play<br />

scenes with him.”<br />

shakespeare magazine 43

KIng Lear<br />

company like Talawa Theatre?<br />

“Why is it important there’s a Talawa Theatre?<br />

Why’s it important there’s a National Theatre?<br />

It’s important because it’s important. Just as the<br />

Royal Exchange in Manchester says something to<br />

the people of Manchester and the wider world,<br />

Talawa says something to its audience and is<br />

representative of black people in this country. They<br />

have a voice and they need it to be expressed.”<br />

What’s it like to work as part of a theatre<br />

company like this one?<br />

“I think working in a company is one of the most<br />

exciting things one can do. I like to start with<br />

people I don’t know. It’s frightening and lovely to<br />

walk into a room – not knowing who the people<br />

are, what they are going to offer – and starting<br />

from the beginning. I’m the leader of the company,<br />

I try to be as generous and open as possible<br />

because I feel that one has to set a benchmark and<br />

encourage people to be as brave as possible. We had<br />

that in this company, which is thrilling.”<br />

Was it important to convey the family<br />

dynamic within the production?<br />

“It’s important that we believe in the family because<br />

it is a family drama. It is about a man who decides<br />

to give away what he’s got to his daughters in the<br />

hope that they will look after him as he moves<br />

towards death, like any family. We had to create<br />

a family dynamic. He likes some of his children<br />

more than others and whether we like it or not,<br />

we all do that. We try to be fair, but we do have<br />

favourites deep inside us, and that was the dynamic<br />

I was looking for. Who does he like best? Who’s the<br />

cheekiest? Which one of them makes him smile?<br />

All of those things.”<br />

The Royal Exchange reaches a wide and<br />

diverse audience. Do you think that this film<br />

will also help <strong>Shakespeare</strong> reach newer and<br />

wider audiences?<br />

“I think the film will get to a larger audience and<br />

I hope it will capture the essence of what we were<br />

trying to do, by giving a flavour of how it worked<br />

in the space.”<br />

Why do you think the character of The Fool<br />

is significant in this play?<br />

Actor Don Warrington believes that in King Lear<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> was exploring the theme of dementia.<br />

“The relationship between Lear and The Fool is<br />

a loving one – he’s given full licence because he<br />

is The Fool. Lear gives him licence to be his best<br />

friend, his child, his advisor and, when he becomes<br />

too pompous, to prick his bubble. I think in this<br />

production I’m very fortunate to have Miltos<br />

Yorelemou as The Fool because sometimes the<br />

alchemy of something is just wonderful. With him,<br />

he fits me, just physically, I can put him under my<br />

arm and that’s lovely. That’s luck and life. The first<br />

time I did it I thought ‘Wow! This is just great’.”<br />

The Royal Exchange is an intimate space set<br />

in the round. Does that have any effect on<br />

you within your own performance?<br />

“I have to say, this is the second time working<br />

in Manchester at The Royal Exchange. When I<br />

first came here it terrified me. I thought ‘There’s<br />

nowhere to hide in here’. But once you get over<br />

the shock of it, one gets immense freedom from it.<br />

I find the audiences very warm and very responsive<br />

and I love coming here.”<br />

<br />

Find out more about Talawa Theatre<br />

talawa.com<br />

44 SHAKESPEARE shakespeare magazine magazine

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Tom Hiddleston<br />

“O God, I could be<br />

bounded in a nutshell<br />

and count myself a king of<br />

infinite space, were it not<br />

that I have bad dreams”<br />

Act II, Scene 2<br />

Tom<br />


is<br />

H<br />

30 shakespeare magazine

Tom Hiddleston <br />

Hiddleston as Loki in Thor:<br />

The Dark World (2013).<br />

TON<br />

He’s played Prince Hal, King<br />

Henry V and Coriolanus.<br />

He’s even played Cloten in<br />

Cymbeline. But there’s one<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>an role above all<br />

others that we haven’t seen<br />

Tom Hiddleston perform:<br />

Hamlet. And as there’s no<br />

indication that the 35-year-old<br />

actor plans to tackle the Dane<br />

soon, we thought we’d just go<br />

right ahead and imagine what<br />

it might look like…<br />

AMLET<br />

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios,<br />

StudioCanal and the BBC<br />

shakespeare magazine 31

Tom Hiddleston<br />

Hiddleston<br />

“Not a whit, we defy augury;<br />

there’s a special providence in<br />

the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,<br />

’tis not to come; if it be<br />

not to come, it will be now;<br />

if it be not now, yet it will come:<br />

the readiness is all. Since no man<br />

knows aught of what he leaves,<br />

what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.”<br />

Act V, Scene 2<br />

as<br />

Jonathan Pine in<br />

TV drama The<br />

Night Manager<br />

(2016).<br />

32 shakespeare magazine

Tom Hiddleston <br />

Hiddleston as Dr Robert Laing<br />

in High-Rise (2016).<br />

“For in that sleep<br />

of death what<br />

dreams may come<br />

When we have<br />

shuffled off this<br />

mortal coil,<br />

Must give us pause”<br />

Act III, Scene 1<br />

“I lov’d Ophelia.<br />

Forty thousand<br />

brothers<br />

Could not (with<br />

all their quantity<br />

of love)<br />

Make up my<br />

sum.”<br />

Act V, Scene 1<br />

From Thor: The Dark World (2013).<br />

shakespeare magazine 33

Tom Hiddleston<br />

From High-Rise<br />

(2016).<br />

“There are more things in<br />

heaven and earth, Horatio,<br />

Than are dreamt of in<br />

your philosophy”<br />

Act I, Scene 5<br />

34 shakespeare magazine

Tom Hiddleston <br />

“What a piece of work is a man!<br />

How noble in reason! How infinite<br />

in faculties! In form and moving<br />

how express and admirable!<br />

In action how like an angel!<br />

In apprehension how like a god!<br />

The beauty of the world, the<br />

paragon of animals! And yet to me<br />

what is this quintessence of dust?”<br />

Act II, Scene 2<br />

From Thor: The Dark<br />

World (2013).<br />

shakespeare magazine 35

Ophelia<br />

‘Ophelia’ (1851-52) by Millais<br />

may be viewed at London’s<br />

Tate Britain gallery.<br />

52 shakespeare magazine

Ophelia <br />

The Girl<br />

in the Frame<br />

As the cult of <strong>Shakespeare</strong> reached its height in the<br />

mid-19th century, a generation of artists turned<br />

to the Bard for inspiration. Among them was the<br />

renowned Sir John Everett Millais. This is the story<br />

of Elizabeth Siddal, who modelled for Millais’ iconic<br />

painting of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s Ophelia.<br />

Words: Stephanie Pina<br />

Images: Wikimedia Commons<br />

shakespeare magazine 53

Ophelia<br />

“The model assumed Ophelia’s death pose in a tin bath,<br />

with the ornate gown billowing around her”<br />

‘Ophelia Before the King<br />

and Queen’ (1792) by<br />

Benjamin West.<br />

phelia has only 173 lines in Hamlet, and yet her<br />

character has gripped us for generations and has<br />

inspired countless works of art. Portraits of the<br />

tragic maiden are plentiful and far outnumber<br />

images of Hamlet. What is it about Ophelia that is<br />

so captivating? Edgar Allan Poe once said that the<br />

death of a beautiful woman was “unquestionably<br />

the most poetical topic in the world”. Ophelia’s<br />

youth, beauty, and sadness fit in well with Poe’s<br />

description, but I think it’s more than that. It’s the<br />

sheer magnitude of her mistreatment, her hysteria,<br />

and the outrage we feel on her behalf. Her struggles<br />

are something that all women can relate to and<br />

in popular culture she has become symbolic of<br />

women that have been ill-used, misunderstood,<br />

or rejected. If a woman doesn’t have a personal<br />

Ophelia story, she at least knows someone<br />

who does. Ophelia is universal and her tale is a<br />

cautionary one.<br />

Since <strong>Shakespeare</strong> does not show the audience<br />

Ophelia’s death, artists can turn to their own<br />

imaginations when painting her. This freedom<br />

of expression, coupled with the subject matter,<br />

appealed to many Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite<br />

artists. Perhaps the most iconic is the 1852 painting<br />

by Sir John Everett Millais. In an unprecedented<br />

move, Millais placed Ophelia directly in the<br />

stream where she will die. Water pools around her<br />

abdomen and her gown, heavily drenched, weighs<br />

her down. Her pale, passive face shows no sense<br />

of her impending doom or the fact that she is<br />

moments away from being fully submerged. Her<br />

open palms seem to welcome her fate. The artist’s<br />

choice to depict her in the process of death is an<br />

effective one. As viewers, we know what is coming.<br />

We are helpless onlookers at her last moments as<br />

if they were frozen in time. Ophelia is a perfect<br />

example of the way that art can be disturbing yet<br />

still full of beauty. Despite the luxuriant greenery,<br />

floral symbolism and Ophelia’s calm expression,<br />

54 shakespeare magazine

Ophelia <br />

this is a profoundly shocking image.<br />

The painting has now developed its own<br />

symbolism due to the use of Elizabeth Siddal as<br />

the model. This was an unintentional twist of fate,<br />

since obviously Millais had no way of knowing<br />

that her life would end tragically. Her features may<br />

have lent themselves well to the role of Ophelia,<br />

but Elizabeth Siddal has gone on to become a Pre-<br />

Raphaelite legend in her own right.<br />

Discovered while working in a millinery shop<br />

by artist Walter Howell Deverell, Siddal modelled<br />

for his painting ‘Twelfth Night’. This introduction<br />

to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood led to other<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>-themed works such as ‘Valentine<br />

Rescuing Sylvia’ by Holman Hunt and, of course,<br />

‘Ophelia’ by Millais. Her experience while posing<br />

as Ophelia was perhaps the most dramatic. The<br />

artist had purchased an antique gown embroidered<br />

with silver for her to wear. She assumed Ophelia’s<br />

death pose in a tin bath, the ornate gown billowing<br />

around her. Oil lamps were placed under the bath<br />

to keep the water warm, but as time passed the<br />

lamps went out and the temperature dropped<br />

dangerously. Siddal never spoke up and Millais<br />

never noticed. When she later grew ill from the<br />

hours spent in the cold water, her father threatened<br />

to sue the artist.<br />

After ‘Ophelia’, Siddal posed only for Dante<br />

Gabriel Rossetti. She became his muse, and her<br />

‘Ofelia’ (1864) by Thomas Francis Dicksee.<br />

‘Hamlet and Ophelia’ (Compositional Study, 1865)<br />

by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.<br />

features are seen repeatedly in his work. When<br />

she expressed an interest in creating art instead of<br />

just posing for it, he became her mentor and she<br />

embarked on what seemed to be the beginning<br />

of a promising career. Their relationship was<br />

tumultuous, however, and Rossetti’s flirtation<br />

with model Annie Miller and his dalliance with<br />

another model, Fanny Cornforth, wounded Siddal.<br />

They married in 1860 after a decade-long on/off<br />

romance. After the devastating blow of a stillborn<br />

daughter, Siddal was plunged into a state of deep<br />

depression. She was also addicted to laudanum,<br />

and in February of 1862, at the age of 32, she died<br />

of an overdose.<br />

The grieving Rossetti placed his manuscript<br />

of poems in her coffin, claiming that he had too<br />

often been at work on them when he should have<br />

been caring for his wife. Seven years later, he had<br />

her exhumed in order to publish them. Although<br />

Rossetti was not present at the exhumation,<br />

this reopening of Siddal’s grave is somewhat<br />

reminiscent of the graveyard scene in Hamlet.<br />

Where Hamlet leaps into Ophelia’s grave, Rossetti<br />

takes back his poetry from Siddal’s.<br />

On the surface, there are parallels between<br />

Elizabeth Siddal and Hamlet’s ingenue that<br />

add to this perception of an Ophelia mystique.<br />

After the death of Ophelia’s father, Polonius,<br />

shakespeare magazine 55

Ophelia<br />

Left: Mignon<br />

Nevada portrayed<br />

Ophelia in a 1910<br />

production of the<br />

Ambroise Thomas<br />

opera Hamlet.<br />

Right: ‘Ophelia’<br />

(1908) by<br />

John William<br />

Waterhouse.<br />

Also known<br />

as ‘Gather Ye<br />

Rosebuds While<br />

Ye May…’<br />

she is overwhelmed with grief and madness, and<br />

sings strange songs while those around her look<br />

on awkwardly, unsure of what to do. Elizabeth<br />

Siddal was overwhelmed by depression after being<br />

delivered of a stillborn child. Artist Sir Edward<br />

Burne-Jones and his wife Georgiana witnessed<br />

Siddal rocking an empty cradle. When they entered<br />

the room, Siddal admonished, “Hush, Ned, you’ll<br />

waken it!” When Georgiana Burne-Jones published<br />

this account in her two-volume biography of her<br />

husband, she compared Siddal to Dante Gabriel<br />

Rossetti’s version of Ophelia. Elizabeth Siddal, once<br />

a promising artist, had now become grief-stricken<br />

and confused. Laudanum became her only refuge.<br />

Throughout the play, Ophelia is mistreated<br />

and used. She is defined by the men in her life,<br />

which leads to her tragic end. Ophelia can be seen<br />

as an avatar, a symbol of what can be lost when<br />

others dictate how we should speak, act, and live.<br />

Elizabeth Siddal has now achieved the same cult<br />

status and many women, myself included, are<br />

fascinated and inspired by her. Still, her work is<br />

often described as derivative in comparison to other<br />

Pre-Raphaelite artists, meaning that her art and<br />

poetry have not been allowed to stand alone on<br />

their own merits.<br />

Hamlet is a complex character where Ophelia<br />

is a simple one that exists only to further his story.<br />

Many scholars view Ophelia as a mirror for Hamlet<br />

and as a result, she is not always fully explored.<br />

Unfortunately, this is similar to how Rossetti’s early<br />

biographers approached the subject of Elizabeth<br />

Siddal. After Rossetti’s death, depictions of Siddal<br />

were written almost entirely with a male voice.<br />

Their goal was not to pursue the facts of her life,<br />

but to write about her only in relation to Rossetti.<br />

Thankfully, there has been an emergence of female<br />

writers who have lent their perspective to Siddal<br />

and other women in the Pre-Raphaelite Circle.<br />

This begins with Jan Marsh and her 1985 book<br />

Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, as well as her in-depth<br />

analysis The Legend of Elizabeth Siddal. Author<br />

Kirsty Stonell Walker has also made an important<br />

contribution to Pre-Raphaelite studies with<br />

Stunner: The Fall and Rise of Fanny Cornforth, the<br />

only full-length biography of another frequently<br />

dismissed model.<br />

An imbalance is created when the Ophelias or<br />

Elizabeth Siddals of the world are overlooked, and<br />

this can only be corrected by giving female figures,<br />

whether historical or literary, the serious attention<br />

they deserve. In doing so, we strengthen not only<br />

ourselves but we create an expanded cultural<br />

language for all women to draw upon.<br />

<br />

56 shakespeare magazine

Insane Root<br />

My Nation<br />

Underground<br />

Macbeth performed in an eerie redwalled<br />

cave has become one of the<br />

highlights of the Bristol <strong>Shakespeare</strong><br />

Festival. Producer Justin Palmer takes<br />

us on a subterranean guided tour.<br />

Words: Kayleigh Toyra<br />

Pictures: Graham Burke, Jon Craig<br />

58 shakespeare magazine

Insane Root <br />

“We break down the witches’ language in order to<br />

create our own, to bring back that uncanniness”<br />

The power of Macbeth<br />

<br />

underground setting.<br />

Candlelight flickers from rust-coloured walls.<br />

We shiver in the small semi-circle of light cast<br />

by a solitary lantern. This is, quite literally, an<br />

underground theatre experience.<br />

Most of Bristol’s residents don’t even know<br />

that the Redcliffe Caves exist. Tucked away on an<br />

old quayside and closed to public access for most<br />

of the year, their entrance is marked by a heavy,<br />

forbidding gate. It seems an unlikely setting for one<br />

of <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s most expansive plays, but it’s here<br />

that local theatre company Insane Root have staged<br />

a sell-out production of Macbeth two years running<br />

during the city’s annual <strong>Shakespeare</strong> Festival.<br />

Producer Justin Palmer formed Insane Root in<br />

2015 with director Hannah Drake specifically<br />

to stage Macbeth in these caves. Its second year<br />

has seen the project reaching maturity with its<br />

unflinching exploration of Macbeth’s psyche.<br />

Indeed, the location is perfect for exploring the<br />

“black and deep desires” of man, especially as the<br />

caves reputedly harbour dark secrets themselves.<br />

Strange stories have circulated about Redcliffe<br />

Caves ever since they were first excavated by<br />

Bristol glass-makers centuries ago. As the city<br />

grew wealthy on the slave trade, wares awaiting<br />

export were stashed down below. There have been<br />

shakespeare magazine 59

Insane Root<br />

The<br />

lurid rumours about human bodies chained to the<br />

subterranean walls. And, as the Bristol-Link website<br />

notes, “the full extent of the caves are unknown”.<br />

The fact that we can so readily imagine dark<br />

deeds taking place here adds poignancy to the<br />

play’s violent themes. In the high-strung opening<br />

scene, Macbeth and Banquo bear symptoms of<br />

post-battle distress as they pace the narrow corridor<br />

to be greeted by the witches’ arresting appearance.<br />

Echoing the men’s nerviness, the audience are<br />

unsure in their new surroundings, starting at the<br />

witches who appear from the darkness. Banquo’s<br />

nervous laughter is made more unsettling by<br />

Macbeth’s wild stalking. What just happened here?<br />

Insane Root tap into the fascination we have<br />

with witches, removing their twee Halloween<br />

associations. “I think we’ve lost our primeval fear of<br />

witches through language and culture,” Justin says.<br />

“In our production, we break down the witches’<br />

language and create our own to bring back that<br />

uncanniness”. Insane Root’s witches chatter, cluck<br />

and squawk in guttural tones as they appear at<br />

people’s sides. The strange sounds made by these<br />

shrouded figures genuinely scare people, making<br />

the witches one with the eerie environment.<br />

Justin believes there’s something primal about<br />

domestic<br />

drama of the<br />

<br />

in a candlelit cavern.<br />

60 shakespeare magazine

Insane Root <br />

For the audience, Insane Root’s Macbeth<br />

offers a rare opportunity to experience Bristol’s<br />

<br />

<br />

caves that “physically transports us back in time to<br />

an older way of living”. The cavernous hall where<br />

much of the play’s action takes place is reminiscent<br />

of a medieval chamber where the physical nature of<br />

power is emphasised – kingship won by gore. Here<br />

Macbeth is comfortable at its basest: swords, shouts,<br />

bloody hands and raucous drinking are perfectly<br />

complemented by the shadows cast on the walls.<br />

“Down in the caves,” Justin says, “it is possible<br />

to go on a slightly different journey than in a<br />

theatre”. But what is most striking about this<br />

subterranean Macbeth is the internal journey.<br />

Under the ground, in the close atmosphere, we<br />

become enthralled by the psychology of Macbeth’s<br />

crumbling kingship. Unlike other <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an<br />

rulers who go down with regal poise, we see<br />

Macbeth battling in a hellish bunker, raging and<br />

raving, and we are all locked away down in the<br />

caves with him. His words fly out in quiet precision<br />

as his castle becomes his prison, the loud clang of<br />

swords ringing so close that audience members<br />

have to step back. Macbeth is reduced to jumping<br />

on his own banqueting table, finally dying against a<br />

rocky outcrop where lately he seemed to rule. It’s at<br />

this close range that you truly appreciate his fall.<br />

This Macbeth loses the vast battle scene<br />

shakespeare magazine 61

Insane Root<br />

“We see Macbeth battling in a hellish bunker,<br />

raging and raving, and we are locked in with him”<br />

<br />

production’s few props<br />

<br />

those all-important candles.<br />

perspective of Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film, and brings<br />

the focus back to the language and its imagery.<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s words are given unique cadence<br />

in such a small space. Lady Macbeth’s intimate<br />

supplications with her husband are spoken softly<br />

in candlelight. The porter holds a solitary lamp at<br />

the cave entrance and initiates the audience into<br />

the space with whispered tales of battle. Actors are<br />

both exposed and energised, echoed by an audience<br />

unused to be being so close to the players.<br />

“Setting has to have meaning,” Justin argues.<br />

“I don’t think you can just put Hamlet on in a car<br />

park.” He constantly emphasises the importance of<br />

the setting informing the performance. Performing<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> in a unique space shouldn’t just be<br />

about selling tickets to jaded punters – it’s an<br />

opportunity to radically rethink the plays.<br />

Underground Macbeth’s complicit atmosphere<br />

makes us wonder – exactly how involved are we<br />

with the tyranny we see, hear and feel?<br />

“When Macbeth is talking to his court, the<br />

audience play witness,” Justin explains, “almost<br />

becoming his accomplices. In a way, the audience<br />

are visible ghosts and become part of the whole<br />

performance.”<br />

Insane Root’s Macbeth makes these historic<br />

caves feel like a modern-day dictator’s bunker. And<br />

it’s one that the audience are challenged to face.<br />

<br />

Find out more about Insane Root Theatre<br />

insaneroot.co.uk<br />

62 shakespeare magazine

Next issue<br />

We hope you’ve enjoyed Issue Eleven of <strong>Shakespeare</strong> <strong>Magazine</strong>.<br />

Here’s a taste of what we have coming up next time…<br />

Year of the Bard<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong> <strong>Magazine</strong> celebrates the<br />

extraordinary highlights of 2016.<br />

<br />

Margaret Atwood<br />

Canada’s literary superstar explores <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s<br />

The Tempest in her new novel Hag-Seed.<br />

<br />

Harriet Walter<br />

The <strong>Shakespeare</strong>an Dame talks about her acting<br />

memoir Brutus and Other Heroines.<br />

<strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s Storms<br />

Braving the elements with <strong>Shakespeare</strong>’s Globe<br />

Book Award winner Gwilym Jones.

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