Preview – To Live, To Love, To Be
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2
Once a month, every month, a sinister band comes together to summon the spirits of years gone by. Last month they entered dangerous territory by summoning the spirit of Adolf Hitler. This month they have gone for an ‘easier’ option – William Shakespeare. But will their investigations into the Bard’s background be as safe as they think?
To Live, To Love, To Be is a newly commissioned play by award-winning dramatist D.J. Britton, who also penned Sherman Cymru’s take on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. The unusual script aims to explore why Shakespeare wrote what he did and what influences inspired his imagination. Around the 6 metre revolving table debate is sparked between Shakespeare’s Welsh grandmother, his father – Mayor of Stratford, travelling players, Ariel from The Tempest and other characters from his plays.
Company 5 consists of 13 members between the ages of 18 and 61, some with no previous theatre experience at all! In a chat with Director Phil MacKenzie he stressed the importance of the company’s open door policy, “there are no auditions, all that’s needed is commitment.” The result is an incredible mixture of people from all kinds of backgrounds; one is a professional actor, others are drama students, some just have a passion for theatre. For those new to treading the boards, what a way to make their theatrical debut!
Phil says that even in the week before the show he is not completely sure what the finished production will be. “If you think of the process as a hill – we are nearly at the top of it now. By next week we will be at the top of the hill and the momentum will just carry us through.”
Despite being unsure what to expect as the audience comes in Phil’s passion for the project is characteristically infectious. Staging such as experimental and unusual production with a group such as Company 5 could be a huge risk if the actors were not completely on board with the idea, but whilst watching them rehearse it was clear that every person on that stage is committed to putting on a high quality performance that will begin to bridge the gap between amateur and professional theatre.
In Sherman Cymru’s Theatre 2 it seems that every company finds a new way to use the adaptable space. Company 5 have decided to take the idea of performing in the round to the next level. The huge revolving séance table takes up most of the stage meaning that the audience are placed above the action on the balcony looking down on what Phil calls “the mysterious world of the afterlife.”
The set is incredible and it’s hard to believe that this isn’t a professional production with a large budget. The attention to detail is astonishing and extends to the lighting, costume and even the smell in the room.
One of the most impressive parts of the production is, without a doubt, the music, which has been specially created by Welsh composer John Rea. He has constructed atmospheric soundscapes to accompany the action that Phil grandly calls “sonic provocations”. They certainly live up to their name adding a dark tension to the room. As if this wasn’t already a hard enough job John had the extra challenge of creating the sound only from music that has been composed in response to Shakespeare’s work. The final result is perfect for the mysterious and somewhat sinister production.
Although this was a rehearsal in which details were constantly changing with actors having to redo sections over and over there were still some eye-catching performances. There is a clear ensemble approach and it is obvious that the company have done a lot of work on movement and text meaning that they are free to experiment and produce something new and exciting.
This is sure to be yet another daring and innovative production from Sherman Cymru’s Company 5. By the time the audiences are coming in this is sure to be a polished and exciting production. If you are a Shakespeare buff, a new writing fan or are just looking for something a bit different get your tickets now!
To Live, To Love, To Be will be at Sherman Cymru, Cardiff from 17-20 April, 8pm. Tickets : £8 / £6 conc / £4 under 25s.
Tickets and info: 029 2064 6900 www.shermancymru.co.uk
The project has been supported by RSC Open Stages and The Paul Hamlyn Foundation both of which stress the importance of high quality experiences and the importance of maximising the potential of everyone.
The Paul Hamlyn Foundation: www.phf.org.uk
Royal Shakespeare Company: www.rsc.org.uk
To Live, To Love, To Be
Sherman Cymru, Theatre 2
17th April 2013
Being in the audience of To Live, To Love, To Be was like being a witness to some occult religious ceremony; the atmosphere was heavy with expectation and a sinister sense of danger never left the room. Sitting on the balcony looking down at the huge revolving table as incense filled the room was the beginning of our initiation to the mystical world of Shakespeare’s mind.
Around the table various figures from Shakespeare’s past and fantastical imagination debate the source of the Bard’s genius. His school teacher believes that education is the key, a travelling player says that they inspired Shakespeare as a young man, Ariel from The Tempest argues that he has the heart of a fairy and Macbeth claims that the famous poet adapted stories from history to suit his own means.
For a community group to be able to perform a specially commissioned script, with such high production values is incredible. Every element of the design was better than some professional companies. The lighting design by Ceri James was breathtaking; it had the power the change the space from the dark passages of Macbeth’s castle to the sunny Stratford of Shakespeare’s youth, whilst always maintaining a sense of the supernatural.
An investigation into Shakespeare’s past and motivation is always going to be very intellectual and the wordplay was at times beautiful but the atmosphere was so engulfing and mysterious that some of the very down to earth humour was lost among the incense and grandeur. This lack of humour made the production, although visually impressive, very dry and academic at points.
Considering that this is such a challenging text and the company run an open door policy, whereby anyone can get involved with no auditions, the standard of acting was very, very high. Some of the younger members are also involved with the Sherman’s Youth Theatre and they are undoubtedly getting an excellent introduction to the world of theatre. Certain performances showed real professional potential – Eifion Ap Cadno (Shakespeare), Andreas Constantinou (Macbeth) and Giorgia Marchetta (Lady Macbeth) to name a few. Among all this talent the stand out performance of the event came from the highly talented Nerys Jones as William Shakespeare’s Welsh grandmother who argues passionately (and convincingly) that his talent comes from his Celtic blood.
A really interesting production that is an absolute master class in building tension and atmosphere. It will be fascinating to see where the company goes from here, they have set themselves a very high standard to maintain.
Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes, the innovative director duo behind National Theatre Wales’ acclaimed play The Persians, have teamed up once again on a re-imagining of the tragedy Coriolanus for the World Shakespeare Festival 2012.
Fused with Brecht’s 1950’s adaptation, Coriolan/us transplants the eponymous fallen hero’s story from ancient Roman to a vast and disused RAF hangar in South Wales. The choice of this stark military setting for the site specific piece is an effective one, as the play’s main themes and scenes centre around war and its aftermath.
Once inside the space you are faced with two imposing television screens and multiple cameras . This adds to the feeling the world you have entered is one of 24 hour news and constant surveillance. The audience is given headphones that can be worn throughout, meaning you are completely immersed in the action and the characters’ dialogue.
Burnt out cars, men in balaclavas and a great wall dividing the two cities of the play induce menace, and serve to remind us this is a place on the edge of chaos and revolt. Coriolan/us succeeds in being both claustrophobic and epic in scale simultaneously. Adrenaline filled riots quickly transform into intimate scenes.
A fascinating feature of the production is that it will be experienced differently by each audience member. You can choose whether to follow the actors, the crowd’s movements, or to transfix your gaze on the giant screens in the hangar.
By live streaming the performances onto screens via roving cameras, a powerful sense of being part of a news story as is develops is created. At times it feels like you are actually one of the people in the crowd as history is being made during the uprisings. One the Citizens films moments on his mobile phone. The experience is immersive and authentic. The patricians jostle and push past you as if they are not an actor and you the audience, but as if you really are one of the plebeians of Rome.
The underlying force of the play lies in the crowds. Almost ever present, they drive the narrative forward to its tragic conclusion. It is interesting that the audience and crowd of play become one entity, and I found myself following the masses and thronging towards the action, engrossed.
This production is enhanced by a strong cast. The Civilian “plebs” command the vast space of Hangar 858 just as forcefully as the soldiers, Tribunes, and Coriolanus’s indomitable mother Volumnia (a memorable Rhian Morgan).
The tension and chemistry between enemies-turned-allies Coriolanus and Aufidius (Richard Lynch and Richard Harrington respectively) is mesmerising to watch. Hatred bleeds into admiration then blurs into a seemingly homoerotic lust between these two hardened soldiers. This climaxes in a final battle that feels almost like a release of the sexual tension that seemed to build between them throughout.
Shakespeare’s story is remarkably pertinent. The experiences of a wounded soldier returning home from war and struggling to adjust to the way life when he returns could have been written specially for a contemporary audience. Civilian life in Rome is a battleground, and the political landscape there is more of a minefield than the conflicts Coriolanus has left behind.
Parallels to the Arab Spring are unmistakable. Walking into the hangar feels like stepping into the streets of Syria mid riot. This tale of citizens joining together and rising up against their rulers, even if it does bring disastrous consequences, has captured the zeitgeist.
Coriolan/us is a thought-provoking reminder in these unstable times that “the people are the city”. We have the power to better our world, but also to destroy it.