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Pure gold from The Merchant of Venice

Shake-scene Shakespeare Theatre Company is bringing the atmosphere of Tudor playhouses to The Cockpit in an exciting new production

03 October, 2017 — By Julie Tomlin

Artistic director Lizzie Conrad Hughes, right, rehearsing The Merchant of Venice. PHOTO: Nikki Wills

After taking on The Tempest at The Cockpit Theatre earlier this year, Shake-scene Shakespeare Theatre Company is bringing its innovative approach to bear in a new production of The Merchant of Venice.

Artistic director Lizzie Conrad Hughes, a Shakespeare teacher and expert, explains how the recently formed company came to employ the 16th-century theatre practice of cue-script and how it aims to recreate the atmosphere of the Tudor playhouses:

IT began, innocently enough, in reading a book: The Secrets of Acting Shakespeare by Patrick Tucker, about his work with cue-scripts. My head exploded, I had to try this technique out. What might we be missing? How might the plays have looked and sounded to their first players and audiences? Could modern day actors do what Shakespeare’s players did? First we had workshops to discover the skills needed and began to get a company of actors together, and since then the work has really matured and hit its stride.

On stage, the play is completely alive. The actors are so completely invested in the language, so ready to share their words and their feelings with the others, so desperate to know what everyone else has to say to them, that the acting is very exciting and moving to watch.

As a Shakespeare geek, it’s finding the things that other approaches tend to miss – little moments of character, interruptions, deliberate mistakes and confusions, techniques that create simultaneous speech on stage instead of the polite turn-taking that we are more used to.

The play is created by the characters in front of the audience, rather than the characters fitting into an overall concept of a play envisioned by a director. The audience is part of the creative process, witnessing discoveries and unplanned moments, seeing the actors in character present only complete authenticity, and their presence in turn creates an unique creative environment. Mixing this truthfulness with the gorgeous text makes it really rewarding theatre.

It’s not smooth, or slick, but it has moments of pure gold in it.

• Shake-scene Shakespeare Theatre Company’s The Merchant of Venice is at The Cockpit from October 3-7. 020 7258 2925, http://thecockpit.org.uk

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