In March 2016 Gregory Doran (artistic director of the RSC) delivers the Richard Dimbleby Lecture – Is Shakespeare Chinese? In his lecture he talks about ‘getting passport’ to Shakespeare and the arts at a young age and the importance of this throughout his life. Now I am not the artistic director of the RSC (and unlikely to be) but I also got that passport to Shakespeare and on this special anniversary I want to talk about my love of Shakespeare.
Like many people my first introduction to Shakespeare was at school. I suppose you would call it Year 5 now but for me it was third year junior school. My teacher Mrs.Sinden was a big fan of drama and literature and introduced Shakespeare to us. It was though the play within the play in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. She told us the story and we got to act it out. I remember a few of us were allowed to go and rehearse next door in the music room. To us it was just fun and a really good lesson but it turned out to have a bigger impact on me than I realised at the time. Mrs.Sinden had brought the story to us in an accessible way. I loved it and wanted to know more about Shakespeare and his plays.
I remember going to the library shortly afterwards with a friend and his mum and wanted to borrow some of the children’s versions of Shakespeare. His mum didn’t understand why I wanted Shakespeare and said it was too old for me so wouldn’t let me borrow it. That weekend though I went back with my nanna and headed straight for the Shakespeare book. They were beautifully illustrated. I had hoped they would have ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ but they didn’t. Instead I remember borrowing ‘As You Like It’. I loved the story so much as illustrations made the characters look like they were Robin Hood and his Merry Men. I wanted to go to the Forest of Arden it all seemed so special and exciting.
From Juniors school I went to Secondary School and in Year 9 for my SATS I studied Shakespeare for the first time and it was of all the plays ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Studying Shakespeare is a very different experience from performing it. It’s more serious but at the same time your understanding increases. After a few reads it falls into place. The language is no longer a barrier and you see inside the characters mind. The SATS were declared void due to a marking controversy nationally but despite that they allowed me to look at Shakespeare in great detail for the first time.
So far I had only read or performed a version of Shakespeare. I had never seen a Shakespeare play live. This changed in November 1996 when I went to see Henry IV part 1 at lV local theatre. It was a school trip but not for my English class as my teacher had decided not to do Shakespeare for G.C.S.E. even though we one of the top sets. Some friends were in the other class and said they were going to see Henry IV parts 1 and 2. I desperately wanted to go. I asked the teacher Mrs.Johnson who said yes and I was able to persuade my parents to pay for the ticket. Unfortunately as it was last-minute they could only afford the one ticket so I only saw part 1. This performance is still vivid in my memory (and not just because my friend fell asleep on me). The cast included both Timothy and Samuel West, Paterson Joseph, Gary Waldhorn and Tom Goodman-Hill. It was brilliant and a privilege to see and I wished I could have seen part 2. It felt like it was a very special occasion and it was as it was the first live Shakespeare play I had seen.
At A-Level I studied ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Othello’ (I also did Romeo & Juliet as I chose to resit my G.C.S.E English Language exam and it involved Shakespeare) . My lack of knowledge about Shakespeare showed at this time as I remember when we started to read Othello and we were asked to volunteer to read a part. I didn’t want a main role to rad so thinking I was clever didn’t volunteer for Othello . The teacher asked for someone to read Iago. no one put the hand up so I thought this is a small part and I needed up with it. Big mistake as it is the main role in the play and I had now landed myself with the part and the rest of the class had to put up with my droning voice from September to November (sorry everyone). Studying these plays though allowed me to learn more about Shakespeare, the plays themselves and me. I realised that this was theatre that I enjoyed. With college we saw lots of versions of ‘The Tempest’ including a very bizarre one where they were all in white straight jackets (it wasn’t good). I only saw Othello once but it was at the RSC in Stratford. It was a long bus trip for a half day trip to the theatre but it was worth it. I couldn’t believe I was in Stratford Upon Avon going to watch the RSC for the first time. I was so excited. It was great and I need to make the effort and go back soon. I did see the RSC again later on when they did their season in Newcastle and performed ‘The Tempest’.
After A-level’s though me and Shakespeare drifted. My English Literature A-Level result was not as good as I had hoped and I was left with the feeling you get when a relationship has ended but neither party wants to say so you just let things drift naturally. In this time life carried on. I went through my early twenties very awkwardly and shy without Shakespeare in my life.
The passport that I had got though was still valid and over time my relationship with Shakespeare has developed again. This time not for studying but performing. Back in 2013 I got involved with Darlington Green Theatre who are local theatre group who specialise in Shakespeare. I auditioned not knowing what the play was. I turned up and discover it was ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. The play that had started off my love of Shakespeare. I was over the moon to get the part of Egeus and meet the rest of the cast. Getting involved with this group at this time helped me so much. I was a nervous wreck at the start but they gave me such support that my confidence grew at a time when I very vulnerable. Shakespeare had let me find this group and maybe even find a bit of me. I have now been involved in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Tempest’ (in several roles), Merry Wives of Windsor, and this year Macbeth and Hamlet (which I am in today Saturday 23rd April). It is a lot of work and has been stressful at times but the experience has pushed me as an actor and as a person and I will always be grateful for this.
So what next for me and Shakespeare? Well who knows. I plan to do Hamlet and Macbeth this year and read more of the plays this year as well. After the end of June/beginning of July I am planning on taking some time off from acting until 2018. I hope this doesn’t mean time off from Shakespeare though. I hope to see more Shakespeare and learn more about the plays and sonnets and learn more about me.
People say Shakespeare is elitist, it’s just for posh people, it means nothing modern-day life and children should not be forced to study it, the language is difficult . Shakespeare is accessible if we don’t let it scare us. Teach it at a young age like Mrs .Sinden did with me and pick the right play such as ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and not ‘Titus Andronicus’ . Theres nothing elitist about Shakespeare as it was meant for everybody to enjoy. Yes the language takes time to get used to but after practice you get to the point where it just clicks all it takes is practice. So this year it is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the perfect time to renew your passport to Shakespeare or get your first passport.
Mrs.Sinden gave me this special passport to Shakespeare and it hasn’t expired and I hope it never does. So thank you William Shakespeare for the plays, Thank you to Darlington Green Theatre for being so supportive of me and allowing me to enjoy Shakespeare once again and thank you to Mrs.Sinden for starting me off on this adventure. I have never thanked her for this and I understand she has moved away from the area so probably never will but every show I do and every Shakespeare performance that I watch and enjoy is because of her.