I love historical and classical theatre for many reasons but even so, the idea of a classical awards ceremony in an ancient pub baffles me. And that’s even with the addition of the expert knowledge of the organising company Owle Schreame.
The Owle Schreame Classical Theatre Awards took place in a grand old-fashioned room upstairs at the George Inn pub near London Bridge. The room was decked out with portraits of famous Jacobean writers, and the smell of chicken dumplings wafted from the room above and ale from below. The sound of Morris dancers drifted up through the windows from the yard below. As for the awards themselves, twelve Hamlet skull-shaped tankards are set on the table in front of us. I wonder if Shakespeare is watching.
Organiser Brice Stratford starts by saying he too has no idea what to expect, but that he wanted an opportunity to put some interesting companies in a room together to talk about what they were doing and what they’d like to do. We thought we were at an awards ceremony but that appears to be only the starting point. Throughout the day people talk more and more about how the classical theatre industry is elitist and it shouldn’t be, and we see Owle Schreame’s hidden objective: to collaborate more, talk more, and create a community of classical and historical theatre makers.
…the secret history of mummers…
There was an afternoon of inspiring talks from a broad range of excellent people, some well known and other hidden gems in the London theatre scene. One such speaker was Phil Willmott, director of Gods and Monsters theatre and provider of extensive projects in free open-air theatre throughout the UK. He argued that if we share each other’s myths and legends, it makes our cultures much more accessible to each other and gives us something substantial to connect over.
We heard from the Mummers and were introduced to the secret history of mummers – a new concept for many of us. Lazarus Theatre Company, a well-known fringe company, was recognised for its work on the Tragedy of Mariam by Elizabeth Carey, the first woman to publish a play under her own name. Footfall theatre were also celebrated for their reworking of King Lear into a new play, Lear’s Daughter, creating a play of women – not about women in relation to men or women playing men, just a play of women. They cleverly explored the historical genre and context of classical theatre, and reconciled that with modern feminism.
…a group of armed forces veterans who have tried to combat PTSD…
Many of these companies, including but specifically Passion in Practice, had a shared dedication to forming a company in which they work together all their lives – as it was in an old theatre troupe – to explore exactly what we can achieve to form artistic relationships for that long. There was a lot of talk about the death of the rep season, which has had a lot of attention in the media recently from big name rep-trained actors and their peers, such as Judi Dench.
The Combat Veteran Players were the last to speak, and certainly the most inspiring to hear. They are a group of armed forces veterans who have tried to combat PTSD by reviving a sense of comradery through theatre, performing at Shakespeare’s Globe most recently and have committed to providing a similar outlet for veterans throughout the UK and beyond.
…We shouldn’t need to fight to be a part of it…
Everyone we met was wonderfully open about their work, about storytelling, ensemble, growing as artists, healthily disagreeing and growing more, and looking for something which perhaps the establishment does not offer.
History and specifically classical theatre doesn’t belong to the upper classes or the big playhouses of London or drama school it belongs to us. From Shakespeare and his contemporaries to mummers and folk theatre, all the way to Morris dancing which is so old we don’t even know its real origin. We shouldn’t need to fight to be a part of it, and the Owle Schreame has proved that we don’t.