Every now and then something a bit different comes along, a creative project that transcends your ideas of good pay, nice people, and exciting project. I’m referring specifically to a mammoth theatre project taking place in St Giles Church, Centre Point this Autumn.
Imagine three writers from a very special era in theatre, all buried in the same church, their headstones lost to the world. Their plays have never been performed either at all or in hundreds of years. Imagine now that someone by sheer coincidence found the writers whilst sifting through church records and, in an ambitious moment of romanticism, resolved to revive works from each of these in repertory theatre – in the very church in which they are buried – and contribute the profits to a replica of the monument originally dedicated to one of the writers. This time all three writers will be preserved on a side each of the monument, saving the fourth side for the brave company of theatre makers and creative talent who tackled this very task in the name of literature and art and for all lost writers everywhere.
Elsewhere the plays are being reprinted for the very first time since they were written. The company will literally be resurrecting these writers who chose, against the gradient perhaps, to push the boundaries of art and perception to create work that was in places ahead of the times, and therefore overlooked until now, 400 years later. That will be pretty cool.
…Every factor of the origins of this project is researched in detail…
Brice Stratford, artistic director of Owle Schreame Theatre Company who achieved great success with Measure for Measure last year, is the person doing this very thing. With a deep insight into ancient and renaissance theatre, the man is a fountain of knowledge which is lucky, as this is not a venture to be taken lightly. Every factor of the origins of this project is researched in detail, second checked and checked again. But from the three plays – Bussy D’Ambois (by George Chapman who is famous for translating the works of Homer), The Unfortunate Mother (by Thomas Nabbes) and Honoria and Mammon (by James Shirley) – you can expect something live and magical, changeable every night, depending on the audience and the mood, and for the story to shine through, complemented by dark choral music, movement and a Grecian chorus of ensemble actors.
In his direction Stratford values a genuinely classical approach: not creating a museum piece, nor reworking the story for contemporary audiences, but instead being true to the story, taking advantage of the talented people surrounding him, and the creativity and immediacy of their performances. ‘The plays were not written to be read off the page’ he says, nor were they written in stone. ‘They were written as an element of the work, just as every other aspect of the performance must be used to contribute to the entire piece.’
…The freedom given to the actors to improvise and create was enormous…
The most famous writer of renaissance theatre – Shakespeare – had so very few stage directions in his work, making it constantly changeable and adaptable, timeless so to speak. This was not a trait of the writer himself but of the times. The freedom given to the actors to improvise and create was enormous. There was no strict blocking, no strict direction, just actors fully in the knowledge that they are in a play, living in the moment, sharing a story with the audience. In a world dominated by method acting and film this old approach to acting is incredibly underrated. Classical theatre was written with the intention to focus the play on the story telling, and on the morality and the issues surrounding the world, not the individual characters and their small, personal problems.
Companies such as Owle Schreame Theatre Company and others such as Tim Carroll’s Factory Theatre are so very important to keeping these traditions alive. So much work is used to provide escapism, spectacle and over-indulgence in personal issues. It is rare to find a piece of theatre that provides sometimes uncomfortable insight into our world, thought-adjusting experiences, and beautiful, intelligent story telling. Neither thing is without its great value, but both are just as valuable as the other.