Tag Archives: Royal Shakespeare Company

‘Thou she be but little, she is fierce’

I’ve been visiting Stratford Upon Avon and the surrounding area regularly for quite a few years now and although the main purpose of our visits are most often Shakespeare-related, we realised this week that we have never really done anything ‘touristy’ in town.

It’s ironic to think that with such a love of Shakespeare and the theatre, we hadn’t actually explored Shakespeare’s houses for example; well I had, but it was in 1983 I think, so it probably doesn’t count. In fact, over the past year, I’ve been up to Stratford even more frequently for my research and I have spent many hours in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive and The Shakespeare Institute, but I still haven’t ventured any further…

Two of the very talented actors in the garden of Shakespeare's Birthplace performing a scene from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in a less than summery, chilly wind.

Two of the very talented actors in the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace performing a scene from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a less than summery, chilly wind.

So, this week as we drove up from Hertfordshire for a few days we decided it was about time we did. We did the Stratford Town Walk, visited the Church where Shakespeare was christened and buried, took in some non-RSC theatre, visited the Birthplace and, well obviously we went to the RST to see the unmissable ‘Death of a Salesman’, but that was planned a while ago.

The Stratford Town Walk was fascinating and extremely enlightening. John, our guide was very knowledgeable and had some great little anecdotes. I was surprised to discover that many councils around the UK, and indeed many countries, have donated lampposts to the town. In all my wanderings, I’d never noticed the lamppost outside The Swan Theatre that was donated by Israel and features an owl, Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof (an interesting trio if ever there was one!). I hadn’t realised that the town still occasionally flooded, or that a frog’s spittle could cure a sore throat, and I had no idea that Shakespeare’s grave was actually cursed.

The lamppost donated by Israel

The lamppost donated by Israel

A visit to the Birthplace, was equally educational – seeing Homer Simpson doing Macbeth was disturbing, viewing the First Folio was interesting and treading the floors of Shakespeare’s first home was actually more exciting than I had expected. Even better was the discovery of new inspiration for my designs so watch this space…

The First Folio in Shakespeare's Birthplace

The First Folio in Shakespeare’s Birthplace

I could go on, but I’ll come back to this in a later post. Until then, I’ll just say thank you to John from Stratford Town Walks for his handy tip on how to remember the titles of all of Shakespeare’s plays and wish you a very Happy Easter!

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“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds”

How do changes in human subjectivity over time affect how we view a Shakespeare play? Should Shakespeare’s plays be staged as they were in his day, or can they be staged in a modern setting?

These questions were posed this week on a course I am following on Future Learn about Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Personally, I don’t think Shakespeare’s plays have to be staged in Elizabethan costume at all. The thing I love most about seeing Shakespeare performed is the seemingly infinite interpretations of the same text – surely it’s what makes the Director’s job so challenging?

I have seen Hamlet several times and costume or setting rarely make a difference to the overall experience. Perhaps this is because the play is predominantly about emotions; and politics and conflict are universal themes. In any case, I enjoy seeing Shakespeare’s plays re-imagined with settings and costumes that are often surprisingly relevant, even when they are a far-cry from what the Elizabethans, or even the modern-day Globe audience would expect to see.

The current productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won (or Much Ado About Nothing) at the RSC are cases in point. Beautifully staged productions set either side of the first World War, they are spot on and work brilliantly. Likewise, the RSC’s Merchant of Venice with Patrick Stewart, set in modern-day Las Vegas with an Elvis Impersonator, and a South-African influenced Tempest with Antony Sher as Prospero – both genius productions, still true to the text, but shedding a whole new light on the plays.

This whole notion of how Shakespeare’s plays are performed is something I feel very strongly about. After all, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much inspiration for my design work if every performance was firmly entrenched in 1599!

 

Forming attachments

The Noble Fool was my final piece for my three-year jewellery design course. My starting point, once I’d chosen As You Like It for my focus, was to look at Elizabethan costume fabrics and patterns and the fastenings used. Alongside my more academic studies of the play, I wanted some visual inspiration for my design work and initial research suggested that period-style costume would give me plenty.

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A page from my sketchbook – after my initial visit to the RSC Collections Warehouse in Stratford Upon Avon

I had decided to look particularly at hook-and-eye fastenings, lacing and corsetry, since these offered interesting design options. I was not short of examples to look at, but was a little surprised to find a prevalence of velcro being used – not particularly Elizabethan obviously, but as it turned out, far more convenient when performing a quick costume change in the Wings before going back onstage.

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Hook-and-eye fastenings. M. Le Beau, As You Like It, RSC 2000

It was, in fact, the incredible black-and-white costume of Monsieur Le Beau that inspired my research into the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the play in 2000, designed by Kaffe Fassett and Niki Turner.

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Initial work on patterns using the M. Le Beau costume, As You Like It, RSC 2000

Not only did this production inspire my final design, but the time spent at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust looking at production photos, production records and Costume Bibles, cemented a new and happy, but quite unexpected relationship between Shakespeare’s plays in performance and the jewellery design process.

Please note: All costumes owned and courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company Collection. Although I have taken inspiration from its productions and costumes, the RSC has not endorsed my jewellery collection or had any direct involvement in this project. I would like to thank the RSC for granting me permission to use images obtained during research as part of this blog. 

‘Nothing was hidden, everything was revealed’, Jay L. Halio

“Once, the theatre could begin as magic: magic at the sacred festival, or magic as the footlights came up. Today, it is the other way round…We must open our empty hands and show that really there is nothing up our sleeves.  Only then can we begin.” Peter Brook, ‘The Empty Space’, 1968

In April, I’m taking part in an alumni exhibition with ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter’ as the theme. Initially, I thought about focusing on a famous Shakespeare Sonnet (I bet you can guess which one) or looking at The Winter’s Tale, but really there was only one obvious choice for this project…

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not only one of Shakespeare’s most popular and most performed plays, it’s also a personal favourite and rich with very ‘jewellery-friendly’ themes and imagery. The biggest problem was deciding where to start. There have been so many productions, both in the theatre and on the big screen, that finding inspiration from performance archives was going to be a big task.

Fortunately, back in May when I was at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust researching As You Like It, I met 84-year old Roger Howell, who was Stage Manager and then Production Manager for the RSC for 30 years. As well as working with actors such as Judi Dench and Richard Burton during the early part of their careers, he also worked extensively with Peter Brook, Peter Hall, Hal Rogers and Ralph Koltai and was involved in the design process of several productions. It was at his suggestion that I decided to begin my research by looking at Peter Brook’s iconic 1970 production of The Dream.

Brook’s production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford is seen by many as the definitive version of the play in modern theatre history. As I explored the Production Records, Costume Bible, photographs, original costume designs and programme, I couldn’t help wishing that I had been there to see it. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Peter Brook believed that it was important to reinvent the theatre and find the ‘secret play beneath’. In fact, what he did with his production was so new and different, it really did reinvent the way theatre was performed.

Once I ‘found’ this production, I stopped searching for inspiration – I had it in bucket-loads. And whilst other productions will feed into my design development, this production is, without doubt, the starting point.

The thing that did it for me

I began looking at how Shakespeare could inform my jewellery designs when I was in the third year of my City & Guilds.  Up until that point I had felt a bit lost – I had no real problems making a piece of jewellery, in fact I was loving it; I just struggled with inspiration. Most of the jewellers I have met use nature or architecture for inspiration and this really works for many successful designers.  It just wasn’t doing it for me.

I’m not saying I don’t find architecture or nature inspiring, I do. I just don’t feel a burning desire to make jewellery from it. I was blown away by the architecture in Dubai, I completely adored the buildings in Italy – the Duomo in Milan literally took my breath away – and I’m quite partial to the odd bunch of peonies. But inspiration for my next jewellery collection? Nope.

So that got me thinking. I needed something to inspire me and take me through my third year and beyond. I needed to find that theme or focus that would help me to find my own personal language.

Then it hit me. Why did I have to confine my source of inspiration to objects, why not find inspiration in what I love? Why not start with concepts, ideas, words, feelings? I love the theatre and I particularly love going to see Shakespeare’s plays, so why couldn’t this be my starting point?

As I sit writing this, I’m on my way up to Stratford Upon Avon to spend three days in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Library and Archive, the Shakespeare Institute and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. I’ll be drawing inspiration from my surroundings, from a trip to the Theatre and from the many, many books, photographs, production records and studies of Shakespeare’s plays in performance.

When I get home, the hard work begins…turning this inspiration into jewellery. I can’t wait!

Photo taken by me

The Duomo, Milan. Both photos taken by me in August 2013

Into the unknown – research begins

‘The Noble Fool’ Touchstone pendant and Touchflower in sterling silver and gold.

‘The Noble Fool’ Touchstone pendant and Touchflower in sterling silver and gold.

When I began my research for ‘The Noble Fool’, I chose As You Like It because it was one of my favourite plays. It’s a play I have been in twice and seen on stage five times (three of which were at the Royal Shakespeare Company).  It’s a popular play, with interesting characters and settings and a richness of themes.  I have never seen it staged the same way twice and it lends itself to a variety of interpretations.

Starting out, I was particularly interested in the character of Touchstone, the fool; the character of Rosalind who disguises herself as a man for the majority of the play; the contrast between the beginning of the play in court and the remainder of the play which takes place in the Forest of Arden; Orlando’s love for Rosalind; and his idea to pin poetry to the trees in the Forest.

It’s amazing to look back now at my starting point, the beginning of a journey that took me more than four months to complete. In design, where you start is very rarely an indication of where you will end up and I could never have envisaged my final piece when I set out on this project.

The thing that excites me most though, is that I can revisit my starting point again and again and never end up with the same result. So now that ‘The Noble Fool’ is finished, the question is, where shall I go next with this play?

Currently, I have no answer, but if I do, I’ll let you know…