Scena Mundi Theatre Company began in 2014, but the first time I saw them was during their ‘Sad Stories of the Death of Kings’ season as part of their residency at St Bart’s. Unfortunately I missed their Richard II, but I did see Edward II (all 80s hair rock & leather) and was easily drawn in. What was immediately apparent was their commitment to the original text, whilst being innovative in a play’s style & context – this continued later in the same year with their production of Jonson’s Volpone, which was transported to 1920s Venice. Their commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was a full-length production of Twelfth Night; high fashion & really playing up the comedy.
Following on from that they began a venture called ‘The Mechanicals’ – based on the Athenian players from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they focus on condensed versions of plays, with a small cast. I was lucky enough to see their first outing, and since then they’ve taken it to the Ventnor Fringe on the Isle of Wight (the previous summer they put the ‘Sad Stories’ plays on there) and, most recently, to St Giles-in-the-Fields in London. They are now looking forward to a busy programme in 2017.
First on the agenda, as part of their new ‘FORUM’ series, is a reading of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. Inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it was written when London’s theatres were closed by the plague and published in 1593; Marlowe’s Hero and Leander and Nashe’s The Choice of Valentines were published in the same year. It tells the story of the goddess Venus’ pursuit of the youth Adonis, set out in sesta rima verse form (with a rhyme scheme of ABABCC). The poem was famously dedicated to Shakespeare’s patron, the Earl of Southampton. The Royal Shakespeare Company staged a marionette version of the poem in 2004, which is also set to be revived for their 2017 season.
Artistic director, Cecilia Dorland, says the aim for this kind of forum is to look at rarely read texts. Venus and Adonis is funny & irreverent, and should be more tongue-in-cheek; Dorland hopes each session will bring about a “witty, light and very anti-conformist” rendering of the poem.
Scena Mundi will be bringing this forum to St Giles-in-the-Fields for three nights, from 26-28 January 2017.
Their next FORUM event, Unaccompanied, is a series of short plays – members of the Scena Mundi company will choose & perform them individually, and follow this up with a Q&A.
“I am lucky enough to work with wonderful actors and I’d like to gove them individually a time to take the stage on their own with a performance that suits them perfectly,” says Dorland. The idea of each evening is for several actors to perform mini plays linked by a common theme. It sounds like a fantastic opportunity to see some familiar Scena Mundi faces in some different works, and the chance to discuss the mini production with them afterwards is too good an opportunity to miss. And Dorland herself is excited to get to work with each of them individually!
This is scheduled for 9-11 March 2017, at St Giles-in-the-Fields.
Scena Mundi’s critically acclaimed ‘Sad Stories’ plays are also set to be revived. I’m thrilled at this prospect – not just so I can see Edward II again, but so I can finally see their Richard II. I really regretted not seeing it before, as it is possibly my favourite Shakespeare history play.
These plays are seen by Cecilia Dorland as Scena Mundi’s “most ambitious and most rewarding venture so far”. At the moment, the aim is to reprise them at the end of 2017 (or early in 2018) – Scena Mundi hope to tour them, possibly even to Europe…
The Mechanicals will continue to develop, as they are looking to expand their repertoire further. I asked some of Scena Mundi what they think might work.
Martin Prest: “I was speaking to the foremost Shakespeare scholar of France after a show recently and she suggested Hamlet. The more I think about it, the more I think it would be a brilliant show. Aside from the ‘players’ who turn up to perform (yet another) play within a play, Hamlet would lend itself brilliantly to the Mechanicals idea.”
Pip Brignall: “I’d love to see the Mechanicals tackle a gory tragedy like Titus Andronicus – that has the potential for a lot of dark comedy. Or Macbeth! I think Master Jack would have to play the witches in his ridiculous falsetto voice – that would be brilliant. And a lot of potential for using the audience for extra bodies in that too!”
I personally would be interested to see if they could manage a version of The Comedy of Errors, or (if they branched out from Shakespeare) The Alchemist. Both are well suited to the company’s instinct for comedy, and it would be fascinating to see how they’d manage the numerous hilarious encounters between characters. If you have any suggestions, please do contact the company.
Not content with all this, Scena Mundi are also looking their full-length production: “a new adaptation of one of the world’s most-loved classic novels.” Plans for this will be announced in due course. I, for one, am excited to see them take on something other than Shakespeare & other classic plays, and can’t wait to hear more.
They are also launching a programme of classes (for both actors & non-actors) that should take place regularly from the summer onwards.
This is an important year for Scena Mundi, with the launch of several new ventures – Cecilia Dorland says her main goal for the company is to continue to develop in every way. She is obviously keen for audiences to grow, and to ensure financial security, but she also says, “I also really want to concentrate on developing and refining our artistic vision, and producing shows which will stretch us and surprise our audiences.”
Further details about the company can be found on their new website: http://www.scenamundi.co.uk/