Day 7: Playing Shakespeare

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Charity Wakefield as Will Shakespeare in Emilia
Photo credit: Helen Murray

William Shakespeare continues to be one of the most influential figures in literature & the arts, with his birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon a popular tourist destination (as well as the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company). He has reached out into our daily lives, as many words & phrases that he included in his works still figure heavily in normal speech – and multitudes of companies & theatres are dedicated to bringing productions of his plays to the stage.

But what is it like to perform the works of Shakespeare? I spoke to a handful of actors who are currently appearing (or are about to appear) in productions across the UK and beyond.

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Henry V
Photo credit: Charlotte Graham Photography

Maggie Bain – currently playing Henry V & Antonia (The Tempest) at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York

What’s your favourite line/moment for your current character?
My favourite lines are “This story shall the good man tell his son, and Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day to the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” from my favourite moment in the play. I find the reactions of the rest of the cast and every member of the audience at that moment incredibly moving and it’s such a privilege to deliver those lines.

Is there any Shakespeare character that you’d like to add to your CV (regardless of gender)?
I would love to play Macbeth, as a Scot it’s one of the great Scottish roles. I find the psychology of their relationship fascinating.

Do you feel any difference playing traditionally male roles compared with traditionally female ones?
Not at all, I believe gender is performative and as an actor you want to find the truth of the character you’re creating and so you always need to make emotional and physical choices different to those of yourself. Gender rarely features in my thinking.

Tragedy, comedy, or history?
Hard question, I can’t choose. They all have their own complex challenges and rewards!


Henry V runs until 31 August 2019, and The Tempest runs until 2 September 2019 – both in rep at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York. Tickets are available online.

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Macbeth (Merely Theatre)
Photo credit: Lar Photography

Andrew Hislop – about to play Macduff in Antic Disposition’s Macbeth

What’s your favourite line/moment for your current character?
“…Macduff was from his Mother’s womb untimely ripp’d”. I love this moment in the play because in my mind he lost his Mother the moment he was “ripp’d” from her womb. Motherless all his life, which allows the actor to navigate a creative backstory; a story which then runs parallel with the loss of his wife and “babes”, of which he is (again) the cause. How does Macduff deal with such knowledge? Perhaps this moment then allows a cathartic release, setting him on the path of forgiving himself.

Is there any Shakespeare character that you’d like to add to your CV (regardless of gender)?
Iago. I am of Jamaican and Scottish parentage. Black mother; white father. There is something to be explored within the text and character where Iago is mixed-race.

What is your favourite Shakespearean performance that you’ve watched?
National Theatre’s Hamlet with Rory Kinnear in the title role. Such a superb actor and supporting cast. I simply loved how he owned the language in such a fluid and natural manner.

What’s it like returning to the same play but in a different role?
I love the play, which is a great start. Approaching it again with Antic Disposition in the role of Macduff allows me to examine the story from a very different perspective. I have discovered new meanings, new connections within the text , as well as simply being impressed at Shakespeare’s concise, intelligent and visceral storytelling. Oh, and there is the small matter of stage fighting! Love it!

Tragedy, comedy, or history?
I love a tragedy. Working with Merely Theatre last year saw me playing Leonato in Much Ado About Nothing. I suddenly realised that I love comedy too. But a good diabolic tragedy would be my first port of call.


Macbeth runs at Temple Church from 20 August-7 September 2019, following Antic Disposition’s French tour (31 July-14 August). Tickets are available online.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo credit: Jane Hobson

Yana Penrose – currently playing a Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Is there any Shakespeare character that you’d like to add to your CV (regardless of gender)?
I’d love to play either Helena (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) or Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew!

What has been the biggest challenge in this production?
The biggest but most satisfying challenge for the fairies was building their physicality and deciding on who they really are within the world of the story.

Do you prefer a traditional setting or a more modern one?
I don’t have a preference between traditional and modern, it does however have to feel fresh. Audiences will disengage if the work doesn’t feel relevant.

Tragedy, comedy, or history?
I love the comedies!!


A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre until 27 July 2019. Tickets are available online.

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Hamlet
Photo credit: Charlotte Graham Photography

Marcello Cruz – currently playing Sebastian (Twelfth Night) & Laertes (Hamlet) at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York

Is there any Shakespeare character that you’d like to add to your CV (regardless of gender)?
Well, there’s so many! I think one day I’d love to play Richard II — some of his speeches are absolutely beautiful and some of the best. Also would love to play Iago at some point in my career and go through that arc, but again, I have a list in my head that includes many many more! And for some reason I think playing a fairy/spirit like Puck would be lots of fun, I’d enjoy the physicality of it and see how far I could go with that.

Do you find learning Shakespeare easier or harder than ‘regular’ scripts?
That’s really interesting actually. It depends, but in general I have found it easier. The language is so vivid, which having quite a dyslexic brain, only helps spark my imagination and helps me to absorb it.

Also when working in verse you have the helping hand of the rhythm. One of the beliefs as to why Shakespeare wrote in verse is because it was easier for the actors to learn; iambic is the closest to how we speak in everyday life, so comes naturally to us. It’s funny sometimes when you mess up a line or get the words in the wrong order you know immediately because you feel the rhythm going askew, it really does get into you and helps you.

What is your favourite Shakespearean performance that you’ve watched?
The first that comes to mind isn’t actually in performance but in rehearsals for Much Ado at The Globe. Watching Matthew Needham and Beatriz Romilly bring to life Benedict and Beatrice in rehearsals was inspiring and I remember sitting on the side in awe and unable to take my eyes off them. It’s really wonderful to watch other actors explore in rehearsals.

Do you prefer a traditional setting or a more modern one?
I don’t mind, as long as it’s not boring. I don’t think it really matters as long as it’s alive and exciting; just because it’s traditional doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Sometimes setting it in the current day can make it more immediate and more accessible especially for younger people, but I feel both can work equally well.

Tragedy, comedy, or history?
I’ve been thinking a bit about this recently, and I don’t think I can pick. Although, there is something very lovely about the immediate feedback you get from an audience in a comedy, especially in spaces like The Globe and The Rose, it’s like someone injects you with a little boost and it’s super exciting.


Twelfth Night runs until 2 September 2019, and Hamlet runs until 31 August 2019 – both in rep at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York. Tickets are available online.

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