We got to experience ‘Macbeth’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a real Shakespearean theater

Photos by Charlotte Graham Photography and Gian Nicdao


What do The Fault in Our Stars, 10 Things I Hate About You, and The Lion King have in common? They’re directly inspired by William Shakespeare plays. The first movie? Taken from one of his tragedies, Julius Caesar. The second one parallels one of his comedies, Taming of the Shrew, and the last is a retelling of Hamlet. You may not know this but common phrases like “Love is blind,” “Break the ice,” and “Knock, knock, who is there” can also be traced back to Shakespeare’s plays. These are only a few examples of the enduring power of the work of Shakespeare: because really, there’s no one like the Bard. Beyond the required school readings and the every-so-often retellings, it’s a no-brainer why his works still live on — and at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, they are blazingly alive.

The creation of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre was inspired by the first performances of Shakespeare’s plays, dating 400 years ago: intimate, no frills, and close-to-the-action theater at the heart of London. The critically-acclaimed, and a winner of tourism and cultural awards sort of acclaim, run in York, England boasts 100,000 and counting visitors and audience members. This pop-up playhouse can also be found in its latest location: at the grounds of the Blenheim Palace in Oxford. In the middle of a Shakespearean village, complete with themed food and drink, wagon entertainment, and thatched roofs, commandingly stands the Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s main performance space: a 13-sided theater, based on the real Rose Playhouse where the Bard learned his craft.

Within the grounds of the Blenheim Palace in Oxford, England stands a pop-up of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre. Its creation was inspired by the first performances of Shakespeare’s plays 400 years ago.

In this 16th-century Shakespearean-design theater, four of Shakespeare’s greatest works are performed: the OG tragic love story of Romeo and Juliet, the reign of Richard III, the dark tale of Macbeth, and the comic confusion that is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Performed one after the other, and by the same company of actors for each coupled set, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre could be the closest thing to a real Shakespeare play experience — intimate, no-frills theater, with the playwright’s words taking front and center. 

Lucky for us, this award-winning UK Shakespeare theater pop-up will take on the Manila stage come September, where their essential staging of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream makes its international debut. Before they make their Manila premiere, thanks to our friends at Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Young STAR got a first look on what the Rose has to offer. Spoiler alert: it was an experience for the books.

Something wicked this way comes

For the uninitiated, the following lines may sound like something out of Game of Thrones but I assure you, they’re not. Macbeth takes its title from its main character Macbeth, a Scottish general  who gets a prophecy from three witches that he will become King of Scotland. After telling his wife Lady Macbeth, she persuades him to kill his way to the throne. Together, they rise to power — but not without cost. A play that in its entirety takes place at nighttime, to watch it in broad daylight made the emotions more palpable: with each word, a hunger for power or a fearful glance as clear as day. With lead players Alex Avery and Suzy Cooper as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respectively, this staging of Shakespeare’s tragedy bursts (pun intended, as there are sword fights aplenty) with intensity and distress: exactly what Macbeth should be. 

The mad king: Alex Avery plays Macbeth, a general turned power hungry King of Scotland.

If a play was first staged in 1606, you may assume that it’s all kinds of dated but Shakespeare’s tragedy charting unrest, tyranny, and seeking power for power’s sake still rings true in 2019 — something that director Damian Cruden also recognizes. “Macbeth is a world filled with harsh realities. Civil war and unrest permeate the play: there is witchcraft of the mind and neverending darkness. This is a world of equivocation, where men swear and lie, a post-truth world,” he continues. “A world of overvaulting ambition and deep uncertainty, that leads to worthy fellows disappearing into the shadows of a tyrant’s power. Sadly, it takes little imagination to see how relevant this tale remains to us in our modern, civilized existence. How many times do we need to hear these great stories before we learn? Or are we destined to our very human fate, defined by selfish fulfilment and ignorance?” laments Cruden. 

Suzy Cooper plays Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s partner in life and crime.

“He’s a clever chap, Shakespeare, and all of his plays are very much emotionally-driven — and emotions don’t change over the years,” says actress Suzy Cooper, who’s on double-duty as (a terrifyingly amazing) Lady Macbeth and Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “This is a lovely coupling, because you’ve got the dream and the nightmare.”

Winged Cupid painted blind

If you were asked to name a Shakespeare play other than Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sure to be your answer. It’s his most popular comedy and it’s widely performed until now. In fact, three professional productions of it were playing in London when we were there. It’s easy to understand why: four lovers and a group of amateur actors find themselves in a forest full of fairies and sprites — amid the magic of dreams, confusion, and love. There is just so much joy in this piece, and so many gems in its script. “And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays” is one of its best lines. After the thought-provoking, almost life-imitating-art piece about power that is Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a welcome change of pace. 

You just got Puck-d: The mischievous fairy Puck sets off the comic confusion in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

This particular production takes a slightly different route, but all for good measure. “The director wanted to put a new spin on it. What we’re doing is Hippolyta’s a spoil of war in the beginning, and she falls asleep on stage and she dreams,” shares Claire Cordier, who plays Hippolyta and Oberon in Dream, and Hecate and Gentlewoman in Macbeth. “The play becomes her dream: she becomes the King of the Fairies, and teaches Theseus as Titania a lesson. It works really well.” 

The Mechanicals, a group of amateur actors, perform a play for the lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As the evening sky rolled in, the lights in the theater become more visible and painted the wooden stage in hues of purple and blue. This staging is every bit as comedic (and dare I say, slightly naughty) than I remembered. But the comedy of the piece shines through. I didn’t think I’d laugh that loud watching a full-on Shakespeare play, but there I was, laughing my head off. But in all its joy, at its very core is a serious exploration of gender inequality and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, even if not by choice, to understand. This particular production is executed it beautifully, with a gender-swapped Oberon and Peter Quince. When Puck delivers the last lines, under the moonlight and the night sky, you’ll thank your stars you were there — maybe you might not even want to wake up from this dream.

The award-winning Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s staging of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be running at The Theatre at Solaire for nine shows only from Sept. 17 to 22. Tickets are available at ticketworld.com.ph. Check out Lunchbox Theatrical Productions’ Instagram at @ltpmanila or facebook.com/ltpmanila for updates

#culture #literature #theater

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