Shakespeare is our birthright – we need more not less (your views, May 3)
Lyn Gardner is right to point out (‘We have a Shakespeare problem’, April 26) that for people growing up in the UK, Shakespeare can symbolise a culture that excludes them. But we know that ‘getting Shakespeare’ unlocks so much for young people, teachers and parents. Beyond appreciating the plays, his work can become a powerful symbol of inclusion and equality.
Because we recognise the potency of his work to effect real and lasting change in individuals and communities, we don’t agree that presenting less Shakespeare is the answer and we believe strongly that his work isn’t seen nearly often enough by the widest possible audience.
Through our work, we have seen young people of all ages claim Shakespeare’s work as their birthright; as something that is theirs to own. It’s a thrilling thing to witness; seeing children as young as four and five view Shakespeare’s work as something to love as opposed to something to fear. Everyone is entitled to that feeling because Shakespeare belongs to all.
Classrooms across the country representing more than 200,000 students registered for our biggest ever free schools’ broadcast (April 26) – Macbeth with Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack. And we are previewing Erica Whyman’s production of Romeo and Juliet (November 21) with 56 young people from our associate schools who play the Chorus in teams of four alongside our professional cast.
However, the total number of pupils in English state schools is 7.9 millon (4.7 million in primary and 3.2 million in secondary), so our biggest classroom isn’t big enough. Every one of these students deserves a great first experience of Shakespeare and there’s so much more we need to do to ensure they get it – the cost of coach trips, pressures on the curriculum and constraints on teacher time mean it’s a constant challenge for schools and arts organisations to work together to give young people high-quality opportunities that can set them up for life.
We will continue to do everything we can to ensure people of all ages, and from all walks of life, get access to our work and take ownership of this iconic part of our cultural life.
Royal Shakespeare Company
Michael Bogdanov – who died a year ago this week – regularly suggested a 10-year moratorium on performances of Shakespeare plays. Let them rest for a generation and come to them afresh. It’s lovely to think about all those new-writing commissions keeping the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre’s literary departments busy. I couldn’t agree more with Lyn Gardner.
More to be done on mental health
This is a great article and it’s fantastic to see an increasing openness to talk about mental health and well-being in the arts (‘West End actors open up over anxiety problems’, April 26, p7). In reference to the question: “Are you aware of other theatre organisations with similar roles to yours?” I work as a freelance artist well-being practitioner, supporting the psychological and emotional well-being of theatremakers and performers, and have done so for the past six years. Support and guidance is also given to production companies and creative teams.
This is a great initiative. Only when employers know more about mental health issues will they be able to look past the ‘unknown risk factor’ (as they see it) and see the ability of the employee for what it is.
Colour-blind casting debate
I support Sierra Boggess’ choice (‘Sierra Boggess pulls out of West Side Story concert’ April 26, p2) but I could not agree with the person interviewed on BBC Radio 4 who said casting should always be reserved for the ethnic group for which the part was originally written.
That would lead to many black, Asian and minority ethnic actors overlooked for roles written in times and places when the population was less diverse and white was simply the ‘default’. It would be a step backwards if BAME actors were restricted to parts specifically written for their ethnic group and would lead to less diversity, not more.
Here we go again. The latest no-no is ‘whitewashing’. Thus Maria in the BBC Proms West Side Story must be Puerto Rican. Last year Hackney Empire refused to admit a Welsh company touring The Golden Dragon because the actors were not Asian. Earlier still, Ed Skrein quit his role of a Japanese-American in the film Hellboy.
All consistent, until the reverse happens. A year or two ago, Trevor Nunn was hounded for casting all white actors for Wars of the Roses.
The matter of one-sided colour-blind casting has never been thought through. As a newspaper correspondent asked recently: “Will the next Hamlet have to be a Dane?”
Leonard Bernstein said of his self-conducted operatic recording of West Side Story: “Kiri [te Kanawa] singing Maria is a dream. Maria is a Puerto Rican girl and there’s a dark colour in Kiri’s voice, coming from the Maori blood, I suppose, that is deeply moving and just right. And yet when she has to sound girlish and lyrical in the high registers, it’s exactly what I want.”
Make of that what you will.
Quotes of the week
“All my work so far has been very rooted. I assumed I’d have to do a different kind of thing to fit in [at the Bridge]. But no, I’ve been allowed to write a four-hander, one-set play about gags and crying. And that’s great.” – Playwright Barney Norris (Financial Times)
“The sexual side of things is the sensational side, the headline, but it’s not really the interesting side of any of this. We really do need to have a hard think about how we deal with power, because people are always going to have power over others.” – Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus on #MeToo (The Independent)
“We underline how not-the-way- you’re-meant-to-do-Noel-Coward our production is, so I find it somewhat dizzying to see people writing, ‘This isn’t the way you’re supposed to do Noel Coward’. Those who long for a ‘purer’ Coward may not like it, but there’s no denying that ‘regular folk’ are really loving it.” – Actor Rufus Hound on critical response to Present Laughter at Chichester Theatre (Twitter)
“I heard one literary manager talk about it being healthy – character-building, even – for writers to eat baked beans and live in cold garrets, that it’s good for their writing. I couldn’t disagree more. I find financial worry absolutely crippling if I’m trying to write.” – Playwright Hannah Khalil (Mobius Industries blog)
“It’s so unusual to be in a play with other actresses, because usually there’s only one decent part for a woman and if you have it, there’s nobody else. So that is a real treat, quite apart from the play’s quality itself.” – Glenda Jackson on working on Three Tall Women (LA Times)
“I’m 65. I’m blessed to have been educated from the age of five to 22 without any debt. Nowadays, it’s only middle-class and upper-middle-class kids who can afford to be actors. Everyone coming out of drama school is a bit posh.” – Actor Alfred Molina (Daily Mail)
“We desperately need more diversity in theatre criticism because it is becoming apparent that so many white guys simply cannot conceive of art not being directed at them. And if you can’t accept you are not the target audience, how can you critique?” – Author and theatre journalist Tracey Sinclair (Twitter)
“Quotas force organisations to look outside the box. I started my career on a course for young black and Asian writers. I’m tired of hearing the lazy narrative that quotas don’t find talented people.” – Playwright Bola Agbaje (Twitter)