A Taste of Shakespeare • A Balanced Meal
We haven’t really gone into this project thinking “Girl Power!”. We’re just doing what we love and being who we are: women making Shakespeare as good as it can be. Our showis all about giving the audience a figurative, and literal taste of Shakespeare by presenting tasty tid bits of 7 plays, and serving them up alongside a 7-course tasting menu, inspired by the scenes themselves. Our cast includes London Chicks fave Emma Manton, as well as fellow RSC vets Chris Nayak, Gabrielle Brooks, and Ross Waiton.
As an actress, I know how imbalanced the theatre industry is in terms of gender. There are far more female than male actors, and far more male than female roles. With this in mind, when I had the chance to create roles by producing my own show, I knew I wanted to ensure gender-balance. Frankly, it just seems like the obvious, natural, thing to do. Director, Jane Moriarty, and I “decided going into this production that we wanted a balanced cast, so we chose material that supported that goal. This wasn’t easy with inherently imbalanced classical texts like Shakespeare.” However, the wonderful thing about doing just a ‘taste’ of Shakespeare is that we can pick and chose the meatiest bits for the women and the men, and not really be affected by the overall gender imbalance of Shakespeare’s work. As such, we’ve focused on some of the strongest and best female roles- Titania, Katherine of Aragon, Kate- as well as using cross-gender casting. “Taking this selection from different plays creates a thrilling, huge population of characters that are very diverse, surprising, and passionate- which will be really fun for the audience, as well as for the actors delineating all those characters. It is like a gourmet buffet of Shakespeare”-Jane.
We’ve modernised a lot in this production- food, costumes, set- and gender roles are no exception. Jane finds that “with a more modern concept for production, you can swap character genders quite seamlessly because you’re reflecting the contemporary world where we’re used to seeing women in places of power- so why can’t Julius Caesar be female? We read gender differently now than Shakespeare’s audience did,” so it doesn’t actually impact the story much to make Grumio a woman. Creatively, it can be really exciting to do as it opens new themes: a.k.a. the female gaze in Jane’s recent production of As You Like Itis already implicit in Rosalind and was expanded further by making more of the characters female, but keeping their original text.
As with gender, we’re modernising many elements of Shakespeare, while staying true to the origins of the work. The whole show is based around food: we’ve chosen scenes which all have food references and devised a full menu that incorporates each of these references. But we’re serving up very modern British cuisine- not medieval mutton. Executive Head Chef at Bleeding Heart Yard, Julian Marshall, has dreamed up a stunning sequence of delicious dishes, to fully immerse the audience in the scenes they’re watching while they eat. This is an exciting challenge for the director, “Exciting because not only is the audience going through multiple experiences, it’s stimulating them in lots of different ways. There are also elements of the event that I’m not in control of and need to enable and equip the actors with the flexibility to feel ownership over their performance amongst all of the immersive, unrehearsable elements.”
Even the venue- recently listed as one of the most unique wedding venues in the UK- is a nod to Shakespearean history while being relevant in modern London. The Crypt itself is medieval and has been a Catholic church since 1250. Henry VIII ate there in 1531, dramatically dining in separate chambers from his (first) wife Katherine of Aragon, whom he left shortly after. In 1623 a congregation of Catholics were secretly buried in the crypt after they died tragically in Shakespeare’s own Blackfriars Gatehouse. There’s a very rich, relevant history in this room, yet it remains a modern hot-spot. As a director, Jane finds it “quite liberating to work in such an immersive space, especially as it’s site-specific for some of the scenes. It makes the audience present as well to be in this space involved with us,” not just watching a distant stage, pretending they’re somewhere else.
For Jane, working on a female-led production is not a novelty, though it’s not the industry standard. “I’ve mostly worked with women and that has been a really positive influence in my career so far as I’m able to more closely identify with them as role models. It gives me confidence in pursuing my chosen path. However, on most productions, that’s not the case: and in terms of creative teams, they are mostly male. In this context, it’s been a positive to have the opportunity to work with female directors and producers such as Erica Whyman, Natalie Abrahami, and Sonia Friedman.”
While we may not be shouting “Girl Power!” from the rooftops, we’re certainly making the most of it. Every aspect of this immersive performance- the food, the venue, the cast, the script, the creative team- is as good as it can be. We hope you’ll be our guest and join us for A Taste of Shakespeare, June 21, 22, 28, 29.
Tickets include 7-course meal, wine, and front row seats for just £95.