The Shakespeare’s Globe’s Touring Ensemble have started their tour, presenting a trio of plays exploring the themes of refuge and displacement here at The Brewhouse on 1st and 2nd of July.
This small, versatile group of actors will be taking on multiple roles as they perform The Comedy of Errors, Pericles and Twelfth Night. The 2019 Touring Ensemble are (Left to right) top row : Mark Desebrock, Natasha Magigi, Colin Campbell and Beau Holland. Lower row: Evelyn Miller, Eric Sirakian, Mogali Masuku and Andrius Gaucas.
The touring company is completed with two stage managers, one wardrobe manager and Brendan O’Hea, the director. Below Brendan talks about the importance of these plays, in particular with reference to Refugee Week (where The Globe invites refugee artists, performers and audiences in to share their stories during 17th to 21st June). His article originally appeared on The Globe’s blog:“Shakespeare is an international language. I discovered this when I toured A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Russia and China. Everyone knew his plays. I met a self professed hit-man in Ekaterinburg who was incensed at the length of time it took Hamlet to kill Claudius. And I was introduced to an eleven year old in Shanghai who was able to quote the entire role of Fluellen at me. But it was my work with Globe Education that really opened my eyes. Over the years, I have had the privilege of teaching hundreds of students from across the world, and have constantly been dazzled by their open-heartedness, enthusiasm, and encyclopaedic knowledge of Shakespeare. His words cross borders. It was this that made me dream about forming an international company.
We were aware that this year’s touring shows would be playing at the Globe during refugee week, and so we chose Twelfth Night, Pericles, and The Comedy of Errors. All three plays involve shipwrecks, displacement and an examination of how one absorbs and adapts oneself into other cultures. They are an exploration of otherness and assimilation. Shakespeare is always relevant, but these three plays feel particularly timely. When countries are becoming more isolationist and inward looking, it seemed like a good idea to investigate what links us, regardless of where we come from. I also find something poetic in the idea of a company touring the world performing plays that explore the idea of home.
I’ve always approached Shakespeare’s plays as orchestral scores. There are trios and duets and arias, and there’s prose and verse and rhyme. It would be a pretty dull orchestra made up entirely of violins. We need different instruments. So when casting, I’m always listening out for the blend of voices, seeing how they might work together. Touring – especially touring three shows – forces one to be economical with the set, costumes and props. But this means an even heavier reliance on the actor’s voice (and body) to communicate the play. And so the actors we auditioned needed to be vocally (and physically) flexible.
For their auditions, the actors were asked to prepare two characters – one part they felt was a natural fit for them, and one they could never imagine playing. Depressingly, too many actors – and predominantly young women – would say ‘the part that I can never see myself playing is Viola or Adriana’. And when asked why, they would say ‘Because I’m the wrong size, or I’m not attractive enough.’ I found this profoundly depressing, as this was young people at the start of their careers, who were already putting limitations on themselves – or at least allowing others to put limitations on them. We can be whatever we want to be. (Incidentally, I rarely know which part the actors will play when I invite them to join the ensemble. This is done much later, once I know they are on board. And this is a testament to the current touring ensemble – they all accepted the job on faith, without knowing what line of parts they’d be taking on).
Someone asked me the other day how my ‘little plays’ were going? There is nothing ‘little’ about touring three plays across the world. We have two wonderful stage managers who shepherd the ensemble through airports, put up the set and are always the first to arrive and last to leave each venue; a superb wardrobe manager who, in Pericles alone, juggles seventy eight costume changes; and an extraordinary troupe of eight actors – some fresh out of drama school, some speaking in a language other than their mother tongue, or some playing an instrument for the first time. And all eleven of them committing to the work with a passion, good humour and grace. There is nothing ‘little’ about what they’re doing. I think they’re pioneers.”