This is part of an on-going series of regional Shakespeare coverage. This is Laura here this week with the latest in Shakespeare news from Scotland.
In the summer months, the Botanic Gardens in Glasgow’s West End is home not only to the famously damp Scottish weather and the equally irksome midges but also to Scotland’s biggest and best loved outdoor Shakespeare Festival – Bard in the Botanics. Every year they put on a number of Shakespeare plays and tempt a large number of people outdoors to enjoy them, even in the rain. Since the company first launched thirteen years ago, Bard in the Botanics has staged an impressive total of 26 of Shakespeare’s plays, ranging from the well-known favourites such as King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the lesser known Pericles, one of Shakespeare’s least staged plays. They are known for giving the plays a contemporary twist in their performances to allow modern audiences to see the relevancy of Shakespeare to their own lives. One of my most recent favourites was their production of A Comedy of Errors, staged in the summer of 2014, whose use of tartan costumes was clearly meant to invoke associations with the upcoming Scottish referendum.
In an attempt to bring their productions to a wider audience, in February and March 2015, the Bard in the Botanics team hit the road with their production of Romeo and Juliet touring the length and breadth of Scotland. Although they have previously been on tour with this production, this time round they sought to reach more destinations than ever before. I asked artistic director Gordon Barr why the company wanted to go on tour and he told me that ‘the idea of touring has always been important to Bard in the Botanics but it has taken us a long time to secure the funding to be able to do it. We want to bring Shakespeare to communities across Scotland, not just the major cities like Glasgow or Edinburgh, and that was the key point in deciding to tour Romeo and Juliet – our work has always been praised for its accessibility and so it was important to us to provide opportunities for audiences across Scotland to have access to the work, particularly because nobody else in Scotland is touring classical theatre at the moment’. Indeed, it is immediately noticeable from their touring schedule that, as Gordon says, the company have gone out of their way to reach as many people as possible with their production, hitting not only the major city centres but also visiting the lesser known and more remote towns such as Cumbernauld, Perth and Motherwell.
From Dumfries and Galloway in the borders to Thurso in the highlands, the Bard in the Botanics production of Romeo and Juliet was met with unanimous acclaim, by audience and critics alike. Translated into a modern day context, the setting of the play is dominated by a wooden playground swing which is symbolic of the fact that the youth of the protagonists is emphasised throughout the play. Stephanie McGregor as Juliet and Terence Rae as Romeo gave stellar performances of a couple filled with the angst of teenage love, with equally outstanding performances given by the rest of the cast.
Considering they have had many successful productions, I was interested to know why the team chose Romeo and Juliet in particular to take on tour. Gordon explains that this was for ‘two principal reasons – the first is that we had staged this version at Bard in the Botanics in 2012 and it was a huge success, garnering 5-star reviews and selling out its run (in fact we had to extend its run) which meant we knew audiences would enjoy it. The second reason was the popularity of the title – if we were going to visit towns and communities for the first time, we wanted to bring them a popular title that would encourage them to come and see our work for the first time. We have plans for a lot of future touring that will take a wide range of titles out on the road but it was important for us to start off with something that we knew would be popular with audiences’.
If you didn’t manage to catch the Bard in the Botanics team this time round, never fear, Gordon assures me that they are already planning their next two tours. And, what’s more, when I asked him where he wanted the company to be in ten years time, his response was that ‘in ten years time we want to be Scotland’s national Shakespeare company!’, so there will be plenty opportunities yet. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing what the 2015 summer season has in store.
If you want to find out more about the Bard in the Botanics team, you can find their website at: http://bardinthebotanics.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @bardbotanics.