This is part of an ongoing series of regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto.
Shakespeare Bash’d is kicking off their 2017-18 season on July 30th with a staged reading of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville’s Gorboduc, the first English play written entirely in blank verse. I had the opportunity to chat with director Daniel Brier about what audiences can expect to see.
Tori: For those who don’t know much about the play, can you give us a brief synopsis of what audiences are in for?
Daniel: Spoiler Alert:
Gorboduc, King of Britain, against the advice of his lords of the court, decides to divide his kingdom in two and place each of his two sons in rule over each half so that he can retire and end his days in peace. The two sons quickly become envious of each other’s rule, and the younger Porrex eventually invades his older brother Ferrex’s land and murders him. Devastated, their mother Videna murders Porrex in his sleep. The people of Britain become so upset that they rise up, kill King Gorboduc and Queen Videna, and Britain is thrown into chaos and civil war.
T: Gorboduc is known as the first play written entirely in blank verse and I am told that you have the actors working from the original text, what do you find the most rewarding about the text?
D: What really excites me about Gorboduc is its size. Big words, big thoughts, big emotions. And the original text really gives us a feeling of how large the language exists in our mouths. The word war becomes Warre. Regret becomes regreiete. Mishap becomes missehappe. This was written at a time when the English language was in transition, becoming modern English, and it’s really exciting to see how words we use today came to be.
T: What have been some of your strategies for working with this text?
D: We’ve been treating the verse as King. Norton and Sackville were using it as the structure to create a new style of theatre, so we’ve put aside any argument of whether to follow the verse, or ignore it, or “jazz on it.” What can we learn about how to hold a thought in the air, drive through a three-page speech through using the verse as the container of thought, which the playwrights wrote, rather than the punctuation, which an editor decided upon later? We play lots of games that help us become familiar with the verse, and develop the sound of the play.
T: What parallels do you think the play has to our current society?
D: One of the most intriguing things about this play is that it was written as a warning to a very newly crowned Queen Elizabeth. The idea that art could be a political agent was a fairly new idea then, but very much still relevant now. Look at what has happened with The Public Theatre’s NYC production of Julius Caesar, where funding was pulled because of its supposed depiction of the assassination of the President. Thank goodness Elizabeth’s supporters didn’t react to Gorboduc saying that it was “shocking and distasteful” because it depicted the ruin of Britain without a clear line of succession, as Elizabeth was encouraged to “correct” through her entire unmarried life.
T: What are you most excited about working with this text?
D: I’m really excited about the fact that no one I’ve talked to has ever seen a production of this play if they’ve even heard of it. And I’m excited by the possibility of getting them excited about it. Is it possible to dust off this 450-year-old play and capture the imaginations of a twenty-first-century audience?
T: I wouldn’t put it past you guys! What has been the biggest challenge you have faced working with this text?
D: There are a number of archaic words, even pronunciations in the text that we’ve been struggling with. It has been really difficult to nail down a universal rule as to whether or not to update words to achieve clarity. In some cases, we’ve changed words because they’ve taken on a completely different cultural meaning, such as faggot, and in others, we’ve left the original word and risked the audience not knowing the archaic meaning, such as hautboys.
T: What are the biggest differences between directing a staged reading as opposed to a full production?
D: Money. No, actually this play suits very well to a staged reading because so much of the action happens off stage. It’s a lot of stand and deliver. Beyond that, though, our goal with this was to really investigate the text, find out what the story is, what’s going on, whether we can communicate that clearly, and whether that’s interesting. The play has ultimate authority, rather than my idea or concept of what a full production might be.
Thanks so much for chatting with me! I can’t wait to see the show!
Shakespeare BASH’d presents
Gorboduc, a staged reading
by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville
Sunday, July 30, 2017, @8pm
at The Social Capital (154 Danforth Ave)
Limited tickets are now available online for $15: http://www.shakespearebashd.com/store/c1/Featured_Products.html
A limited number of PWYC tickets will be available at the door.
But plan to arrive early, PWYC tickets sold-out within 5 minutes for our last staged reading.
We encourage you to purchase ahead of time to secure your seat!
Directed by Daniel Briere
Gabriella Colavecchio, Bailey Green, Ruby Joy, Mamito Kukwikila, Wilex Ly, David Mackett,
Milan Malisic, Kate McArthur, Victor Pokinko, Jeff Yung
Graphic Design by Kyle Purcelll