Thomas Tyrrell review of The Merchant of Venice in Cardiff

July 4, 2018


Review from Thomas Tyrrell that first appeared in Wales Arts Review:

Everyman | Cardiff Open-Air Theatre Festival, 2018

The plots of many of Shakespeare’s comedies work better if you assume the characters are drunk most of the time. Joss Whedon’s film of Much Ado About Nothing (2013) did this well, setting the play at a boozy Californian house party, but Everyman Theatre’s The Merchant of Venice takes it to the next level, taking the play to the high-octane, high finance, high-as-a-kite world of the 80s, where women with big hair and men with ludicrous lapels snort cocaine and gulp down Quaaludes in vast quantities. Think Wolf of Wall Street does Shakespeare, and you won’t be far off.

The sets, like the decade, are not exactly subtle. On one side of the stage, Portia’s Palazzo, the Belmont, is rendered as a gloriously tacky cocktail bar. On the other, a wall-sized image of argosies and galleons sailing between corporate megaliths reinforces the melding of two great ages of trade and finance. Badly-placed microphones mean that every squeak of the actor’s shoes is sometimes wincingly amplified, but the sight of the full moon rising behind the treetop backdrop of the outdoor theatre didn’t fail to cast a little magic over the scene.

Read the rest of the review.



The Merchant of Venice in Cardiff this week @everymancdf

June 24, 2018


Everyman Theatre are back this summer at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, until Sat 30th June.

Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love, Sex, Power and Revenge.

Money!  Portia has it, Bassanio wants it, Shylock loans it, Antonio borrows it.  But what happens when the Merchant must sacrifice his own flesh for the friend he loves?

Find out more

Read past reviews from Cardiff Shakespeare.


British Sign Language at Shakespeare’s Globe

June 5, 2018
Photo Tristram Kenton .png
Nadia Nadarajah as Celia and Jack Laskey as Rosalind in As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe. Image credit: Tristram Kenton

Having recently watched A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in German by the Deutsches Nationaltheater, and Pericles staged in French by Cheek by Jowl, it was something of a novelty to see As You Like It performed in English at Shakespeare’s Globe last month. I was there with a group of English Literature undergraduates from Cardiff University, which felt nicely appropriate given that the play is one of the Globe’s opening productions under the new artistic directorship of Michelle Terry, herself an English Literature alumna from Cardiff University. I say this was an English language performance of As You Like It, but it would perhaps be more accurate to call it a bilingual production, on account of the inspired casting of the wonderful Deaf actor Nadia Nadarajah and the interweaving of British Sign Language with Shakespeare’s text. Michelle Terry has said that diversity is an important part of her artistic vision for the Globe, and she has shown her commitment to gender blind, race blind and disability blind casting. And yet, the integration of British Sign Language into the Globe’s As You Like It was so effective that it went beyond questions of access and inclusivity, instead becoming an integral part of the performance.

Written and first performed around the year 1599, Shakespeare’s As You Like It features Rosalind, daughter of the exiled Duke, who falls in love with Orlando. Banished from her usurping uncle’s court, she disguises herself as a boy and escapes into the pastoral Forest of Arden with her cousin, Celia, and Touchstone, the clown. In the Globe production, Nadia Nadarajah takes the role of Celia, and Rosalind is played brilliantly by Jack Laskey. In Shakespeare’s play, the loving rapport between the two female cousins who have grown up together since childhood is established from the very beginning, and is integral to the plot. In the Globe production, this sisterly relationship has new life breathed into it through the wordless intimacy of British Sign Language. It is not the first time that the Globe has translated Shakespeare into British Sign Language. In 2012, Love’s Labour’s Lost was performed by Deafinitely Theatre, the UK’s leading Deaf theatre company, as part of a festival designed to celebrate Shakespeare across linguistic borders. The Artistic Director and co-founder of Deafinitely Theatre, Paula Garfield, has written eloquently about the challenges of translating Shakespeare into British Sign Language.

In the 2012 production, Nadia Nadarajah played the Princess of France, and she is equally mesmerising in As You Like It as Rosalind’s companion, Celia. Both her facial expressions and body language are immensely expressive, and there was plenty of laughter from the audience at the physical comedy of translating Shakespeare into visual metaphors. But it is the relationship between Nadarajah’s Celia and Laskey’s Rosalind that is at the emotional heart of this production. Their rapid exchanges in British Sign Language are incredibly moving and speak volumes as to the intuitive closeness of their rapport. By incorporating British Sign Language into the performance, Shakespeare’s Globe’s As You Like It also enriches many of the play’s other themes. This is after all a play which explores the means and limitations of social communication. Indeed, from Orlando’s shy inability to speak to Rosalind after the wrestling tournament, to the ridiculous love poetry he later hangs on the trees in the Forest of Arden, the figures on stage are often to be found grappling with the difficulties of meaningful interaction. Yet, in spite of the many complications, As You Like It also presents us with striking examples of identification and sympathy across boundaries. In the forest, for instance, the melancholy Jacques weeps with pity over the hunted deer, while the exiled Duke offers Adam and Orlando the unquestioning hospitality that they have been denied at court. More than other productions of the play that I have seen, the Globe’s As You Like It encourages its audience members to reflect critically on speech and silence, and how we express ourselves in different ways, and surely this can only be a good thing.

Dr Sophie Emma Battell teaches English Literature at Cardiff University. She is currently working on a monograph on hospitality in Shakespeare’s theatre.



CFP: Shakespeare FuturEd Conference in Sydney

April 19, 2018

Something sent over from Sydney:

Shakespeare FuturEd is an international conference exploring the nexus of Shakespeare Studies and Education to be held at the University of Sydney on Friday 1 – Saturday 2 February 2019.

We are seeking proposals for papers, panels and workshops that interrogate and experiment with new directions in Shakespeare pedagogy in theory and practice. We welcome proposals from primary and secondary teachers, tertiary educators, researchers, theatre practitioners, and anyone with an interest in Shakespeare and education.

What does Shakespeare education look like now? Where is it headed? What are its accepted norms and critical problems? How is it theorised? How does Shakespeare education manifest in institutions such as schools and universities? How is it performed by theatre companies and community organisations? How is it affected and transformed by digital, virtual and blended learning initiatives and contexts? What is the role played by collaborative educational projects and informal learning environments? How does present Shakespeare education—its theory, practice and needs—relate to imagined or experimental futures for education?

Ideas to consider:

  • Shakespeare: text, performance, adaptation; cultural capital, tradition, innovation; global, local, mandatory, optional, inevitable, valued

  • Education: primary, secondary, tertiary, community; English, Literary Studies, Drama, interdisciplinary, active approaches, collaboration; flipped classrooms, blended and online learning, virtual and augmented reality, gamification; open access, corporatisation, marketplace, cultural capital; standards, audit culture, professionalism; the future of education

  • Theory: purpose of education, philosophy, ethics, aesthetics, creativity; socialisation, democracy, freedom; historicism, formalism, presentism

  • Teacher: expert, professional, innovator; facilitator, curator, collaborator; instrument, practitioner, researcher

  • Student: learner, collaborator, player; consumer, client, authority

Please send 250 word proposals ( and a short biography) to: claire.hansen3@jcu.edu.au. CFP closes 31 October 2018.

For more information, visit the website: www.shakespearereloaded.edu.au/conference



Cardiff’s @Mark_Truesdale reflects on his new book The King and Commoner Tradition

February 26, 2018

9780815364764Having shared the corridors of the Cardiff School of English, Communication and Philosophy with Dr Mark Truesdale for a number of years, I was interested in how he thought his book had emerged from this milieu. @DrJ_Gregory

In this blog post Mark reflects on just that:

While studying for my MA at Cardiff University, I developed a keen interest in politicised readings of medieval outlaw tales while also being fascinated by the fools of early modern drama and their relationship with those in power. This left me rather torn as to what direction to pursue for my PhD. Fortunately, at this crossroads Stephen Knight introduced me to the ‘King and Commoner’ tale of King Edward and the Shepherd (c. 1400-1450) in which several of these interests seemed to intersect. Here was a comic tale of a forest-dwelling trickster who critiques the court’s abuses, poaches the king’s deer and encounters a disguised monarch. The late-medieval tradition it comes from abounds with incognito kings and commoner carnival feasting in upside-down worlds, interrogating class relations against a backdrop of court oppression and proto-panoptical surveillance.

Scouring archives and ballad collections over the following years, I discovered that this somewhat neglected tradition was surprisingly widespread, with tales stretching from the tenth century to the nineteenth century. It also boasts an extensive cultural influence that happens to include shaping the early Robin Hood tradition and providing the literary foundation for early modern disguised ruler plays (or more generally the ‘mingling of Kinges and Clownes’, as Sidney puts it); Shakespeare was a particularly enthusiastic fan, adapting the motif for several plays. My monograph emerged from this research. It explores the tradition’s fifteenth-century poems and sixteenth- to eighteenth-century ballads and chapbooks, charting its gradually morphing political character. It also provides extensive appendices to provide context, summarising the medieval tradition’s earlier incarnations and analogues, as well as some of its most notable appearances in early modern drama and beyond.

Cardiff University provided a perfect base from which to study. My research is indebted to a wonderfully supportive community of medieval and early modern academics, as well as departmental funds to present my research at a variety of conferences and visit libraries/archives elsewhere. At Cardiff, I was also lucky to have access to an extensive library manned by hugely helpful librarians. Within ENCAP, I am particularly grateful to Rob Gossedge and Stephen Knight for supervising my PhD thesis, but must also thank Carl Phelpstead, Helen Phillips, Megan Leitch and Martin Coyle, as well as many fellow postgraduate students for providing insightful and helpful comments or advice throughout the course of my research.

The King and Commoner Tradition: Carnivalesque Politics in Medieval and Early Modern Literature was published this year in the Routledge series, ‘Outlaws in Literature, History, and Culture’. Find out more from the Routledge website. Follow Mark on twitter at @Mark_Truesdale.




Richard III Redux: Save the date

February 3, 2018

Richard III.jpg

An exciting production touring Wales this March will be a new take on Shakespeare’s Richard III. The production asks:

In this reimagining of Shakespeare’s Richard III, how does the story change, the character change, the body change, the acting change, when explored by a disabled actress with deadly comic timing and a dislike of horses? How do previous star vehicle Richards measure up to this reimagined Richard?

Follow Sara Beer and Kaite O’Reilly on twitter for more, and visit Kaite’s blog here. For the Cardiff Shakespeare review of Richard III at the Royal Welsh College last year, see here. On ‘Richard III and staging disability’, visit the British Library website here. Those with access to English Studies can also view a recent article on Richard III and ‘Performing Disability’ (Let me know if you don’t have access but would like to read it @DrJ_Gregory).



Next MEMORI seminar: Derek Dunne on ‘Shakespeare’s Licence’, Nov 16 at 5.15, room 2.47

November 13, 2017

Cardiff University’s Medieval and Early Modern Research Initiative is delighted to announce our next research seminar, which is to be given by one of our newest members and colleagues, Derek Dunne.

Cardiff Medieval and Early Modern Research Initiative

Cardiff University’s Medieval and Early Modern Research Initiative is delighted to announce our next research seminar, which is to be given by one of our newest members and colleagues, Derek Dunne.

Derek’s paper – ‘Shakespeare’s Licence: Counterfeiting Authority in Early Modern England’ – will take place on Thursday, November 16 at 5.15 in room 2.47 of the John Percival Building. As ever, a wine and soft drink reception will follow the paper.

ABSTRACT: Shakespeare’s Licence: Counterfeiting Authority in Early Modern Literature

This talk will argue for the impact that licencing has had on the composition of early modern literature. Early modern playing companies required separate licences for performing a play, going on tour, printing a playtext, and for the theatre itself. Without the Master of the Revels’ signature, no performance of early modern drama could take place. Yet early modern licences are also open to forgery and counterfeiting, as detailed in…

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November 10, 2017



Clock Tower Theatre Company began in 2013, conceived by executive producer Steve Bennett and associate artist Minty Booth. They have been running the theatre company for eighteen months, achieving their aim of giving creatives a platform to perform for Cardiff audiences. Their latest venture, a short play written by James Sarson and directed by Miriam Dorfner, ‘Bread’, was thoroughly enjoyable.

‘Bread’ was rendered enjoyable by a concoction of ideal ingredients: good writing, good direction and good casting. The play concerns two women awaiting the apocalypse, their supplies diminishing as they muse on how the end will come: a big bang, hellfire, sudden blackness? The stage was cluttered with cardboard boxes, a table laden with cans of beans and peaches, wine glasses and a bucket concealing a dead rat (which enabled Woman One to soliloquise while retaining a sense of realism). It was a claustrophobic set, exacerbated by the fact that audience members were huddled into the cramped coffee house. I myself had possibly the worst seat in the house, pressed against the wall, a potted plant tickling sweet nothings in my left ear. But this helped create the perfect ambience: a small room (possibly a kitchen or living room), two lonely survivors with no-one but each other for company, the audience essentially voyeurs. Sarson’s script was replete with plenty of humour, but he was also adept at emotive language, a passage concerning reminiscences of a kiss under an umbrella rich with sensory description, but avoiding a lapse into purple prose.

The lead actors were excellent. Faebian Averies gave a very naturalistic, understated performance, while Seren Vickers played an edgier character, displaying considerable emotional range. Also, their chemistry on stage was tangible, and there were times when I couldn’t tell if their dialogue was scripted or extemporised, so engaging and believable was their repartee.

The two related memories, which they had been stockpiling in case they ran out of conversation. Some of these memories were fond, such as the moment in which Averies’s character recalled her mother making bread. However, the two characters realised that their memories were often rose-tinted, even artificial; the bread wasn’t handmade. Dialogue concerning supermarket stalls demonstrated how much we take for granted, including such luxuries as fruit and (tubes of) yoghurt. The audience nervously awaited the apocalypse. No idea why the end of the world was approaching. We learned that the sky now resembled rust, that people had to wear gas masks outside, that tigers had become extinct. Sarson refused to satiate our desire for epistemophilia, which created an air of mystery that allowed us to focus primarily on his well-drawn characters, rather than an overarching apocalyptic narrative. The play concluded with a harrowing speech, an ordeal Averies’s character had recently gone through, the way her primal urges had taken over. The audience were silent, completely engaged by Averies’s delivery and Vickers’s reactions. And then, the characters reverted to the humour with which they had begun the play. Life is too short, after all.

The clock was counting down for these two characters but, judging by the talent on display here, Clock Tower Theatre Company have a bright future ahead of them.


“That excellent grand tyrant”: A Review of Richard III, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Thursday 19 October–Saturday 28 October

October 22, 2017


richard-iii-web-fin RWCMD

Richard III is an early Shakespeare play, probably written just a couple of years into his career as an actor-dramatist, in which Shakespeare provides a perfect infusion of dramatic elements borrowed and refined from contemporaries such as Thomas Kyd, Christopher Marlowe, and George Peele. In these times of political and economic ambiguity, in which monsters seem to have gained power through uncertain means, it is apt that Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama should put on a production concerning a warped Machiavellian villain, whose theatrical predecessors include Kyd’s Lorenzo and Marlowe’s Barabas.

As is characteristic of many Richard III productions, this version began with the end scenes from Henry VI Part Three, in which King Henry VI (Lewis Cope) is executed by Richard (Sam John). The production started with a bang, quite literally, as Richard put a bullet in the incarcerated king. Richard III is a notoriously long play, but this version was edited appropriately, and the breakneck speed of the scene transitions was dazzling. Richard was swiftly plotting against anyone who stood in the way of his procuration of the crown, all at once disturbing audience members with his bloody complots, while, paradoxically, recruiting them for his cause through wry humour. Richard is a wonderful role that most actors would surely relish (I know I would!), and I must take my hat off to Sam John. His Richard was believable, naturalistic, the grand iambic speeches resembling covert conversations behind closed political doors. Richard is very much a metatheatrical figure, and thus it was difficult to begrudge John the odd theatrical wink, such as when he began reciting Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’ speech, or introduced the odd expletive and interpolation, such as, ‘huggy times’. As any good Richard should, John had the audience in his pocket, formulating evil plans with a clenched gloved hand, transitioning from a black leg brace to a golden one, manipulating us and the characters with whom he shared the stage.

Before long, he was organising the murder of his brother Clarence (played by the mellifluous Justin Davies), in a scene that, it seems to me, is heavily dependent on Scene Nineteen of Thomas Kyd’s The True Chronicle History of King Leir (one of Shakespeare’s most important sources), as the murderers vacillated over the killing before throttling Clarence to death. Thomas Dylan gave a very assured performance as the ruffian Murderer 1 and Tyrrell, and director Joe Murphy made the admirable decision of ensuring he had as much stage time as possible. With King Edward (Javen K. Crosby) and his sons out of the way, the bunch-backed villain (a historically inaccurate portrayal of Richard’s character, largely derived from Holinshed) was mounting a campaign to be regarded as true heir to the throne. This production injected plenty of humour into Shakespeare’s play, including black comedy, as Richard’s faction tossed a decapitated head about like a rugby ball, and modern humour, such as Tyrrell’s allusion to the Harry Potter franchise. The scene in which Richard pretended to be holy and virtuous in the presence of the Mayor (Lewis Coster) and Archbishop (Davies) was ridiculous, its ridiculousness exacerbated by the use of a fake beard, but we are accustomed to the absurd in modern politics: take Melania Trump’s Republican National Convention speech for instance, or the battle for worst hairdo between President Trump and his North Korean counterpart. Such scenes demonstrated how fickle the public can be in times of uncertainty, how easily manipulated.

Tyrants must fall. Richard’s abuse of power soon became apparent, as Buckingham (played by the excellent Franchi Webb) could testify. Richard was readying himself for battle, but not before a powerful confrontation with ex-Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare’s rapid-fire stichomythic dialogue (another device he seems to have largely adopted from Kyd) can seem strange to modern ears, but the scene between John and Roxy Swart was electric. Similarly, Shakespeare’s rhetorical flourishes in the Senecan Chorus-like lamentations of the three women, Elizabeth, the Duchess of York (Foxey Hardman), and Margaret (Luciana Trapman) can seem archaic to modern audiences, but the scene, which emphasises the fulfilment of Margaret’s prophecies, was played with alacrity and ease.

Time was running out for Richard. This was emphasised by the noise of a ticking clock (indeed, the Sound Designer, Euan Foster, deserves a pat on the back for the choice of ominous music and sound throughout the production). Richard was isolated, acknowledging that he was a villain (‘with tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect’; John peaked with his superb delivery of this speech), haunted by all of his victims. Having Richard alone throughout the Battle of Bosworth, accompanied by a cacophony of voices, was a wise directorial decision that highlighted his isolation.

The king was dead. Long live the new king (Richmond, played by Cope; this use of doubling gave the play a truly cyclical feel). The actors bowed to rapturous applause, and I braved Storm Brian back to my car, delighted with what was a truly special performance. An audience member’s voice cut through the tempestuous gusts: ‘The set was excellent!’ Hannah Page’s set really was excellent, enabling the actors to operate on many levels, allowing the audience to see battlefields and streets and palaces and dungeons in our minds’ eyes, and all this was helped by Samuel Child-Cavill’s commendable use of lighting, from the appearance of a giant red rose before the actors graced the stage, which resembled a bloody thumbprint (England was very much under the tyrant’s thumb), to the hazy, spectral figures of Richard’s victims near the end of the production. It is a pity that our own political landscape should house such tyrants.

Anyone interested in Shakespeare, or political intrigue; anyone who is a fan of great theatre, of action, of black comedy; anyone who seeks to find future stars in the constellations of the film and theatre business, should go and see this wonderful production.



Shakespeare’s Richard III: @RWCMD Cardiff

September 25, 2017

The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama consistently provide thought-provoking and engaging stagings of Shakespeare’s plays – well worth going to check this out:

Thursday 19 October – Saturday 28 October 7.15pm
Matinee Wednesday 25 October 2.30pm
No performances Sun & Mon
BSL interpreted performance on Saturday 28 October. Interpreted by Julie Doyle.

by William Shakespeare
Directed by Joe Murphy

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain. 

Named the most fascinating historical figure in a poll last year of British historians and the public, Richard III continues to provoke debate. Shakespeare’s brutal play portrays him as a ruthless, power hungry villain, who will stop at nothing to gain the throne occupied by his brother.

Venue: Richard Burton Theatre

Tickets: £13, £11 concessions, Under 25s £6

Find out more


Will Pooley



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