Archive for March, 2015


Sophie Battell: Hospitality in Shakespeare

March 24, 2015

Simon Russell Beale, centre, is in compelling form in Nicholas Hytner’s production of Timon Of Athens (2012)

Sophie Battell (Cardiff University) will be presenting a paper on “Hospitality in Shakespeare” as part of a panel on “Faire la fête à la Renaissance: Renaissance Feasts and Festivals” at this year’s Renaissance Society of America conference in Berlin.


Paper Abstract

Shakespeare’s dark ‘middle comedies’ depict rituals of feasting in interesting, but often uneasy ways. In Troilus and Cressida, when the city of Troy is at war and under siege, the risk of offering hospitality to one’s enemy is great. The play presents blended moments of hospitality and hostility mixed, as when the Greek warrior, Ulysses describes his intended entertaining of the Trojan warrior, Hector: “I’ll heat his blood with Greekish wine tonight, / Which with my scimitar I’ll cool tomorrow. / Patroclus, let us feast him to the height”. In Timon of Athens, meanwhile, the relentless show of hospitality’s maimed rites and broken banquets is perhaps what has led so many modern critics to describe the play as difficult and essentially ‘unpalatable’. My paper aims to demonstrate how Troilus and Cressida and Timon of Athens invert rituals of feasting, leading to moments of dark theatrical spectacle.

Find out more here:

Sophie Battell tweets for Cardiff Shakespeare @CardiffShakes



Hamlet by Everyman Youth Theatre

March 22, 2015

Everyman Youth Theatre is proud to present their dystopian like interpretation of this powerful play, where our tragic hero cannot move without it being reported back to the false king. As with Hamlet’s own thoughts, the play questions the nature of revenge and what is considered madness. The production retells Hamlet’s journey but has been shortened for the younger audience.

Fri 27 Mar – Sat 28 Mar, 2015

Cardiff, St David’s Hall

Find out more here:



March 18, 2015



It was 7:15pm. I was in the unenviable position of attempting to find a parking space in Canton during a football match on St Patrick’s Day. The play was to start at 7:30pm and I hadn’t even picked up my tickets yet. I’d been stuck in traffic for almost an hour… But I had faith that a bit of Jacobean comedy would make this all worthwhile.

I say comedy, but as any director of this too oft neglected text will know, Measure for Measure problematizes the notion of genre. So much so that it was given a genre of its own by Frederick Boas in 1896: ‘problem play’. Yet Measure for Measure has all the conventional tricks of early modern comedy plays. The bed trick. Disguise and deception. A family reunion. Matrimony. Structurally, Measure for Measure is as much a comedy as, say, A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Twelfth Night. But the play is hardly light comedy. It’s enveloped by Jacobean cynicism. There are pockets of darkness…

Fortunately, at 7:25pm, I found myself sitting in the front row, with time to spare…

The set was fairly simple, just as I like it. Wooden doors, rostrums etc. The music playing as audience members shuffled in reminded me of productions at the Globe theatre I’d seen on Sky Arts. The sort of sweet (contemporary) harmonies I imagine Robert Johnson composed for Shakespeare productions. Apart from the familiar Chapter stage, this felt like a Royal Shakespeare Company production. Indeed, Cardiff’s Everyman Theatre are staging this play as part of the RSC Open Stages Project. This initiative is great for amateur theatre. I’ve watched professional productions with actors who’ve yet to disrobe themselves of amateur habits. I’ve watched amateur productions with remarkably professional actors. Seeing an amateur company with professional training was an intriguing prospect.

The play opens with the Duke Vincentio (played by Brian Smith) telling his deputy, Angelo (Andreas Constantinou), that he intends to leave Vienna. This is a fib, of course, and the fantastical duke of dark corners disguises himself as a friar so that he can, like a groundling, observe his fellow actors from below. From the off Brian Smith exuded stage presence. It is easy to forget, as an audience member, how much work goes into a production like this. The duke speaks almost a third of the lines in this play. Smith’s Vincentio can be stern, he can be pitiable, he can be hilarious. It is the mark of a very good player that he clearly feels no trepidation about involving the audience with a quick glance, a cursory aside, a metatheatrical wink. I realised instantly that Vienna, and the play itself, was in good hands. Smith could pass as an RSC professional quite easily, methinks.

We progress to the streets of Vienna. I was dazzled by the range of accents, some authentic, others difficult to identify. It was rather like the Babylonian play-within-a-play in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy. But dislocality pervades throughout this text, to the extent that Oxford editor Gary Taylor has argued for Thomas Middleton’s hand in changing the play’s setting from Italy to Vienna. As an ‘attribution scholar’ I am uncertain about this, and may pursue the subject myself one day if I progress in the field, but the point is that verisimilitude is not paramount in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

There are some wonderful characters on the streets of Vienna. Pompey Bum, played by the delightful Dan Burrows, who nailed every aspect of this character tour-de-force. Elbow, portrayed by Arnold Phillips, who delighted us with his hilarious malapropisms. The slanderous Lucio, played superbly by the remarkably talented Philip Jones, who wowed me not only with his twisty moustache and dangly earring but also his comic timing. Shakespeare set the precedent for Charles Dickens in his vivacious characterisation of the lower classes. We learn that Claudio (played by Henry Nott) is to be executed for impregnating Juliet (played by Amanda Lever) out of wedlock. To modern sensibilities this may seem hard to identify with, given that the players in the theatre of today are often inbred Jeremy Kyle participants. I realised that I have acted alongside most of this ensemble, and hope to act with many of them again. I was thus fully aware of their talents, but it was somewhat different watching them, like the fantastical duke, from a dark corner.

There is not a weak link in this cast, I realised.

Claudio’s sister, Isabella (played by Cari Barley, who clearly has a good ear for blank verse), learns of Claudio’s impending doom and entreats the surrogate ruler, Angelo, to save his life. The corrupt deputy tries to take advantage of this, and the first half of the play closes with what can only be described as an attempted rape of the nun. Like I said, there are pockets of darkness…

Andreas Constantinou revealed himself as reliable and industrious an actor as ever. His portrayal was remarkably sinister, but he also nailed down each and every complex trait of the antagonist. At times, I even felt sympathy for him. Shakespeare’s characterisation was often paradoxical. His villains can be heroic. The heroes villainous. Constantinou’s delivery of the famous ‘What’s this?’ monologue would be good enough for entrance into any drama school, even if it has become a frequently chosen piece for auditions. He injected refreshing viscerality and dynamism into a passage that, one could argue, has been Mistress Overdone.

Indeed, the play is satiated with some of Shakespeare’s best known aphorisms and speeches. Another such speech is Claudio’s ‘Ay, but to die’ piece. Henry Nott gave perhaps his most understated performance here. He oozed prospective professionalism, and though Claudio is more often not on stage than on, Nott really stood out. (He seemed rather serious during the bows… I cannot tell if he was still in character or not, but I think he should have permitted himself a smile for this wonderful performance!).

I must also mention Richard Watson as the drunken and dissolute Barnardine, my favourite character in the play. He clearly relished playing this comic part, and the audience loved him. He also coped remarkably well with the only first-night hiccup that I could perceive. His cell door came off, but he used this to his advantage and emphasised the poor security in his prison house, to comic avail!

The play concludes with bed tricks and revelations. It is a happy ending (though perhaps not for Angelo and Lucio). A comic ending. And yet, there’s those pockets of darkness again. For all of Isabella’s hard work in retaining her cloistered existence, she is married to the duke without a word of complaint. In this respect, the play is not unlike Shakespeare’s earlier comedies, The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, in that the resolution actually poses more problems than answers. Modern day audiences might question if Shakespeare was a sexist, a racist etc. (or, bardolatrously, speak as if he were Germaine Greer and John Lennon’s love child). But we are governed by the milieu of the century we live in. This mechanical resolution was a wee bit undermined by a nun’s (literally speaking) blessing. Nevertheless, Isabella looked rather affronted as the play closed to rapturous, well deserved, applause.

Some very minor quibbles. A couple of silent background actors pulled focus in the last scene, and some actors did not always suit their actions to their words. Their gesticulations sometimes came across as artificial, rather than spontaneous. In this respect they did not always hold a mirror up to their characters’ natures. However, despite the risk of coming across as hyperbolic, I thought this was a tremendous production. I understand Wales Online have given four stars. I’d agree. I would be tempted to give five.

It was certainly worth braving the traffic to enjoy the two hours’ traffic of the Everyman stage.


Measure for Measure at Cardiff’s Chapter – @EverymanTheatre

March 16, 2015

Everyman Theatre: Measure for Measure

By William Shakespeare

Selected by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of Open Stages 2014-16, Everyman’s production of the rarely performed Measure for Measure promises to be a rich theatrical experience. The play is a highly political drama consistent with to-day. It is considered by some to be Shakespeare’s finest comedy, as complex in its setting, as its characters; the richness of the language, reeking of power and of the hypocrisy of the state, both in the court and the low life of the brothels of Venice.

£10 (evening performances) /£8 (matinee)

The RSC Open Stages is the UK’s biggest amateur project. Having received over 150 applications across the UK, the RSC along with six partner theatres will work with the ninety selected amateur groups to support and help them to create their own RSC Open Stages productions in their own venues. Each amateur company will receive training, director mentoring, feedback and support, with the aim of transforming the relationship between amateur and professional theatre.


Find out more here.

CFP Deadline Extended: The Marcher Metaphysicals Conference

March 9, 2015


Extended Deadline until 1 May

The Marcher Metaphysicals Conference

29 October-1 November 2015
Gregynog Hall, Tregynon, Mid-Wales

The Welsh Marches, Marchia Walliae, or Y Mers in Welsh, constitute an extensive area around the boundary between England and Wales. This border country, in its breadth and somewhat hazy demarcation, defies precise definition, and invites fluidity of ideas and perception. The Marches are both a place in their own right, and an approach to somewhere else; they form a site of great natural beauty but also of historic political contention. Norman conquerors used these lands to subdue the native Welsh, as well as to create a jurisdiction separate from the English crown. Shakespeare represented them as a wild, rebel landscape, full of magic. The Marches were the imaginative home to a number of seventeenth-century poets who were interested in exploring the boundaries between material and spiritual experience. Their work forms the main focus of this conference. Equally important to our discussions will be the ways in which this poetic tradition has been updated and reinvigorated by Welsh and English poets in more recent times.

This conference seeks to explore the relationship between the early modern ‘metaphysical’ poets and the Marches that provided them with both material and imaginative landscapes. What influence did this place and its collective consciousness have on poets such as George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne and John Donne? How did these poets express an understanding of boundaries, power and resistance, and an appreciation of the beauty of the natural environment that informed them? How did their poetry speak to the aesthetic, religious, philosophical and political movements of the seventeenth century? How have the Marches, and indeed these poets, influenced modern poetry, helping poets to find new ways of describing and influencing a world beyond borders.

The conference will take place from the afternoon of Thursday 29 October to the morning of Sunday 1 November 2015 at Gregynog Hall, the historic house which is also the conference centre of the University of Wales. Gregynog is itself located in the Welsh Marches, near Newtown in Montgomeryshire, and is set in its own extensive and attractive grounds. It will form an appropriate and conducive setting for the discussion of the Marcher Metaphysicals.

We invite e-mail submissions for papers that explore the historical contexts, influences, and links shared by the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets, pursue fresh readings of their poetry or work critically with more recent British poets who have followed their tradition in negotiating geographical, linguistic, political or spiritual borders. The conference organisers also welcome submissions from poets and other creative artists inspired by the Welsh Marches and actively exploring the idea of ‘borders’.

For 15-20-minute papers, please send a 250-word titled abstract; for a complete 3-4-person panel, please send an overall title and individual 250-word titled abstracts for each paper; for creative presentations, please send a 250-word description indicating any other introductory materials (PDFs, CDs, DVDs) that the conference programming committee might then request for evaluation.

You should send your submissions to

Please indicate Marcher Metaphysicals 2015 in your subject line and include a 1-page CV giving an e-mail and a regular mail address. You should also indicate any expected audio-visual needs.

Deadline for submissions: extended until the 1st of May!

Conference organisers: Dr Joseph Sterrett (Aarhus University, Denmark) and Prof Helen Wilcox (Bangor University, Wales)
Conference advisory committee: Dr Erik Ankerberg (Milwaukee Lutheran University, U.S.A.), Dr Chloe Preedy (Exeter University, England) and Dr Elizabeth Ford (Open University, Cardiff, Wales)

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