Joey the War Horse takes on China

Following the sad news that Joey the War Horse will be leaving London’s West End in March 2016 (see Teaching Drama Autumn 2 for full article), the Beijing National Theatre is staging the award-winning production, after more than two years of translating the script and working with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company to bring Joey to China.War_Horse_(8570050337)

Producer Li Dong of China’s National Theatre first saw the show in 2011, two years after it moved to the West End from the Olivier Theatre, and decided he wanted to bring it to China. What followed was a collaborative project that involved navigating language barriers to translate the script.

‘The shape of the story is the same, but we had to work on the translation, the script and the songs to make the play resonate with Chinese audiences,’ says director Alex Sims. ‘We found out the problem here was general knowledge of Europe. You know, China wasn’t familiar with Europe, the French language and the German language. But working with the Chinese directing team and the translator, we managed to find Chinese idioms to fill in where something was colloquially English or French or German.

‘We’re lucky to have wonderful translators who have retained the show’s funny and touching points in a way that Chinese people can understand.’

The National Theatre in China worked hard to find a group of puppeteers fit for the job of keeping the authenticity of Joey alive, auditioning 1000 applicants for just 19 places to man the 185lb puppet of Joey, which takes three people to operate. Each successful puppeteer was required to read the handbook How to Think Like a Horse while also staying on a farm for two weeks to study the way horses move.

Puppet director Liu Xiaoyi often steps in as Joey’s head when puppet master Tommy Luther is not in China. ‘We worked out how the horses walk,’ says Xiaoyi. ‘There’s a rhythm, a certain point where a part of the horse has to pick up a step otherwise it doesn’t look right. We slowly examined every tiny movement such as when a horse is frightened or worried.’

The result has been vastly successful; on a recent trip to Beijing, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne said of the performance, ‘I’m so impressed. It was incredible.’ The first performance was in Beijing on 4 September, and runs until 31 October, before moving to Shanghai between 15 November-17 January, and then to Guangzhou between 8 March-3 May. 

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Weigh in to the debate on theatre censorship in our Autumn 2 issue. With teachers often hesitant to push boundaries because of the danger of repercussions, we debate the possibilities for taking a little risk with subject matter and examine whether the only way to secure funding is to create safe art. Plus, five ways to enhance your professional development; Nigel Williams explores the experiences to be gained from teaching in the United States and the positive effects moving overseas for actor training can have on students; how the Trinity College London Arts Award is encouraging thousands to pursue their dramatic interests and the benefits for teachers who qualify to advise them; The Improvisation Academy; participation programmes at The Pleasance Theatre Company; and audition technique and preparation advice for securing a place at a UK drama school.

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Intermission Youth Theatre to stage play inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Intermission Youth Theatre, a drama group set up with the intention of engaging inner-city communities with theatre, is soon to stage Rise and Fall, a new play inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Boasting patronage from actor Mark Rylance, who is currently starring in the Globe’s Farinelli and the King, the aim of IYT is to reach out to disadvantaged

Patron Mark Rylance onstage at Shakespeare's Globe

Patron Mark Rylance onstage at Shakespeare’s Globe

youth groups at risk of offending.

Artistic Director Darren Raymond’s Rise and Fall features a group of students unwilling to participate in Julius Caesar during Shakespeare week at school. It is revealed that a transfer student from a rival school may have been involved in the death of a classmate the previous summer, and parallels with Julius Caesar begin to unravel.

Raymond had been in jail for three years when he was given the opportunity to sign up for a course with the London Shakespeare Workout, which ‘utilised the language of Shakespeare as a tool, a stepping stone to change through effective interaction.’ As a result, Raymond works with ex-offenders and young people at risk of offending, to provide new platforms for aspiring actors that otherwise lack the utilities available to others.

‘Intermission is the most exciting young people’s theatre company I have ever witnessed,’ says Rylance. ‘Not only are their productions witty and original, but you feel they are using Shakespeare to reveal their own culture of youth growing up in London today. I love this company and greatly admire all they do.’

Rise and Fall runs from 28 October – 21 November at St Saviour’s Church in London, and features a talk after each production, with tickets costing £15 (concessions available). For further information visit www.intermissionyouththeatre.co.uk

Globe Education brings Shakespeare CPD courses to Clifton

For those beyond the M25, accessing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses from Shakespeare’s Globe has never been easier, thanks to the creation of five new approaches in Clifton.

Credit: Cesare De Giglio

Credit: Cesare De Giglio

Delivered by Globe Education practitioners, including actors, directors and creatives, the new CPD courses are intended for teachers looking to unlock inventive, practical ways to apply the stage techniques of Shakespeare’s plays to the classroom.

‘Clifton gives us a wonderful opportunity to share the Globe’s approaches to teaching Shakespeare with teachers and students in the West Country and south Wales,’ says Patrick Spottiswoode, Director of Globe Education. ‘All workshops are infused with the spirit and soul of lively action, play-centred and playful, and led by a team of Globe Education practitioners who enjoy making a play for a living.’

The new courses will provide those in the further reaches of the country with the opportunity to apply what they learn to all aspects of their teaching. ‘All the activities can be used not just for Shakespeare, but for any text we study,’ confirms Mr Jones, a teacher at Ysol y Gader School, who recently attended a Globe Education course for the NUT. ‘It was a fantastic course; delivery was brilliant and I look forward to trying these activities in school.’

Available for those teaching KS3-5 are:

  • Shakespeare for teachers new to the profession – 14 November
  • Shakespeare’s villains – 28 November
  • Fathers and daughters in Shakespeare’s plays – 16 January
  • Shakespeare and leadership – 7 May
  • Teaching Shakespeare’s tragedies – 11 June

Courses cost £150 per applicant per day, with discounts available for schools booking whole department training. For further information, visit www.shakespearesglobe.com/clifton or call 020 7902 1463.

Review: Measure for Measure at the Young Vic

Stark stage design, evocative music, darkly humorous moments – Joe Hill-Gibbins’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure was certainly a Young Vic production: raw, sensual, smutty. Commonly conceived as Shakespeare’s most controversial play, the double entendre often present within his work provides a challenge for directors: is it a tragedy or a comedy? The majority of the lines can be read either way, providing two starkly different possibilities, though Hill-Gibbins manoeuvres around this with skill, the laughs providing a mask for a deeply unsettling sense of doom.

Credit: Keith Pattison

Credit: Keith Pattison

Beginning with a vast pile of blow-up dolls in the centre of the stage and deep red lighting to visually stimulate the hedonistic themes present within the play, the effect, initially laughable and slightly ridiculous, became sombre as the intention behind such design became clear. Inappropriate yet brutally honest, the dolls seemed intended to make us uncomfortable (several people even left soon after the beginning), to make us question the presence of visual sexuality onstage. Indeed, the effect was powerful, as one that physicalises the way society treated women and virtue – and the modernity of the costumes gave way for these sexual themes to apply to the present day.

What follows is a 75-minute exploration into true experimental theatre. Duke Vincentio, in disguise as Friar Lodowick, often holds a camera to other characters’ faces, particularly Claudio’s, giving the effect of invasion and interrogation as the close-ups are projected onto the back wall of the otherwise bare set. The back wall of the stage opens up to reveal a room serving as a prison, complete with table and wall clock, and when this ‘room’ is closed off, the camera and projections serve as a reminder that not all is as it seems behind closed doors.

I cannot commend any actor more than another; Romola Garai as Isabella takes us on an emotional journey wrought with despair, while Paul Ready stages a fantastic Angelo, epitomising the deceitful, hypocritical deputy of Vienna with eerie ease.

Though this adaptation of Measure for Measure is undeniably inappropriate for younger school years, it serves as a fantastic grounding for KS4-5 as a means of exploring new and exciting ways to stage old plays while also laying down Baz Luhrmann-like foundations for Shakespeare to be given the potential to be modernised. If I could give Hill-Gibbins’s version of Measure for Measure more than five stars, I would.

Kenneth Branagh succeeds Richard Attenborough as new RADA president

Former student Kenneth Branagh has been named as the next president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, following Richard Attenborough’s death last year. The announcement comes following a slew of Eton- and Harrow-educated actors taking lead roles on stage and in films, prompting a warning from Julie Walters that actors from working class backgrounds are being pushed out of the industry.

*Photo by Giorgia Meschini*

Kenneth Branagh in 2009. Credit: Giorgia Meschini

Branagh was born in Belfast, Ireland to a working class Protestant family, his father having been a plumber and joiner. They relocated to Reading in the late 1960s to escape the Troubles, a period of severe political conflict that caused thousands to fall into poverty, and over 3500 people were killed.

Following the recent accolades of Eton-educated Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne and Harrow alumnus Benedict Cumberbatch, many have speculated that elitism in acting is on the rise. RADA director Edward Kemp says it is a common misconception that their students are privileged and that their intake comes ‘from every corner of society,’ with 40% of the 2012/13 students from a family income of less than £25,000 and 57% currently receiving financial support from the institution.

Actors ‘are being confronted with huge challenges earlier and earlier,’ says Branagh, who hopes to continue the legacy left by Attenborough. Branagh, the first president from a working class background in 40 years, joined RADA in 1979 and has since been nominated for numerous Academy Awards and won three BAFTAs.

Olivier Award-winning Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to stage relaxed performance

Following last month’s autism-friendly performance of Disney’s The Lion King, the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane has announced that it too will be staging a relaxed performance of Sam Mendes’ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on 19 January. Designed to cater for those with special needs, the show will make theatre more accessible to minority groups.

Credit: Matt Crockett

Credit: Matt Crockett

The performance will be working with Mousetrap Theatre Projects, a charity dedicated to enhancing the experience of the theatre for children who might not otherwise be able to enjoy it. Among the alterations made to the original production are adjustments to sound and lighting, trained volunteers and staff present at the venue and free support resources available on the Mousetrap website, which will provide introductory material and support for parents, carers and children.

Credit: Matt Crockett

Credit: Matt Crockett

Mousetrap works to bring 12,000 young people to see a popular London production every year, and the relaxed production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory means that people with special needs will have the opportunity to watch a two-time Olivier Award-winning production that has broken records at the Theatre Royal.

Mousetrap is ‘thrilled to offer families with young people with special needs the wonderful opportunity to attend a relaxed performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ says Director of Mousetrap Theatre Projects Susan Whiddington. ‘Over the years, we have had so many requests from families to see this fantastic musical and we know it will be a very special experience for all the families.’

Visit www.charlieandthechocolatefactory.com/charlieandthechocolatefactory-relaxed-performance.asp for further information and www.mousetrap.org.uk for access to free resource materials.

London’s Finborough Theatre in danger of closing to make way for new flats

From its founding in 1980, the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court has featured the likes of playwright Naomi Wallace, Wolf Hall star Mark Rylance, and multiple notable Hollywood stars, including Rachel Weisz. But previously abandoned plans proposing new flats above the theatre may pose a threat to its future.

The Finborough Arms. Credit: Pete Maclaine/Alamy Live News

The Finborough Arms. Credit: Pete Maclaine/Alamy Live News

Neil McPherson, artistic director of the theatre, expressed his concerns for the venue, saying: ‘These plans have been rejected before but they have come back again. This time the plans do include some sound-proofing but we have consulted with three consultants who say it’s not good enough for a theatre. The plans would put a kitchen, bathroom and living space directly above the auditorium. If the noise from the flat above gets to a certain level then we won’t be able to put on shows.’ He added that, should a future tenant complain about noise from the theatre, shows will be restricted to close at 9pm, potentially affecting its future existence.

The plans, submitted by Shelley Chopra, are currently being considered by Kensington and Chelsea council, with a decision due to be made in September. Chopra believes that the accompanying noise report suggests that any noise from the flats would not ‘have a negative impact on the operations’ of the theatre. Chopra has expressed that he would like to work with the theatre, and has ‘consulted with acoustics experts’ and ‘looked at putting in carpets and other sound-proofing methods.’ He added that ‘the theatre will benefit from this planned development which also includes a new roof for the building and a separate entrance for them for the first time. I cannot emphasise enough, we do not want the theatre to close.’

The news has raised worldwide concern for the future of the theatre – and, by extension, the future of the arts, with a letter from as far as Canada warning that closing the theatre would be ‘an inestimable cultural loss for London.’

People of Southwark invited to perform on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe

Seldom does the opportunity arise for the public to perform on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe – that is, until now. The Globe is calling for ‘all who live, work, and learn in Southwark to perform on stage’ as part of A Concert for Winter, the annual celebration of the London borough that houses the famed playhouse.

Schools and communities are invited to perform on the stage of Shakespeare's Globe

Schools and communities are invited to perform on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe

The concert, brought to the stage by Globe Education, encourages schools, societies and communities to apply with their contributions of music, movement, or spoken word, as inspired by this year’s theme of ‘Sweet Thames, Run Softly.’ With the concert to take place on 10 December at 1pm, there isn’t much time left to apply – applications close at 5pm on Friday 11 September.

Following this, performers will have the opportunity to receive guidance on catering their performance towards the Globe’s unique stage, which includes an eight-week rehearsal period with Globe Education practitioners.

A Concert for Winter is applauded for its celebration of the past, present and future of Southwark. Michael Doyle, conductor of The Blackfriar’s Nightingales and previous contributor in the concert, says: ‘This is a very special event for our group. It gives a chance for our elders to feel included and respected in the community. I see a sense of achievement in their eyes.’

Participation application forms are available online at: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/education/southwark/a-concert-for-winter

Royal Shakespeare Company to host its first British Sign Language theatre backstage tour

Earlier in the year, the Royal Shakespeare Company held its first semi-integrated British Sign Language performance, The Christmas Truce, and following its success is due to host its first British Sign Language Theatre backstage tour. The tour will coincide with the Swan Theatre’s British Sign Language interpreted show of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.

The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Stratford-upon-Avon theatre, soon to celebrate its 30th anniversary, will offer visitors the opportunity to learn about the theatre’s history, as well as exploring a range of wigs and costumes from the play. The tour will last one hour and will be led by Clare Edwards, British Sign Language interpreter, with a free special interpreted post-show talk to follow.

‘We want everybody to feel welcome in our theatres and to be able to experience our work,’ says Elizabeth Wainwright, RSC’s Head of Theatre and Operations. The mounting of semi-integrated British Sign Language performances will continue with Ella Hickson’s retelling of JM Barrie’s Wendy and Peter Pan, also to be followed by an interpreted post-show talk.

Ticket details and further information can be found at: http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/the-jew-of-malta/bsl-interpreted-synopsis.aspx