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The King Lear Workshops

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  • For more information on global Shakespeare studies at Queen Mary University of London, please contact Professor David Schalkwyk, Chair in Shakespeare Studies at QMUL.
  • For more information on global Shakespeare studies at the University of Warwick, please head to the Global Shakespeare Research Group.

    The members of Global Shakespeare have just completed the first leg of their momentous new partnership with Tim Supple and Dash Arts at an eleven-day workshop held at the University of Warwick’s Arts Centre. Supple, director of the theatre company Dash Arts is known for RSC productions of Shakespeare such as his 1996 Comedy of Errors 1996, and more recently for his radical experimentation in multi-cultural theatre, which includes two Arabic-language productions, Thousand and One Nights and Babel, and the multilingual Indian A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2006. Michael Billington of the Guardian praised Supple’s Dream as “the most life-enhancing production of Shakespeare’s play since Peter Brooks’s”.

    The workshop was the first in a series currently being planned over the next two years on King Lear. Although the aim is ultimately to stage a production in 2017 or 2018, for the moment the workshops are not rehearsals but rather compact research laboratories to test the idea of working with Shakespeare’s tragedy in multiple languages and performance traditions.

    Twelve actors took part in the Warwick workshop: four English-speaking actors, Finbar Lynch, Alison Reid, and Bruce Myers from the UK and Jared McNeill from the USA. Finbar and Alison have worked with the RSC, while Jared and Bruce brought their immersion in Peter Brooks’s Theatre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris—Bruce for the past twenty-five years! The non-native speakers of English included Italian master of commedia del arte, Fabio Mangolini; French actor, Baya Belal, who trained with Ariane Mnouchkine’s Théâtre du Soleil; Assaad Bouab, originally from Morocco and now working in Paris; Oksana Mysina, steeped in the Russian School methods of Stanislavski and Mikhail Chekhov; Tanzanian actor and director Mrisho Mpoto (who played Falstaff in the Swahili The Merry Wives of Windsor in the Globe-to-Globe Festival in 2012); Vinay Kumar, a leading member of the Adishakti Theatre research laboratory in Pondicherry, India; Grotowskian Flemish-speaker Ida Bonassi, from Belgium but now living and working in London; and Hye-Yeon Hong, who trained as a clown in South Korea.

    All the actors could speak English, but they brought with them their training and experience, and their translations of King Lear. The Shakespeare text was thus explored in English, Flemish, Russian, French, Italian, Arabic, Malayalam and a little in Afrikaans. No translation of Lear was available in Swahili, so the Tanzanian actor on occasion provided his own translations. Actors were given free reign to use their own translations or to use the English text, as they wished, from session to session. Sessions lasted about three hours, with work starting at 9am with physical exercise sessions, and ended at about 9pm.

    The actors’ workshop was accompanied by a public programme, open to school and university students and members of the public, with presentations by members of the acting team and Global Shakespeare. These ranged from talks by Global Shakespeare members on King Lear on film by Tony Howard; King Lear in the Robben Island Shakespeare by David Schalkwyk; the variant texts of King Lear by Jerry Brotton, and Lear as a inspiration for creative writing by Preti Taneja. The workshop actors shared their knowledge and expertise in the performance techniques: Vinay Kumare in the ancient theory of the nine emotions of the Natya Sastra; Fabio Mangolini in the art of the mask in the commedia, and Bruce Myers in Peter Brooks’s Bouffe du Nord. A large event on International Shakespeare we offered on Saturday evening, which included an introductory talk by Michael Billington of the Guardian, readings in different languages from King Lear by the actors, and a panel discussion on Shakespeare in translation and across the world.

    The Warwick workshop is the beginning of a journey of exploration and experimentation for the King Lear Project, which plans up to a dozen similar events around the world over the next two years. Its success in bringing actors from different languages and performance traditions to share expertise and experience and to expose themselves to sometimes radical forms of difference under Tim Supple’s benign but also disciplined guidance bodes very well for future workshops and a ground breaking performance of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy in due course. Watch this space!