Sunday, May 1, 2016

On stage with Shakespeare


Happy circumstance brought me into contact with SEST – the Stockholm English Speaking Theatre - and after Facebooking with each other for a month or so they invited me to work with them on their Shakespeare 400 project.


It can have escaped no one that this April marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. To honour this, SEST planned three comeback performances of their successful Macbeth and their well-received Angry Shrews and Merry Wives, a medley of some of Shakespeare’s most interesting women.

And they wanted me to become involved.


In a program of about two and a half hours (including Macbeth) I was given ten minutes. A lot can be said in ten minutes! They wanted anecdotes on being a bardolator, on Shakespeare’s language, on the prevalence of Shakespeare in our society and on the Rose and the Globe.  No problem! On their Angry Shrews and Merry Wives, I thought bits from the play analyses from the book (blog) might be interesting. Not as easy as I thought but after the first rehearsal and seeing what they actually do, and after wise suggestions and requests from the troupe, things fell into place.

Rehearsing. I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun.  Especially dress rehearsal when it starts feeling real (almost), in the amazing medieval Black Friars cellar in Stockholm’s Old Town. Lines are flubbed by most of us and my other job as costume assistant helping Viola change from her Cesario togs into her Mistress Page gown – hooks were missed in backstage murkiness and bulges appeared on the back. But isn’t that the way dress rehearsals are expected to go?

Then suddenly it’s time. The audience is in place and Kristina steps onto the small platform and says, ‘All the world’s a stage!’ The others converge with their lines and then together, ‘Sans everything!’

My cue!

I step out from the backstage nook, not stumbling on the uneven centuries old stone steps, and into the limelight. Nervous, but not. Through the glare I see the faces of friends, on Sunday Hal too, and lots of strangers.  I feel an enormous affection for each and every one.

Me: ‘Hello. I’m Ruby. I’m addicted to Shakespeare.’

They listen, they smile, they laugh. If they notice my small stutters and memory losses they don’t seem to be bothered.

My first bit is done and I step off stage to perch on the stool next to Keith, later to be Macbeth but now doing the sound and lights. Richard steps up to do his powerful interpretation of some of the sonnets and before the applause dies away Ingela enters the stage to start the troupe’s hilarious machine gun exchange of Shakespearean insults.

What? Already my turn again? Back on stage to offer some insight into theatre history in Shakespeare’s day and a few sentences from the book/blog’s play analyses to introduce Angry Shrews and Merry Wives.

Then my bits are over and it feels good! No disasters, lots of laughs. I could get used to this applause…

I slip backstage and listen with the waiting Viola/Cesario as Ingela’s strident Emilia debates with Helena’s sugary southern belle Katherine. It gets a lot of laughs. Viola – on stage, then off and I help him/her become Mistress Page as Helena’s Juliet and Ingela’s Beatrice discuss men over drinks. There is a time factor here but well before Juliet and Beatrice have finished their drinks all of Mistress Page’s hooks are in place and there are no bulges! I listen as Mistress Page and Mistress Ford rage about Sir John Falstaff and plot their revenge. The audience loves it. Then poor Helena (Ingela) and Hermia (Helena) – just like in Shakespeare the names can be confusing! – battle it out in the Midsummer Night’s forest.

Can it already be the finale? Kristina steps out onto the stage again, the troupe offer the epilogue of As You Like It, ending with ‘bid…me…farewell!’

It’s over! But for the bows and I step again onto the stage between Keith and Richard and we bow and it’s sad and happy and wonderful and it’s over and I just want to do it again. And again.

On stage with the brilliant, hard-working, devoted and very talented Kristina Leon, Ingela Lundh, Helena Lewin, Keith Foster and Richard Asker.

On stage with Shakespeare. Loving every minute of it.


PS Off stage too, while they do Macbeth, I admire the calm competence of Jenni Söderqvist, prop and costume and everything-else manager extraordinaire.

PPS Macbeth is even better, if possible, than in November. See review here

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