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