Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare Sessions – celebrating 10 years of Theatre-in-Education

Guest report by Edel Carmody, Cyclone Rep Theatre Company 

This year marks the tenth anniversary since the creation of Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare Sessions. Cyclone Rep is Ireland’s leading Shakespearean Theatre-in-Education Company. We are also (as far as we know) the only repertory company in Ireland. 

The inspiration for Cyclone’s hugely successful take on Shakespeare’s texts stems from Artistic Director Peadar Donohoe’s years as a drama coach in Cork. His approach to theatre was and still is deeply influenced by Antonin Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty”. Breaking the fourth wall, audience interaction, and heightened physicality are all integral components of Cyclone’s performance style. Using these elements Cyclone achieves their mission to provide secondary school audiences with an exciting and multi-faceted theatrical experience that engages, entertains and educates.

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Cyclone Rep’s “King Lear”    Image credit: Shane Vaughan

The Shakespeare Sessions are abridged versions of the plays that stay true to the language and spirit of Shakespearean theatre. Cyclone’s approach to Theatre-in-Education is highly collaborative and constantly takes on board audience and stakeholders’ feedback. A typical Shakespeare Session includes everything from a sword fight between an actor and a student to nuanced discussions of challenging themes such as madness, gender, or racism.

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Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”      Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Each year the company tours a number of Shakespeare plays in repertory. The 2019-2020 season sees four plays being toured: Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and Hamlet. Marcus Bale, the company manager, estimates that by May 2020, over 31,000 individuals nationwide will have experienced this season’s sessions. Marcus, who plays both Hamlet and Shylock, is an internationally trained actor whose focus for the last 20 years has been the physical theatrical techniques of Commedia dell’Arte, Mime, Clown, Improvisation, and the work of Jacques Lecoq, Eugenio Barba, and Augusto Boal, and these practices have been incorporated into the Cyclone Rep’s style of performance.

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Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”      Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Also, true to 16th century performance tradition is the use of gender-swapped roles. Cyclone plays constantly with this tradition. In Cyclone’s Romeo and Juliet Session, Leah Wood plays Tybalt, while Kieran O’Leary plays The Nurse. Since Shakespeare’s time, his plays have undergone numerous iterations from a Soviet-styled Macbeth to Julius Caesar with an all-female cast. Engaging with this long-standing tradition, Cyclone has re-imagined Shakespeare’s work while staying true to key themes and interpretations. For example, The King Lear Session tackles the theme (central to the play) of nature run amok by setting the play in a post-apocalyptic world caused by climate change. During The Hamlet Session different interpretations surrounding the theme of madness are discussed by the cast with the audience. The Romeo and Juliet Session explores gender and sexuality, and even features Shakespeare himself (played by Mike Keep). When the Bard himself is transplanted into our modern age, he is forced to grapple with how both theatre and the role of women in the public sphere has changed. 

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Cyclone Rep’s Shakespeare in “Romeo and Juliet”           Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Thanks to audience feedback the Shakespeare Sessions have evolved greatly since 2010.In Cyclone’s first production of King Lear in 2015 the characters of Kent and the Fool were merged (this was done to allow for a five-member cast). However, students found this conflation confusing and teachers voiced this issue. So, Cyclone’s second production of The King Lear Session featured six actors and the characters of Kent and Fool were played by two different actors. 

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Ophelia in Cyclone Rep’s “Hamlet”           Image credit: Shane Vaughan

Beginning in 2010, during The Hamlet Session the main female characters are questioned by the male characters in a mock interrogation scene. Audiences liked this technique so much, that the latest production of The Hamlet Session similarly acts out an interrogation of the male characters’ motives and culpability. Ongoing feedback from teachers and students helps us to constantly incorporate and expand on aspects of the plays that young people and teachers feel are relevant today. Equally, the role of audio-visual aids has grown considerably since our inception. Initially the use of these projections was minimal but this has changed due to audience demand. Now audio-visuals are an integral part of the sessions, and we use a whole range of these, from animations, mind maps, and bullet points clarifying key ideas to rap versions of 16th century poetry and Joy Division songs.

For a decade, Cyclone Rep has been committed to bringing Shakespeare to life for young people nationwide in fresh and creative ways. Since 2010, over 200,000 young people have seen Cyclone’s Shakespeare Sessions. Thus, it is fair to say that in some measure, Cyclone is helping building Ireland’s next generation of theatregoers.

More information can be found on the Cyclone Rep website, along with booking details for upcoming productions (listed below).

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Guest report by Edel Carmody, Cyclone Rep Theatre Company 

Theatre: “Measure for Measure” at the Civic Theatre, Tallaght

[Info from Civic Theatre website.]

Measure for Measure

Civic Theatre, Tallaght, Dublin
3rd – 7th December 2019

 

Set in Vienna, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is a dark comedy in five acts and was written in the early 1600’s. Vienna is overrun with brothels and loose morality and when a young novice nun is compromised by a corrupt official, who offers to save her brother from execution in return for sex, she has no idea where to turn for help. When she threatens to expose him, he tells her that no one would believe her.

The themes run from religion, morality, virtue, sin, punishment, death, and atonement, with Shakespeare choosing moral justice to prevail over strict civil justice. Measure for Measure sheds a critical eye on the policing of society by a corrupt government and politics. Whether it be 1604 or 2019, this play has resonance in the 21st Century.

Presented by Liberties College, Bull Alley
Duration: 110 minutes. One interval.
Suitable for ages 14+

Tickets available from the Civic Theatre website.


 

Touring theatre: Much Ado About Nothing by Rough Magic

From the Rough Magic website.

This month, one of Ireland’s leading theatre companies, Rough Magic will embark on a national tour of Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.

Set on the deck of a deluxe mobile home this festive production of deception and excess, sparkling wit and linguistic exuberance asks – can we ever truly know the people we love?

On it’s premiere performance in Kilkenny Arts Festival (summer 2019), the Irish Independent called this production “boisterous and intelligent” and “a hugely enjoyable and timeless treat.” The Irish Times gave it ★★★★ and the Kilkenny People called it the “funniest show in the city for years”.

Ticket info available on the weblinks below.

Dates Venues
9th November Siamsa Tíre, Tralee
12th-13th  November
(With a post-show talk on Tues 12th.)
The Everyman, Cork
15th November Theatre Royal, Waterford
18th November An Grianán, Letterkenny
20th November Backstage Theatre, Longford
22th November Lime Tree Theatre, Limerick

Directed by: Ronan Phelan

Cast: Clare Barrett, Venetia Bowe, Peter Corboy, Maeve Fitzgerald, Patrick Martins, Margaret McAuliffe, Jack Mullarkey, Shane O’Regan & Conor O’Riordan

Set Design: Sabine Dargent                Lighting Design: Sarah Jane Shiels

Costume Design: Catherine Fay          Sound Design: Denis Clohessy

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Leonata in Rough Magic’s Much Ado (Credit: Rough Magic website)

Review: Hamlet at the dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum – October 2019

Review by Dr Ema Vyroubalová (TCD) of Hamlet, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe, dlr Mill Theatre Dundrum, October 2019.

Hamlet runs from 9-25th October 2019. Tickets available on the dlr Mill Theatre website.

With this lively fast-paced production performed in modern dress on a minimalist set, Hamlet comes back to Dundrum after a three-year hiatus. It is the seventh Shakespeare production to be staged at Mill Theatre in Dundrum Town Centre. Like all of the theatre’s earlier Shakespeare productions – Macbeth (2013), Othello (2014), King Lear (2015), Hamlet (2016), King Lear (2017), Romeo and Juliet (2018), Macbeth (2018) – it is put on by the in-house Mill Productions company and directed by their own Geoff O’Keefe as part of the theatre’s educational outreach programme.

If anyone comes to the play with the notion of Hamlet as a character who spends a lot of time standing around, mulling over his seemingly equally damning options while periodically delivering long poetic speeches, Kyle Hixon’s rendering of the role quickly dispels such stereotype. Hixon’s Hamlet brims over with nervous energy and he more often than not delivers his lines walking, pacing, running, jumping, fighting, crouching, or lying down. He joins the Player King and Queen in performing “The Murder of Gonzago” in Act 3 Scene 2. One scene later, when Hamlet has an ideal opportunity to kill Claudius but decides against it because the king is at his prayers and so may avoid eternal damnation, he hovers directly over the self-absorbed Claudius and makes it physically very obvious how close this Hamlet comes to going through with the murder. The manic energy with which he performs the notorious encounter with Gertrude (Caoilfhionn McDonnell) and the murder of Polonius (Malcolm Adams) in the Closet Scene (Act 3 Scene 4) suggests that this is a Hamlet who is being driven mad both by the events around him and by his own efforts to feign the “antic disposition”. His performance in the duel with Laertes (Felix Brown) is worth mentioning too as the two actors successfully pull off a technically demanding and largely naturalistic-looking fight.

Laoise Sweeney’s Ophelia presents a clear contrast to Hixon’s Hamlet, with her primarily inward-oriented grief and verbally rather than physically expressed descent into madness. While Hamlet in particular has often been played by experienced and so inevitably older actors, it is worth noting that the actors playing Hamlet, Ophelia, Laertes, and Horatio (Harry Butler), are all comparably young (early to mid-20s). Geoff O’Keefe’s choice to cast a genuinely young Hamlet gives the intergenerational conflict at the heart of the play a naturalistic expression, and hopefully also makes it easier for the young target audiences to relate to these characters.

Due to the company’s small size, the production included several instances of double and triple casting: Claudius/the Ghost, Bernardo/Guildenstern, Player King/Grave Digger/Sailor, and Player Queen/Grave Digger/Messenger. The doubling of Claudius with the Ghost naturally raises a host of questions about the nature of both kingship and kinship in the play and makes us wonder whether the two kings are ultimately that different. The doubling of the Gravediggers (as purveyors of a comedic interlude in the play) with the Player King and Queen (as presenters of a tragedic interlude) in turn raises questions about mixing and interchangeability of comedy and tragedy and ultimately about Hamlet‘s genre. Among the inevitable cuts, most notable is the  elimination of Fortinbras: given the length of the play and the need to cut it down quite substantially to make it presentable to school groups, this seems like a reasonable choice, especially since this production focused on the family drama aspect of the play rather than on the play’s larger political context.

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Ensemble – Hamlet by Mill Productions at the dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum

Compared to the sets and costumes of Mill Productions’ previous Shakespeare adaptations, especially last year’s visually rich Macbeth, I found the costumes (Susan Devitt) and the set (Gerard Bourke) a little disappointing but conceptually still fairly interesting. The costumes were a relatively inconspicuous modern dress affair in a black/grey/red/orange colour scheme, evocative of a postindustrial drabness and the oppressiveness of the Denmark Hamlet has found himself in. Only the eclectic colourful outfits of the Player Queen and Player provided a welcome visual respite.

The otherwise minimalist and similarly drab set was anchored by a trio of prominent elements: a half-torn screen on the back wall, used to project footage of Old Hamlet’s face at points when he speaks to Hamlet, as well as the contents of Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia read out by Polonius; two white plastic cantilever chairs used as thrones; and a set of spheres suspended above the stage at different heights and variously illuminated in order to appear in different colours at different points in the production. The screen (decorated along the edges by splashes of colour vaguely reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s art) underlined the importance of omnipresent surveillance to the play’s plot. Its association with Old Hamlet’s image raises the question whether Hamlet is just replaying memories of his father in his own head or whether what he is seeing (and hearing) is a genuine ghost of his father independent of Hamlet’s imagination. The legless plastic chairs seemed to be hinting that Claudius’s kingdom may not have the proverbial “leg to stand on”. Finally, the suspended spheres changed their colours along with the changing moods and events of the play and certain colours seemed to be associated with certain characters. The setup was evocative of heavenly bodies, serving as a reminder of the uncertain relationship between an individual fate and the universe as a whole. At the same time, a touch of drabness – the larger of the spheres appeared to be rubber exercise balls dabbed with splashes of paint – visually tied these heavenly bodies to the very much earthly rest of the set.

Although the production is aimed primarily at students reading the play for the English portion of the Leaving Certificate, the almost entirely adult audience at the evening performance I attended on the whole seemed to genuinely enjoy it. In fact, one thing I could not help noticing throughout was how many of my fellow spectators appeared genuinely gripped by the story and how some were even eager to see how the plot would play out. This observation probably indicates that the story of Hamlet has been becoming, at least in contemporary Ireland, a less prominent part of what might be termed ‘general knowledge’ than it would have been some years or decades ago. But it also suggests that directors and actors may not have to worry about audience expectations shaped by previous encounters with the play as much as their predecessors had done, which can have a certain liberating effect. Geoff O’Keefe’s production of Hamlet fits this trend: with its sparse modern aesthetic and focus on combining energetic physical acting with clear and naturalistic delivery of Shakespeare’s lines, it will definitely appeal to anyone watching Hamlet for the first time, as well as to students watching the play as part of preparation for exams. More experienced theatre-goers and Shakespeare fans can still find plenty of interest, such as the colourful symbolism of the interplay between the lighting and the set, or the wealth of interpretive possibilities in the production’s multiple doubling and tripling casting choices.

Review by Dr Ema Vyroubalová (TCD), with thanks to Mill Productions.

Hamlet runs from 9-25th October 2019. Tickets available on the dlr Mill Theatre website.

dlr Mill theatre Dundrum

 


 

Shakespeare Sessions with Cyclone Rep, 2019-2020 – theatre for and in schools

[Info from Civic Theatre, Tallaght, website]

Cyclone Rep, Ireland’s Leading Shakespeare Theatre-in-Education Company, presents The Shakespeare Sessions. These are entertaining and engaging student-centred performances of Shakespeare’s texts. This year the company is presenting The King Lear Session, The Hamlet Session, The Romeo & Juliet Session & The Merchant Session (pending demand).

Each performance includes an edited production of the play together with a scholarly review clarifying the main themes as well as discussions with the students and the opportunity to participate. The Shakespeare Sessions will guide Junior and Senior Cycle learners in their understanding of The Bard’s masterpieces.

For further details and for the 2019-2020 tour schedule, see the Cyclone Rep website.

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The Lear Session  (Image source: Cyclone Rep website)