This week innovative professional ensemble Anərkē Shakespeare bring their candlelit production of Macbeth to Holy Trinity Church. They recreate some of the conditions under which Shakespeare’s company would have operated under – namely short rehearsals and no director. Elena Pellone tells Gill Sutherland about the ensemble’s approach
Tell us about Anərkē Shakespeare and how you became established.
I moved to Stratford to do my masters in Shakespeare and Creativity at the Shakespeare Institute, and stayed to do a PhD on directorless Shakespeare. My research is in collaboration with Global Shakespeares Research Centre at Queen Mary University of London headed by Professor David Schalkwyk. He is invested in making non-hierarchical non-mimetic Shakespeare available to the widest possible audiences.
For the practical aspect of my studies I wanted to put on a contemporary staging of a Shakespeare play but working as the early moderns did without a director. The first project we did was Richard II in 2018.
We called our company Anərkē Shakespeare because I interviewed an RSC actor – who was in The Tempest production in 2016 – and he said “Oh no, to work without a director would be anarchy and chaos.” I looked into what anarchy meant – it means ‘without a ruler’ – and so doesn’t have all those negative connotations that people think of. It excited me as a way of working. So I wanted to re-appropriate the word without the chaos, and that’s why I used the phonetic spelling as it reminds us that Shakespeare was spoken, and it also frees us from convention.
What are the advantages of working without a director?
When you work with a director the vision of the production goes through a single mind – we’ve got eight actors working collaboratively to unlock the text, and it gives it a multi-minded embodiment.
When People say “Oh it’s like you’re a captainless ship” – I would say no, it’s the text that is primarily the captain. We are always in service to the text, so rather than reinterpreting it we think how can we make this clear with the text?
How do you go about casting without a director?
Once we have the ensemble gathered then people say what they want to play. It’s surprising, you might imagine actors just want the main roles but actually they are drawn to different things. For example with this no-one wanted to play Lady Macbeth – so I’m playing her! Allowing the actors to choose their roles means casting is based on a bridge of empathy to the character rather than an outside perception.
When you first put on Richard II in 2018, what was the audience feedback on that?
The main observation was about the clarity of story – people said they saw things in the text they hadn’t seen before. We add nuance to each line and then the whole play is in the hands of the audience to interpret. We don’t tell them ‘trust this character, don’t trust that character’ – and that’s democracy at work, letting people decide for themselves.
We want the audience to feel like they are inside the play and are excited, transformed and included.
Tell us about the short rehearsal run, and the challenges of that.
Short rehearsals mean we have to make decisions quickly and that allows us to work more instinctively, more organically.
The first full company rehearsal was Friday, 28th February, and then we open this Saturday. It’s replicating one of the early modern conditions, but having it that short is not ideal or my choice. I strongly believe actors should be paid, and so that was only as much as money as I could pay for the eight actors to rehearse and perform. But each actor comes having learned their lines so we are up and running working out staging in that first rehearsal.
The candlelight must add to the atmosphere.
Yes, it makes everything feel like a Rembrandt painting. Then there’s the shadow and light of the play – with no director, no leader, all that ambiguity fits in really well with what we are about.
You’re performing where Shakespeare is buried in conditions he would have recognised – do you feel his approval?
After Holy Trinity we take the production to St Leonard’s, Shoreditch where Richard Burbage, the first actor to play Macbeth, is buried… It’s so clear and apparent to me that Shakespeare was an actor that loved his company – it’s an act of love to write Macbeth for someone – or the Porter even, a jewel of a role. I feel as actors we have a connection – he knows what it is to put on a performance without enough rehearsals! And so yes I do feel the benediction on the project.
WHEN AND WHERE: Anərkē Shakespeare’s production of Macbeth runs at Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon until 11th March (Saturday to Wednesday, excluding Sunday). Tickets are £10 available from www.stratford-upon-avon.org or on the door.