In the Swan Theatre this season you can see Jonathan Broadbent as an energetic Tattle in Love for Love and a politically astute Harley in Queen Anne. Tattle is a role with a stage history - both Laurence Olivier and Derek Jacobi played him in the early days of the National Theatre but Harley is a character in a new play - a part for Jonathan to put his own stamp on as an actor.
First experience of Shakespeare
This came from Michael Day, his drama teacher, who recommended The Chorus of Henry V as an audition piece for the National Youth Theatre. He was successful and at 14 one of the youngest to attend the summer school.
What happened next
Jonathan and his teacher's enthusiasm for Shakespeare led to the school introducing Theatre Studies at A Level. He did Hamlet and A Winter’s Tale for English and says they were seen as plays in performance not material for essay writing on character and theme. He became involved with Shakespeare's Globe helping to set up Young Friends of Shakespeare which encouraged young people like himself to see the plays in performance. Mark Rylance was a helpful patron.
While still at school, again at the instigation of Michael Day, Jonathan toured with Shakespeare taking Macbeth to Norway where they played in Bergen and Oslo, Jonathan taking the title role. The following year they performed a double bill of Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Jonathan played Mercutio.
He went on to The Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he studied verse speaking under Patsy Rodenburg. A comparatively young student there he found himself grateful for having been so well- taught at school.
In his subsequent acting career he found himself in a couple of productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, first as a fairy and then as Puck and was involved in the filming of Kenneth Branagh’s As You Like It.
Working with Filter Theatre
It was working with Filter Theatre during 2011- 2013 that led to a bigger commitment to Shakespeare. There Jonathan was with people he knew both from National Youth Theatre days and Guildhall, particularly Ferdy Roberts, the artistic director.
Filter Theatre Company had been originally commissioned to come up with a version of Twelfth Night for the RSC’s Complete Works Festival in 2006 by Michael Boyd who admired their work. It was designed to tour both nationally and internationally. After eight years it still tours and Jonathan would have been on its Indian journey if he had not accepted his present work at the Swan. It's a 90-minute version with six actors doubling up, two musicians and plenty of audience interaction. Filter, with its irreverent style, has been described as taking Shakespeare back to its Elizabethan roots of entertainment. Jonathan played both Orsino and Andrew Aguecheek.
This was followed by a ”marvellously irreverent” A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lyric Hammersmith. It was thought rougher, wilder and even more inventive than their Twelfth Night had been and critics loved it. Jonathan played a nerdy, asthmatic Oberon who for all the unexpected fun of his superhero appearance managed to powerfully convey the character’s immaturity and insecurity.
Shakespeare informing other roles
Exciting and accessible productions, fast-paced and with a live chemistry between actor and audience, these Shakespeare performances have fostered the ease, stage presence and comedy-timing that Jonathan shows as Tattle and Harley.
It's wonderful to meet an actor who was taught Shakespeare so well in school and is committed to making sure other young people actually enjoy the plays in performance.
Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.