Whispers from the Wings

Starting in Southampton

September 19, 2012

We began our first week at Bitterne Park School in Southampton. Their impressive new theatre provided a perfect space in which to test out our ideas about connecting with an audience that flank the stage on both sides as well as out front. The whole room is lit.

The relationship between performer and audience in this setting is incredibly exciting and immediate. We're all part of one shared space. It offers Edmund so many opportunities to engage with the audience and to enlist their help with his scheming.

This dialogue continued into the workshop that we ran during the afternoon, at the end of which, the students were discussing the ethics of Edmund's behaviour, and wondering whether the blame lies solely with him, or also with his upbringing. It's their first week of term.

At the Nuffield, things are slightly different. We're playing completely end-on, with our platform set a few feet back from the edge of a raised stage, and the audience sitting below in a darkened auditorium. As such it's been slightly harder for me to break through that barrier at the front of the stage, but it's been a fun challenge that has led to the discovery of new means to activate the audience and involve them in what's happening on stage.

When we succeed in this aim, the results can be extraordinary. Several times this week, when I've turned to the audience and asked them which of Lear's eldest daughters Edmund should choose, they've shouted their thoughts back to me. 'The one in red!' - 'The one in green!' - 'Just stop kissing people!'

During Thursday afternoon's show at the Nuffield, when Edgar entered leading his blinded father towards an imagined Dover cliff and asked him, 'Hark, do you hear the sea?', a young audience member somewhere in the first few rows responded by quietly making a drawn-out swooshing noise, emulating the sound of waves crashing onto a beach. There was nothing passive about this person's engagement with the play; he or she wanted to help Edgar by providing the sound effects. How great is that?

by Ben Deery  |  No comments yet


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Teaching Shakespeare