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Disturbing Shakespeare is put to rest

The 'summer hols' are nearly over and we will soon be back in rehearsal & creating our new show and so we have now put 'Disturbing Shakespeare' to rest. It's a good time to reflect on what we achieved over the past year with this new play.

I am immensely proud of this production and it will always hold a special place in my heart as it was also my first production as Artistic Director of the company. I wanted to choose something challenging and something that fitted with the previous dramatic tone of the company. There would, of course, be an exploration of mental health as a theme but, as with many OOC productions, from an unusual angle. The show would be funny, as not to use the immense comic talents within the company would be such a waste, but also have a sincere heart. Using Shakespeare was a perfect choice. We took scenes from the obvious 'madness' plays(King Lear & Hamlet) but also from some surprising ones - As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream. We drew upon the stereotype of the madman, such as the monstrous killer Richard the 3rd, and then overturned them with some devised commentary. Whilst negative stereotypes do exits within Shakespeare's plays he was too sophisticated and truthful a writer to not also depict more rounded portraits. Hamlet's severe depression as revealed in the 'I have of late lost all my mirth' speech or Lady Macbeth's distressed behaviour in the superb sleepwalking scene both display convincing and empathetic figures struggling with ill health. 

But D.S was more than a collection of great scenes from classic plays.  O.O.C has always been invested in taking a deeply personal approach to our work. One of our actors, Colin, wrote from the heart about the historical Richard 3rd (he is a local king after all!) and we inserted his perspective, along with some good jokes, as a choral commentary. Christie, our Ophelia and a superb dancer, created an incredible solo movement sequence which brought many audience members to tears. We even had the audacity to re-write some of the bard's words in contemporary english. We wanted to 'Disturb Shakespeare' and help audiences familiar with his work to see some of it in a new light. Just as Shakespeare himself took his own experiences of his neighbouring 'Bedlam' and re-contextualised them in his plays.

The first version of the show was staged as part of the Create '14 festival at York St. John University. It was, in essence, a preview of the production to test the material before we worked on it further.  It received an extremely warm welcome and we knew we had the makings of a really good piece of theatre.  By May 2015 we performed an enhanced version with new scenes as part of the York Literature festival at Friargate Theatre to a packed house. Two days later we took the show to Newcastle University as part of a mental health forum.  In fact, the show was no stranger to the academy with shows at Liverpool University (INTAR conference) and the School of Health at York University as well.

Reactions to the performances have been overwhelmingly positive and big thanks to all the cast members who have joined us for all, or sometimes part, of this journey. We may find ourselves re-visiting and re-working the show again in the future - as we have done with Kafka - but for now we might echo Horatio's words (and disturb them a little) as we say 'Good night sweet show and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.' We could say that or we could say, 'Job done. What's next...?'

Watch this space to find out...