Fringe preview: Romeo and Juliet (The Party Planner’s Tale) and Titus Andronicus (The Piemaker’s Tale)
London’s Globe Theatre shows us how to view the Bard from a whole new angle in Shakespeare Untold
This article is from 2015.
He may not have included them in his plays, but a whole cast of characters must have been busying away behind the scenes in all of Shakespeare’s works. Somebody had to plan that fabulous party at the start of Romeo and Juliet, and the families in Titus Andronicus didn’t carry out all that scheming on an empty stomach.
So when the Education Department at London’s Globe Theatre was exploring new and engaging ways to introduce families to Shakespeare’s work, it was those bystanders it turned to. They created a party planner and a piemaker through whose eyes the plays could unfold. But this isn’t Shakespeare light: the ‘Untold’ plays are works of art in their own right.
‘What I really didn’t want to do was talk down to the audience,’ says director, Harper Ray, ‘or try to translate Shakespeare or make an easy version. The plays are true to the original, so we didn’t give the party planner any lines that belong to somebody else, and she doesn’t intervene at any point – both her, and the piemaker, just observe.’
Harper also wanted to find a way to reach out to the audience, and acknowledge their presence. Which meant finding a reason to speak to them. In the case of the piemaker, we’re all there in the kitchen with him while he tries out a new recipe, while the party planner thinks we’ve all been bused in to lend a hand.
‘She’s just done the Capulet ball – the biggest event of her career – and now she’s doing a double funeral,’ says Harper. ‘The house is still dressed with bunting and balloons from the ball, and she’s trying to clear it all up – and assumes that everybody in the audience is there to help, too. So she gives them a bit of background on what they’re doing.
‘The piemaker tells you about his life and how he ended up cooking for an emperor. As he bakes, he reveals the story of Titus Andronicus and we build closer to the climactic reveal of what’s actually in the pie.’
For those worried that the gory details of Shakespeare’s most violent play might cause upset, fear not – you can read as much, or as little, into the show as is appropriate.
‘Because we’re in a kitchen, we’re able to use food as gore,’ says Ray. ‘So if every time the piemaker talks about Bassianus, he’s eating a doughnut – and then you see that doughnut being screwed up in his hand, well it’s either just a doughnut or it represents Bassianus. We don’t have to explain if it’s blood or jam – it’s about what you’re comfortable with – and that means it works for children and adults across the board.’
Likewise with Romeo and Juliet, where the light and airy touch of the party planner generates a positive atmosphere for much of the play.
‘Romeo and Juliet isn’t actually a tragedy until very late on – it’s actually quite a romp with huge amounts of comedy,’ says Ray. ‘The party planner is aware of the couple’s plan to elope, so she’s very upbeat. It’s only at the end that the mood changes and becomes sad, and then we focus on the reconciliation, and how there is going to be peace in Verona.’
Shakespeare Untold: Romeo and Juliet (The Party Planner’s Tale), Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 8–31 Aug (not 12, 19, 26), 12.30pm, £10 (£9). Previews 5–7 Aug, £5.
Shakespeare Untold: Titus Andronicus (The Piemaker’s Tale), Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 8–31 Aug (not 12, 19, 26), 1.40pm, £10 (£9). Previews 5–7 Aug, £5.