Performance at the Shakespeare Institute

We were warmly welcomed at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon on the 12th November. The Shakespeare Institute Players kindly provided us with a stage and an impressive monument for Antony’s Tomb. We performed a number of scenes from our production, and our actors and production team participated in a vibrant roundtable discussion, with great questions from the audience. Take a look at some photos from the event, taken by Emily Stiff (who plays Caesario), to see the cast in action!

Cleopatra at the Shakespeare Institute

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We are delighted to announce that we will be giving a presentation on ‘Staging Cleopatra‘ at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, on 12th November at 3pm.

The Shakespeare Institute Players will be hosting us in a round table discussion between our director, producer, musical director, lutenist and cast members. We will talk about the research that underpinned the production, and share our experiences of the rehearsal process and the performance itself.

Cast members will perform extended scenes from our production, and we will also be screening clips from our DVD. It will be a unique opportunity to hear how the production has influenced our thinking about Daniel’s play, closet drama, and the dramatic involvement of elite early modern women; and to see that research in action.

The University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute is an internationally renowned research institution for the study of Renaissance drama. The Shakespeare Institute Players is the dramatic society for the postgraduate students of the Shakespeare Institute; they stage numerous productions of early modern plays each year, alongside evenings of dramatic readings, poetry and music. We are very excited that they have invited us to speak, and hope to see many of you there!

Entry is free to current Shakespeare Institute members, for all others tickets are £5, £3 concessions. Tickets available on the door, or by email to shakespeareinstituteplayers@gmail.com

Cleopatra at Knole

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On Saturday 9 November, we will be making a very special presentation at Knole House in Kent, exploring whether Lady Anne Clifford played Daniel’s Cleopatra. This is a unique opportunity to hear the research that led to our recent production, and to see scenes from The Tragedie of Cleopatra recreated in the Great Hall at Knole, where the closet drama might originally have been performed 400 years ago.

Knole is one of the country’s most precious and exceptional historic houses, containing world class collections of royal furniture, silver, paintings and tapestries. It was built by the Archbishops of Canterbury in the fifteenth century, gifted to Henry VIII and remodelled in the seventeenth century by the Sackville family. Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676), one of the most remarkable women of the English Renaissance, lived here as a young wife. The house, set in a medieval deer park, has inspired writers, artists and visitors for centuries. Knole was the birthplace and childhood home of Vita Sackville-West, who went on to create the gardens at Sissinghurst. Knole was also the setting for Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando

Booking details for this National Trust event are: Saturday, 9 November, 5pm-7pm, tickets £15 (bookable on 0844 249 1895).

DVDs of our production are now available!

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Cleopatra DVDS are finally here and can be purchased at:

http://thetragedieofcleopatradvd.eventbrite.co.uk/

Watch the first performance of Daniel’s tragedy in at least four hundred years. DVDs of this rare and sold-out production are now available for research and teaching purposes and to anyone with an interest in Daniel and his Cleopatra.

Cleopatra at the UCL Festival of the Arts

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As a follow-up to our production, we will be putting on a Cleopatra presentation as part of UCL’S Festival of the Arts on Thursday 16th May, at 6:30 pm, at the Roberts Lecture Theatre. Professor Helen Hackett and I will be discussing the research on the portrait that led to the idea for this production and which sheds light on female participation in drama in Shakespeare’s time. Charlotte Gallagher and Beth Eyre, our incredible Cleopatra and Caesar, will re-enact some scenes from the play and we will discuss our experience of staging Daniel’s closet drama. We will also show some clips from the DVD of the performance. This will be the first public showing of the DVD, which we are excited to report looks fantastic! The event is open to the public and free of charge but pre-booking is required at the link below. The presentation is followed by a drinks reception. Do come and join us.

http://staging-daniels-cleopatra.eventbrite.co.uk/#

This is a perfect opportunity to enjoy an in-depth discussion of all things Cleopatra and to relive some moments from the performance. We look forward to seeing you there.

Emma Whipday, our director, is currently in the US doing research and will join us for Cleopatra-related events on her return.

Reviews and Feedback!

We are thrilled to let you know that of our Cleopatra production is being reviewed by Professor Marion Wynne-Davies (Surrey) in Shakespeare and in Theatre Notes, and by Dr Derek Dunne (Shakespeare’s Globe) in Cahiers Élisabéthains. Look out for upcoming issues of these journals! In the meantime, we wanted to share some of the wonderful comments we’ve received:

Dr Chris Laoutaris (Shakespeare Institute): This spirited and engaging production, put together by a super-talented cast and crew, and set to evocative lute music, wonderfully re-creates the ambiance of a Renaissance coterie play. Daniel’s Cleopatra is an important work to see performed, not least because it both influenced, and was in dialogue with, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The complexity and emotional intensity of Daniel’s Egyptian Queen, a demanding role which would have tested its original actress’ skills to the very limit, is a testament to the confidence vested in female performers during the early modern period. This runs counter to the often skewed interpretation of play-acting in Shakespeare’s England as a purely male domain, a view popularised by the fact that on the public stage female characters were played by boy actors. In reality women were potent presences in dramatic performances staged in Tudor and Jacobean great houses and court masques. English women also performed plays in convents on the continent. Probably the first revival of Daniel’s Cleopatra in over four centuries, this new and exciting production demonstrates, in vividly embodied form, that there was a space for the female actor in the English Renaissance.

 Philip Bird (Shakespeare’s Globe): In 2013 I think you, Emma and the cast gave us a beautifully clear, uncluttered performance of a significant text.

Prof Peter Swaab (UCL): Many congratulations on putting on such an extraordinary event. I was fascinated to see the play and thought some of its virtues were closer to French classical drama than the Shakespearean line. The flashback stagings worked very well, and some of the choruses too. But there was much to enjoy and admire from start to finish. Altogether quite a day.

Lilla Grindlay (PhD student, UCL English): I wanted to say how hugely I enjoyed the performance of Daniel’s ‘Cleopatra’. For me, the success of the production really did hinge on Charlotte Gallagher’s performance. I thought she was mesmerising, and delivered the performance with such understanding and intelligence (a real credit, there, to a UCL education). It was so exciting to see Daniel’s words come to life like that. I am writing part of a chapter on Cary’s ‘Mariam’ so to see the performability of a closet drama for myself was so exciting. I am sure you have been inundated with congratulations, and just wanted to add mine. I felt like I was present at an extremely significant academic event.

 

The Performance

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Now that the dust has settled, we’ve had the chance to look back on our final performance, which went smoothly and was a sell-out success! 

I’m delighted to post a description of the event by our Executive Producer, Professor Helen Hackett:

Some twelve years before Shakespeare wrote Antony and Cleopatra, Samuel Daniel composed The Tragedie of Cleopatra (1594). Daniel’s play concentrates on the final hours of Cleopatra’s life, after the death of Antony and her defeat by the Roman leader Octavius Caesar, as she decides to kill herself rather than be led in triumph through Rome as a humiliated captive. Like Shakespeare, Daniel draws contrasts between the voluptuousness of Cleopatra and the rigid militarism of Octavius, but Daniel’s Cleopatra is also characterised by lofty rhetoric, pathos, and maternal tenderness, offering an intriguingly different take on the Egyptian queen.

The idea of staging Daniel’s Cleopatra arose from the research of English PhD student Yasmin Arshad, who has discovered a portrait of a Jacobean lady in costume as Cleopatra which is inscribed with lines from Daniel’s play. Cleopatra forms part of a genre of English Renaissance plays – highly rhetorical, moralistic, and influenced by the Roman tragedian Seneca – that have been classified as ‘closet dramas’. Until recently it was thought that such plays were written to be read aloud by private circles of family and friends in aristocratic houses, but recent scholarship has suggested that they may have been fully staged, and the Cleopatra portrait potentially offers exciting confirmation of this. We were eager to explore the performability of the play, and were ably assisted in this by our gifted director Emma Whipday (also a PhD student in English) and a cast and production team of extraordinary talents. In particular, we were extremely fortunate to have as our Cleopatra Charlotte Gallagher, an alumna of UCL’s English BA and MA programmes who is now a professional actor, and who amazed and impressed us by learning the long and difficult role of Cleopatra while also understudying in The Judas Kiss in the West End.

After many long months of intensive rehearsals and workshops the final performance, on 3rd March 2013 in the Great Hall of Goodenough College, was a thrilling success. The wood-panelled space, grand yet intimate, perfectly evoked the great hall of a Jacobean country house, exactly the kind of space where the play would originally have been performed. Charlotte was, in the word of one spectator, ‘mesmerising’: by turns serenely regal, incandescent with rage, or poignant in her grief. All the performances were excellent, with especially compelling staging of the Choruses, a feature not present in Shakespeare which exemplifies Daniel’s incorporation of classical and continental influences. The Chorus members moved around each other in a carefully choreographed and almost ritualistic fashion while their speeches intertwined, drawing out from the action meditations on fate and destiny. Special mention must go to the musical director, Simon Smith, and the lutenist, Sam Brown, who  enhanced the performance with plangent Renaissance compositions, including some by Samuel Daniel’s own brother, John Daniel.

We are satisfied that we have proved the performability of Daniel’s play, and we are pleased to have introduced the audience of 250 to a genre of Renaissance drama quite different from the Shakespeare plays with which we are all so familiar: more classical, more European (Daniel’s play was a sequel to a translation of the Cleopatra story from French), and offering roles for women in private aristocratic settings (unlike Shakespearean playhouse drama, where of course all women were played by boys). We enjoyed sharing our project with Year 12 students of the UCL Academy at a drama workshop; and we are in talks with the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford, Shakespeare’s Globe, and Knole House in Kent about possible further performances. A DVD of the performance on 3rd March will be available shortly.

Dress Rehearsal

Our dress rehearsal on Sunday went surprisingly smoothly; we’ve had relatively few rehearsals in the space, the actors hadn’t so much as seen their costumes before, and a lot of the props were used for the first time, but somehow it all came together. There were a couple of line wobbles, and one missed entrance, but these were hardly noticeable! Our actors had a small audience, which was rather daunting, but it really helped to get the adrenalin going, and everyone gave great performances. It was amazing to finally see all the disparate elements – the lute music, the costumes, the hall itself – come together with all the actor’s hard work in the rehearsal room to create a Jacobean-style performance of Cleopatra. We’re now waiting with bated breath for the real thing tomorrow! We hope we do Samuel Daniel proud…

Here are some photos of our actors in the dress rehearsal, to give you a glimpse of how they will look in performance. There are a couple of characters missing, as our photographer didn’t quite manage to catch them, so we’ll make sure we snap them in costume tomorrow! We look forward to seeing you there.

Photos by Anna Wilton.

Our Supporters

As we come up to the weekend of our performance, we are thrilled and delighted and incredibly grateful for all the support we have received.

This event is presented by UCL’s Centre for Early Modern Exchanges and forms part of the ‘Gained in Translation’ season of the UCL Grand Challenge of Intercultural Interaction. It is also generously sponsored by:

  • The Malone Society
  • Oxford Journals: Music and Letters
  • Goodenough College
  • UCL English Department
  • UCL European Institute
  • UCL Faculty of Arts and Humanities, including FIGS (the Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies)
  • UCLU Drama Society

Without their help this amazing journey of staging Daniel’s Cleopatra would not be possible.

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