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.

 

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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.

Costume Workshop

Here are some photos from our costume and movement workshop with Eve Goodman, a specialist in Jacobean costume. Our actors learnt to bow, curtsey, walk, remove their hats, and sit down without poking themselves with their swords! The workshop was also the first time everyone saw our performance venue, the great hall at Goodenough College. The experiences they’ve had in the workshop will be a huge help when they get into their costumes for the first time just before the dress rehearsal…

Photographs by Yi Ling Huang

Acts 1, 2 and 3 Runthrough

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Last Thursday, we had a runthrough of the first three acts of the play. It was the first time many of the cast members had seen each other since the readthrough, and it gave us a chance to really see how the play is developing. It was also the first time any of the actors put down their scripts in rehearsal – a daunting exercise for many, but an important one!

One of the biggest challenges of staging this play is simply the sheer volume of lines each actor has to learn. Even comparatively minor characters have long monologues of dense, complex verse. This has the advantage of allowing most of the actors the chance to get to grips with a style of dramatic address that is usually only available to those playing lead roles; but it makes this stage in the rehearsal process considerably trickier, as the usual shakiness that comes with losing the script for the first time is compounded by the sheer complexity of the language, imagery and versification. This is still more daunting for those with larger roles, and consequently still more verse to learn!

However, our actors rose to the challenge, and the majority managed most (if not all) of the runthrough without looking at their scripts. Everyone claimed to be concentrating so hard that they forgot to act, but from where I was sitting, it all looked fantastic – it was wonderful to feel the tension build and the relationships progress as the scenes were strung together. And you don’t have to take my word for it – Arthur, our stage manager, and Sam, our lutenist, were in the audience, both seeing the actors in performance for the first time, and both were surprised and delighted by the way the text came to life, and by how quickly the actors had immersed themselves in it.

It’s been a strange but wonderful play to rehearse – every now and then in rehearsals, it would strike me that this was probably the first time each scene has been acted in 400 years! Discussing characterisation and motivation, who knows what when, where each scene takes place and in which direction characters should exit when travelling from Egypt to Rome, we felt a curious freedom – even as we try to bring the text to life as faithfully as possible, we cannot help but be aware of the complete lack of precedent. There are no ghosts of past performances haunting us, no artistic choices that we must copy or ignore – the only performance we are using as our model is the very first. It’s an exhilarating feeling, and it made the rehearsal room an exciting place.

We’re all relieved to have a break over Christmas – next term, we’ll get started on Act IV, and we hope to stage our first full runthrough by early February! And then the countdown to the performance begins…

I hope you enjoyed the first rehearsal photos – Rathika, my lovely assistant director, took plenty more at our recent runthrough, so look out for those over the next couple of weeks!

The Tragedie of Cleopatra Rehearsal Photos – Act 2 Scene 2

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Hello, everyone! My name is Melanie Albright and I’m the marketing manager for The Tragedie of Cleopatra. I’ll be posting photos from rehearsals and any updates along the way. Here are some images taken by Elena Ghirardello, who plays Diomedes. The photos were taken during a rehearsal for Act 2 Scene 2, in which Proculeius (Mike Waters) relates to Octavius (Beth Eyre) his last visit to Cleopatra (Charlotte Gallagher), who appears in flashback throughout the dialogue.

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