Last summer we had the privilege of getting involved in an exciting community gardens initiative – Shakespeare in the Squares. A not-for-profit touring theatre company, the group staged a 1918 rendition of Much Ado About Nothing in nine different garden squares around west London – each production tailored to its individual square. The team is back with an even bigger programme. Spoiler-alert – this summer, Romeo and Juliet will sweep the grassy stages of west London (masquerading as 1950s Italy) to bring us the world’s most iconic love story in a fresh and powerful way. And we are thrilled to be sponsoring them again.
After the first performance last year, a few of those involved shared their thoughts on the venture …
Sue Fletcher, Producer – on working with co-producer, Martin Neild, Producer:
It’s the first time we’ve worked together as producers but we worked together for more than 20 years before in book publishing which is our background. Although it’s in many ways different, particularly in timing, many of the concerns are the same because it’s combining creative and commercial. So from authors who are wonderful and precious, to actors who are wonderful and precious, and us trying to put in place a business structure that accommodates their creativity. We’re used to doing that.
Sue – why Much Ado About Nothing?
Well it was cooked up between Joe Hufton, the Director, and us. We wanted it to be a comedy, but we didn’t want it to be the obviously Midsummers Night’s dream. I really love the way it translated so easily into the WW1 setting and we thought that was very appealing – particularly in 2016, and us starting this the year of Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary.
Martin Neil’s feelings about the inaugural performance in Leinster Square
Well it’s a square I know very well – it’s my home square – and I know that garden very well. I could see exactly where it would be staged but there is a sort of magical transitional moment when suddenly seats are there and it became a theatre. The audience arrived and brought their picnics. We had always wanted it very much to be a sort of celebration of community and that’s exactly what it was. It was lovely working with Domus Nova and having their pop up bar, as well as Durbar Restaurant, which is one of the oldest Indian restaurants in London. People really enjoyed feeling like they were part of a community project I think as well as watching, we think, some really good theatre.
Joe – on the gifts of working in a square
They’re very beautiful for a start - and they’re all really well-looked after, sometimes a bit too well looked after! There were a few panics about the grass and things like that, but actually they are really pleasant working environments, and you meet a lot of really interesting people. On top of that, because they are private, they are also quite controllable. If you do a piece of work in a public park, it’s a lot harder because they are a public space and susceptible to any and all manner of interruptions, whereas the ones we are working are private spaces and there is a different relationship with it as a result.
And how much have the surroundings informed your directorial decisions?
Big time. When I was first approached by the producers, I had quite a strong feeling that this show should feel like it BELONGED in these squares and what we weren’t doing was taking something set in a housing estate into a private garden square. So I pitched my idea that all of the action happens – and actually – the choice of play was integral to this – that it happens in quite a close environment over quite a short period of time in quite a domestic environment. Also looking at the squares – a lot of them are surrounded by late Victorian / Edwardian property – and this idea of it being set kind of at the end of WW1 in Edwardian London was influenced by this.
Fiona Fleming-Brown, Garden Committee – on the response of the community
I’m on the garden committee and when we saw an advertisement for SIS we thought it was a wonderful idea to do something with Shakespeare. I think the community has been very interested – a lot of people have got happy memory of open-air Shakespeare in Regents Park – some people have got memories of Glastonbury – what it’s like when it rains. But it sold out so we know that there’s a lot of interest and support.
We’re very excited to see how this year’s production team embrace the intricacies of staging Romeo and Juliet in over 13 squares. We on the other hand are busy preparing to host all the revellers again at the 2017 installation of the Domus Bar.
For venues and dates please see: shakespeareinthesquares.co.uk