Productions of Shakespeare’s plays have been regularly used to comment on the political and public affairs of their performance moment – occasionally provoking heated responses. In 2017, for example, the Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar at Shakespeare in the Park prompted a media furore (led by Fox News), because the presentation of Caesar bore a striking resemblance to Donald Trump.
The Public Theatre, other news media, and Shakespeare scholars (such as Stephen Greenblatt) were quick to point out that Shakespeare’s play hardly condones the assassination of Caesar and that it explores, instead, the conspirators’ flawed and extreme reactions to a democracy under threat. But audience responses cannot be contained by a careful reading of the text, and, while a production may clearly announce its relevance to contemporary politics, it is difficult to pinpoint a specific application or to control public responses to it.
by Julia Pascal, Research Fellow, Department of English, King’s College London
It’s a century after some British women were allowed to vote, and a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett has been unveiled in Parliament Square, so why is women’s presence on the English stage still unequal to men’s?
In a recent survey, the Sphinx theatre found that just a fifth of English theatres were led by women, who between them control just 13% of the total Arts Council England (ACE) theatre budget.
The feminist campaigning organisation the Fawcett Society has called for quotas to get more women into key positions, after its Sex and Power Index revealed startling gender disparities in the public arena. The situation in theatre, where I have worked all my life, is a startling gauge of the marginalisation of women.
The Conference of Women Theatre Directors and Administrators began auditing the number of females on stage in the 1980s. That we are nowhere near equality, almost 40 years later, was only too evident at the Olivier awards this year, when the prizes for best director and best new play went to men. When women do not have equal representation in theatre, it is impossible for them to have an equal chance of winning prizes. The Equal Representation for Actresses campaign group is among those pushing for change, but the male ruling elite refuses to share power.
By Rachael Nicholas, PhD candidate (University of Roehampton), MOOC mentor, and alumna of the King’s MA in Shakespeare Studies
In case you’d missed it, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Whilst some of the celebrations have commemorated the man himself, the catalogue of performances and special events comprised a celebration of afterlives, focusing on the 400 year history of encountering Shakespeare and his works. Their sheer range is a testament to the part that adaptation across different media has played in the construction of what we understand as ‘Shakespeare’ today.
The proliferation of media technologies has not only given rise to new modes of adaptation, but also to new ways of distributing and accessing Shakespeare’s work. It is now possible to open out live performances to audiences around the world through live broadcasts to cinemas, and increasingly, for free online. The question of what it means to encounter performances of Shakespeare through the digital – for both production and reception – is central to my own research project on live relay audiences. But to encounter Shakespeare through ‘performance’ is of course not the only way to encounter Shakespeare.
By Dr Alvin Eng Hui Lim, department alumnus and postdoctoral fellow at the National University of Singapore.
I’m on a British Airways flight from Changi airport, Singapore to Heathrow, London. The cabin crew, a mix of ethnicities, leaves me alone after the initial smiles and courtesies with the inflight entertainment, only punctuating my viewing experience a couple of times to serve me microwaved food – mostly chicken, or vaguely tasting like it.
I’m at Heathrow. A Chinese custom officer chides me in impeccable English for not completing the landing card before I join the queue. I do as told, and my voice struggles to complete a sentence when another custom officer addresses me and stamps my passport.
“What are you here for? What are you studying?”
“PhD. Theatre. At King’s College London.”
Maybe it is my face and how I sound. An inner joke seems to flash across his face as it changes. I am free to go.
By Sylvia Solakidi, student on the MA in Theatre and Performance
On November 30th 2015, performance projects developed by the students of Performance Lab – an MA module run in the English Department during the autumn term – were presented in the Anatomy Museum, Strand Campus. The module was taught by Dr Harriet Curtis as a workshop comprising performance-based activities, student-led practice and seminar discussions on, among other topics, aspects of intimacy in the work of influential performance artists that have attracted vivid scholarship during the last decade.
By Ioli Andreadi, theatre director and Visiting Research Fellow
A group of Italian journalists enter the rehearsal room, interrupting the rehearsal in order to have a look at the space. The three actors – Miltiadis Fiorentzis, Eleana Kafkala and Maria Proistaki – the set designer, Dimitra Liakoura, and I stop because the reading of the play requires quiet and solitude. One of the journalists asks us what play we are working on and we reply. He says: “Ah! The Cenci family is Italian and I happen to know the family’s last descendant. Franco Cenci is my friend. He is an artist whose work is inspired by his family.” I ask him whether he could introduce me to him. I write down my e-mail address on a piece of paper, using big letters, to make sure there’s no misunderstanding. He promises to introduce us. The group leaves. The rehearsal continues.
By Alan Read, Professor of Theatre, Director Performance Foundation
22 Kingsway: This is Your Life tells the remarkable story of the site for which the English and Comparative Literature Department is the current sitting tenant. Conceived by the theatre makers Forster & Heighes in collaboration with the Performance Foundation and 20th Century Magazine, and generously supported by the KCL Principal’s Fund, our intention was to trace the hidden history of a building that to the outside eye would appear to have little to say. As we discovered, nothing could be further from the truth. Some buildings are silent, some speak, this one, despite its mute modernism, sings. Continue reading 22 Kingsway: This is Your Life→
From the Department of English at King's College London