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Felix Mortimer: Shakespeare In Shoreditch

By | Published on Thursday 25 September 2014


Shakespeare In Shoreditch is a twelve day, site-specific theatre festival celebrating both former resident Shakespeare and the cultural hotbed that is Shoreditch itself with ten pieces of new writing and a host of complementary events.

It’s been produced by theatre group RIFT and is supported by New Diorama Theatre’s Emerging Artists Fund. I sent some questions over to RIFT’s Felix Mortimer, to find out more about the event.

CM: How did you come up with the idea of a Shakespeare festival in Shoreditch, and how has it come togther? Why Shoreditch?
FM: In 2012 we produced a six month version of ‘The Tempest’ in a shop donated to us by Hackney Council – on Hoxton Street. Every month we would rip the shop apart and build a new installation (everything from a soviet dive bar to a supercomputer and a ferry port).

We became a bit of an oddity in the community; people living in the area would pop in and ask us what we were going to be next. A group of students from the local primary school used to come in every day to see what was going on, and one day they mentioned that they lived in Caliban Tower. We did a double take and realised that the estate surrounding our shop was full of buildings named after Shakespeare characters. After a bit more digging, we discovered that Shakespeare lived and worked in the area and premiered ‘Romeo And Juliet’ on the same road where we, 400 years later, were performing his last play.

The festival aims to channel the creativity of modern Shoreditch to produce new plays, stories and culture. We want to celebrate Shakespeare’s connection to the area alongside the fantastic creativity of modern Shoreditch.

CM: Which theatre companies are taking part and how did they all get involved?
FM: BacksBroke, Simmer Dim, Youaremine, Boneyard Theatre, Northern Wall, Fat Git, Outbreak Theatre, Wicked Bodies, Whistlestop and Sureshot are the companies who are producing the 10 plays of the festival.

They are companies whose work we have admired, who have been involved in previous RIFT productions, or who have proposed incredible ideas to bring our commissioned plays to life.

CM: Apparently locals and local businesses will be involved too – in what way?
FM: All of the plays are performed in unusual or interesting spaces across Shoreditch. From ‘Heir To The Throne’ – a take on ‘King Lear’ in an East-End Barbers – to the a reinterpretation of the Macbeths in a high-end loft apartment. We wanted the plays to be visible and for businesses and members of many local communities to be able to have an opportunity to see and experience the plays for themselves.

CM: You are staging a number of plays for this. Are you using Shakespeare’s texts, at all, or is Shakespeare merely the theme, the inspiration?
FM: All of the plays have been written with a character from Shakespeare in mind – from Tamora from ‘Titus Andronicus’ to Miranda from ‘The Tempest’. The writers were challenged to re-interpret these characters for a contemporary Shoreditch.

We want people to ask: who is our Shakespeare now? How do we recognise creativity and how do we create? The only words of Shakespeare that will be spoken will be at our two witches events. The witches from our sold-out Summer production of Macbeth will reappear at Rich Mix on 3 Oct and The British Museum on 10 Oct.

CM: There will also be some movie screenings, won’t there? How did you choose the films?
FM: To fit with the theme of reinterpreting Shakespeare, we are also showing four films on the banks of the Regent’s Canal which radically reinterpret his plays: ‘The Lion King’, Orson Welles’ ‘Othello’, ‘My Own Private Idaho’ and ‘Throne of Blood’.

These films each take Shakespeare’s basic material and play and experiment with it. Setting, atmosphere and characters all change but the fundamental drama of Shakespeare’s plots remain.

CM: Can you tell us about what Annie Jenkins (pictured above) will be doing during the festival? It sounds like quite a challenge.
FM: Annie (our Writer-in-Residence-in-a-shed) will be locked in a garden shed which has been done up half Roald Dahl and half hogwarts and has appeared magically in the middle of our festival hub at the Rose Lipman Building for the duration of the festival.

She will be writing 1000 plays inspired by the stories and anecdotes of those she meets during the festival. She is hoping people will donate plays they have written to her to contribute towards her task!

CM: Is there any one element of the festival you’re especially looking forward to?
FM: I am especially looking forward to reading the plays members of the public and audience members contribute to Annie’s cause – but am of course also so excited to see the final plays and films and hear some of the world’s leading Shakespeare experts speak about Shakespeare’s legacy.

CM: Is this a one-off, or would you like to do this again?
FM: The idea of the festival is that it straddles the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth (23 Apr 2014) and the 400th anniversary of his death (23 Apr 2016). We will be doing something in April and October celebrating this until 2016! So stay tuned!

Shakespeare In Shoreditch takes place from 1-12 Oct, in a number of locations around Shoreditch. See this page here for info and this page here for even more info and tickets.

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