In 1992 we find ourselves working together and wanting to make work which is not necessarily within the remit of the companies with whom we work.
We talk of our plans to form a kamikaze-style, reactive theatre company, client led, fully professional but a bit maverick and
free to respond to request, initiate own work, think outside the box, share ideas…..
This is a page of articles, references and photographs celebrating Shakespeare Link's activities over the last 25 years. We'll be adding more as they come in.
For many years Shakespeare Link made annual visits to Harrow Way Community School in Andover. This is teacher John Baxter's story of our time together:
In 1994 the TSB in Andover, Hampshire, in conjunction with Hampshire County Council sponsored a drama project that brought practitioners from the English Shakespeare Company into schools throughout the town. The Harrow Way Community School was the only school in the secondary sector to take advantage of the project and so Rob Soulsby-Smith and a partner spent three days in the school working with students from years 9,10 & 11 on 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'Macbeth'.
Head of Performing Arts, John Baxter, was so impressed that he began discussions about how to continue the work and it was at this point that Rob recommended Shakespeare Link. A meeting was arranged and after some discussions a format was agreed, a format that was to remain unchanged even to the present day. GCSE drama students would come into school every day during the autumn half term week to rehearse a Shakespeare play. In the following week workshops would be held with year 9 classes, examining the Shakespeare play that was being studied for the English Key Stage 3 SATs, and then rehearsals for the show would continue at the end of the school day. Finally the show would be performed to the whole of year 9 on the Friday afternoon, a second performance would be held in the evening for the parents of the students in the show to come along to and in the weeks that followed further performances would be held to primary schools who came to Harrow Way for the show or, as during three projects, the show was taken out on a tour of primary schools in the area.
The first production was the 'Dream'. Directed by Phil Bowen, Rob Soulsby-Smith along with John Baxter. This was followed in 1995 with a double header of 'Macbeth' and 'Romeo & Juliet'. In 1996, as Phil was about to turn fifty, they produced a show which was made up of a selection a scenes from Shakespeare entitled 'All the World's a Stage'. The full list of productions follows at the end of this piece.
By now the Autumn visit of Phil and Rob was becoming a much loved feature of the school year. The choice of which to play to perform was usually made sometime in the previous spring to allow John Baxter time to do some initial exploration with the GCSE group on the play and to decide on the casting.
There have been some wonderful performances over the years and some standout moments; the apparition scene from 'Macbeth' in 1995, the rock'n'roll 'Twelfth Night' in 1998, 'Shakespeare's Millennium' in which a group school students travelled back in time to meet Shakespeare himself, an epic Battle of Agincourt during 'Henry V' in 2003, a really imaginative treatment of the opening storm in 'The Tempest' in 2005 and many, many others.
During the run of productions four Shakespeare Link practitioners have been regular contributors. Phil Bowen did every year from 1994 to 2011 except 2002 & 2003. Rob Soulsby-Smith was co-director for twelve productions, Sue Best did three as did Tim Carroll, who took a day off from directing our 'Twelfth Night' to attend an interview which eventually led to him being appointed as director at The Globe Theatre.
From 2008 Phil was joined by Euan Manson who had been involved in the productions of 'The Dream' and 'Macbeth' as a student in 1994 and 1995. Euan was to go on to take over as head of drama at Harrow Way when John Baxter retired in 2012.
With John's retirement from full time teaching Phil decided that he too would draw a line under his involvement in the project. However, this didn't mean the end of Shakespeare shows at Harrow Way as Euan Manson has continued to run the project alongside actors that he has known and worked with during his career as a working actor. The next one has been scheduled for October 2017.
Since those first few years the numbers that have been involved in the project either as actors in the show, participants in the year 9 workshops or simply as audience are quite staggering. It is estimated that approximately 600 students have appeared in the performances which will have been seen by around 4,000 people and 4,000 primary school pupils with about 3,600 year 9 students benefitting from the Shakespeare workshops.
The development of the work continued with students from Harrow Way visiting Shakespeare Link HQ at Penlanole to perform in the Willow Globe on Apple Day. They also brought a group of gifted and talented students for a three day study session and who can forget 'the night of the great storm' which saw the tents that the students had been sleeping in flattened in the wind and rain and resulted in everyone taking refuge in the barn and the library.
Shakespeare Link played a huge role in the life of Harrow Way School providing memories that the students involved will keep with them for the rest of their lives.
List of productions during John Baxter's time as head of department
1994 - A Mid Summer Night's Dream
1995 - Macbeth & Romeo and Juliet
1996 - All the World's a Stage (a medley of scenes from Shakespeare)
1997 - Pericles
1998 - Twelfth Night
1999 - Shakespeare's Millennium (a medley of scenes)
2000 - Julius Caesar
2001 - A Comedy of Errors
2002 - As You Like It
2003 - Henry V
2004 - Macbeth & Romeo and Juliet
2005 - A Midsummer Night's Dream
2006 - The Tempest
2007 - The Seven Ages of Man (a medley of scenes)
2008 - Pericles
2009 - A Mid Summer Night's Dream
2010 - Romeo and Juliet
2011 - Macbeth
John Baxter 2016
More available on the school website at https://www.harrowway.hants.sch.uk/?s=shakespeare
In July 2017 we met up with old friends, Ellis Jones and Robin Miskimmin. We had all worked together at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre in 1971. Just after the beginning of the Shakespeare Link story, in May 1993, by which time Robin was working as a nurse in the world of Mental Health, we visited his hospital, The Reaside Clinic, south of Birmingham. This is his recollection of our time there:
'The patients in Reaside are in, however many kinder terms are used, a Prison. Many of them would have been inside for months with nearly all the decisions about their lives being made by other agencies. Life centred around their mental health. I felt that a live performance of a piece within the clinic would introduce a stimulus and interest for the patients and as members of an audience watching a play would provide a unique period of normality.
Following discussions with Phil and Sue when these vague ideas thanks to them took a more definite shape we tried to find a play. The most common issues that affected the patients were loss of freedom and the control and restraints the staff had over their lives. Phil and Sue almost immediatley came up with Shakespeare of course and "The Tempest " and Prospero's role as an agent of control the central theme. A date was set, the play cast and rehearsed and the company of six actors arrived at the clinic one Sunday morning.
IMMEDIATLY the magic started to happen. A group of strolling players arrive, turn the Gym into a performance space with a set and lights, the audience (no longer mere patients ) senses that anticipation unique to a pre performance that charges the atmosphere. This is no ordinary drab empty Sunday, "we will hear that play". The audience was enthralled, their attention and concentration palpable.
Weeks after the play a group of patients facilitated by Phil used language to express fears and apprehensions about their mental health and loss of freedom due to offending. What became clear was that to the audience the strongest aspect of the performance of the Tempest had been Caliban's search for and gaining of freedom. This became the spring board for a group creative excercise exploring all the above.
No other process (the performance, the issues it dealt with, the role /relationship of audience to content, the stimulus of the imagination, the right therefore to self expression ) could have led to the group verbalising collectivley the shared experience of becoming mentally ill, offending as a result and being able to express all the attendent terrors that are involved.
This gave the group an opportunity to realise they were not alone and that they had moved on. And would continue to move on and like Caliban gain their freedom. Nothing has ever made me realise more clearly the sheer power that contact with creativity can have on connecting with developing the creative inner lives of others. On a Sunday afternoon, in a gym in a secure mental health facility, did I glimpse an oddly dressed figure in the shadows smiling, his broken staff still as potent as ever?'
One of the most influential people in Phil and Sue's lives died on Easter Sunday this year, 2017. Sue was at Stratford with Michael Bogdanov in the sixties and Phil was in the Newcastle Tyneside company with him in '71. This link will lead you to a tribute by Andrew Jarvis which says it all:
In June 2009 we ran a Sonnet Weekend celebrating the 400th Anniversary of the publishing of Shakespeare's Sonnets. Amongst other visitors, we hosted cousin Roger 'Bo' Bowen, a Missionary, whose Sermon at Morning Prayer, from the King James naturally, was very much appreciated. The link below the photograph will take you to a transcription of the notes. Bo's funeral was held in March this year. He was a truly wonderful man.
This is a piece that Andreea Iacob wrote for STUDIA UBB DRAMATICA, LXI, 2, 2016, p.251 - 253. Andreea invited us to be part of the Intalnirile Internationale - The International Meetings - in Cluj which took place in October 2014, the theme that year being the 'Paths of Freedom'. During our stay we saw her production of Twelfth Night performed by the inmates in the Cluj Women's Penitentiary. When we held our Sharing Shakespeare International Festival in July 2016 we were thrilled that she was able to join us. This is her impression of that event.
We are always banging on about imagination and creativity - this is one of my favourite photographs. We took it in a workshop in Manilla in 1994. It shows Bottom 'translated'. Funds didn't allow for a head so we had to improvise and there just happened to be a bag handy. I love the actor's expression of pure joy! Can't remember if Titania was similarly enthused but I hope so.
In 2006 we thought that we should have a theatre. But where?
We came across a reference to the Australian poet C. J. Dennis in Jan Morris' Pax Brittanica. She writes of Australia 'This was a working class culture - the vigour of a British proletariat offered the freedom of an empty continent. There was scarcely a soul in Australia who would not learn the story of Romeo and Juliet as told by C.J.Dennis' larrikin in The Sentimental Bloke - the perfect comeuppance to those supposed slights of cultural superiority which colonials often fancied and resented in Englishmen.' I have put a link below: