Something I realised last year is that I respond pretty well to self-imposed challenges. If I set myself a challenge, I’m likely to make sure I complete it. At the start of 2021, we are all facing a lot of challenges, not least in the arts, but I wanted to provide myself with one that focussed on the process more than the end result - similar to my ‘blog a day’ challenge before Christmas.
One of my favourite things to listen to recently has been Cheek by Jowl’s ‘Not True but Useful’ podcast. In the second series of this podcast, they have been looking back at previous Cheek by Jowl productions – most of which are written my Shakespeare or his contemporaries. So, I thought a good challenge might be to read a Shakespeare play every week, until I’ve made my way through the canon. And it seems 38 is the magic number because, just as it was the number of consecutive days of blogging I undertook before Christmas, it is also the number of plays Shakespeare wrote (as far as we know anyway).
I have, of course, read many Shakespeare plays before – I’ve directed two and performed in many more – but there are many I haven’t read, and I haven’t read any of them for a long time. Something I definitely have not done is read them through the lens of my current theatrical approach and I have never looked at them in the order in which they were written. This is an added element to my challenge. I am going to read the plays in the order we believe them to have been written. Now, of course, we cannot know the order for certain, but we have a rough idea. I think it’s going to be fascinating to see the progression of Shakespeare’s style and voice over his career. I hope it will give me a much richer and deeper understanding of his writing, his style and his interests.
It is also worth noting that I don’t view this as an especially literary exercise. My view of these plays will remain theatrical. I want to look at these plays as a twenty-first century director. Look at the challenges they pose and the opportunities they bring. Be honest about what works and doesn’t work to a modern audience. And get a better sense of which plays (if any!) I would like to get stuck into and do my own version of.
It will be an interesting journey and I will be kicking it off with The Taming of the Shrew this week. A play that, by sheer fluke, I happen to have worked on three times! But the last time I looked at it would have been 2012, so it will be interesting to see what I make of it now!