Mask Theatre’s offerings were deliciously dark during 2017, but this year – Mask’s 70th – things took a lighter turn with their production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Next up is something equally daft: The Comedy of Errors – and the setting for this classic tale of mistaken identity may well surprise you...
Was Comedy of Errors your choice?
It was. Mask ask people if they’d like to have a go at directing something, so I put my name forward and picked that play. Last year, Mask did a lot of plays with quite dark themes, and we thought this year we’d go for something a bit lighter! That’s one of the reasons we did The Importance of Being Earnest, and The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s first comedy – a very early play – and is completely ridiculous and over-the top, so that seemed an ideal choice. I’m very new – I’ve only been with the company for about two years – so this is my first big show I’ve done with them. But it’s all decided by committee, so we all throw in suggestions and if we like them, we do them. Sometimes there’s a pattern to them, so last year’s was very dark and this year in a much lighter vein.
What is your approach to the play?
The basic setting is that it’s set on a Mediterranean island, and what happens in the play all happens in the course of a day. It’s also quite mad and farcical – so the world I’m going to use is Ibiza! A party island! So everybody is running around being a bit mad, and it’s all going to be very bright with lots of modern music. Right now I’m getting together a load of rave music and 90s dance hits…
Do you think that will raise a few eyebrows..?
I’m sure it will, but in my experience Shakespeare can take it. I’ve seen The Comedy of Errors done so many different ways, from traditional – or what is regarded as traditional, ie Elizabethan – right through to modern-day. There is a very famous painting of a production of Titus Andronicus and all the actors are in togas but underneath are wearing doublets and hose. They were the jeans and t-shirts of their day! So, there’s no such thing as ‘traditional’ Shakespeare, really – he used whatever clothes they could beg, steal or borrow. But the plays are so well-written that you can put them in any place and any time and they still work. For us, that means bright colours, Bermuda shorts and sunglasses!
Is this your first stab at directing?
No – before coming to Peterborough I’d been involved with lots of companies and had done quite a bit of Shakespeare. I’ve directed Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, but also have been involved with a company that did outdoor productions and have done lighting and various other things.
What are the key challenges with a Shakespeare production?
The key thing for me, when working with the actors, is for them to tell a story. I always tell them not to get too bogged down in technique and ideas about ‘how to speak Shakespeare’. In my experience, of you speak it passionately and naturally, then the meaning will come out and the audience will understand it. They may not pick up every single line, but if they get the story and can relate to the characters, then it’s job done. The Comedy of Errors is also extremely fast, with lots of rhyming couplets, but it’s really like learning a song. You have to understand what you’re saying, of course, but also get to the point where you’re not afraid of it and can just go for it.
And will there be glow sticks…?
It’s a possibility – you never know!
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS ● 28 June – Crowland Abbey ● 29 June – The Waterton Arms, Deeping ● 30 June – Moonhenge ● 3-7 July – Central Park, Peterborough ● For more information about forthcoming shows, auditions and how to join the company, visit: www.masktheatre.co.uk