ARTISTIC DIRECTOR PETER EVANS GIVES US A SNEAK PEAK INTO HIS PLANS FOR BELL SHAKESPEARE’S 2016 SEASON.
This will be your first season as Bell Shakespeare’s sole Artistic Director. What can audiences expect?
I’m inviting the audience to come on a journey with me into the various corners you can explore with Shakespeare and the classics.
For the 2016 season I wanted to present an early Shakespeare play, Romeo And Juliet, and a late play, Othello. This means that, at the start and end of the year, people will see two unmistakably Shakespearean plays that are also very different from each other. And then The Literati is the chewy, sugary centre of the season. I’m really excited about that – it’s a contemporary Australian translation of Moliere’s comedy Les Femmes Savantes.
How are you approaching Romeo And Juliet?
With me taking over, lots of people are expecting our productions to be even more fiercely contemporary and modern. So I think some will be surprised that Romeo & Juliet is going to be rich and romantic and period inspired. We’re going to make some beautiful period Italian-style frocks and have some fun. It will be like going down the rabbit hole into an imaginary 16th century production. That’s what I really want people to experience.
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a museum piece. Far from it. The production will still be contemporary, but when you see Romeo And Juliet in 16th century inspired costume, then you can fully go into the romance of the story. It will help us highlight aspects of the script such as the poetry and the sense of night and day. In Shakespeare’s time, there was no electric light so it was pitch black after nightfall. Romeo climbing over walls and breaking into someone’s house is incredibly dangerous. And new mornings are really important too in this play. Shakespeare describes the night and day so brilliantly and evocatively.
And with Othello, what can you share with us about that?
That came about because, quite simply, I had an actor who was absolutely ready – right now – for the role of Othello. Ray Chong Nee was in our Players group touring schools in 2013. Then he was wonderful in our mainstage production of The Dream last year. I’m really excited to announce that he will be our Othello in 2016.
Othello will be absolutely contemporary and absolutely Australian. This year has been really interesting because we’ve seen the latent racism that can sit behind the Australian culture and then rear its ugly head. The play has got nothing to do with race and yet at the same time it has everything to do with race. I think it’s really interesting the way it filters through.
The play is also interesting because it focuses on men and this military mentality. The characters are about to go war but it never happens. They’re all in this sort of waiting game. In a way, the play is about a heroic solider who is particularly confident and at ease on a war footing but when in leisure, and particularly in love, he’s more out of his depth. I’m interested in that part of the play.
People might not know The Literati so well. What can you tell us about it?
One of the things I love about Moliere is the way that he tears into pretension. In this case he really lampoons people with literary pretensions. There’s a love story right in the middle of it, where two people just love each other and want to be together. The young woman, who is the real hero of it, is so streetwise and down to earth. But she’s up against her literary, social climbing mother and sister, who want her to marry someone else.
Where did the idea to stage The Literati come from?
It came slightly from left field. Lee Lewis [Artistic Director at the Griffin Theatre] contacted us about a partnership and we were so excited about it. The idea was to work with Justin Fleming’s new Australian translation of Moliere’s Les Femmes Savantes, and stage the play at the SBW Stables Theatre.
I loved the idea for practical reasons because it’s such a small cast and it has such strong female characters in it. Just like Moliere’s Tartuffe [Bell Shakespeare 2014] when we had so much fun with the maid, the stepmum and the daughter. In a way this play pushes that even further.
I think that Lee will have a ball directing this because she’s doing really extreme doubling of roles; the farcical aspects of the production will be heightened I think. And then on top of that to see this kind of play in the SBW Stables Theatre – I can’t wait to hear all of Justin’s words tumbling around that intimate venue.
What else will be keeping you busy in 2016?
We’ll be touring a schools production again. James Evans [Bell Shakespeare Associate Artist & Resident Artist in Education] is going to reimagine and redirect The Dream starring our Players in Sydney, Melbourne and – for the first time – Perth. The Dream is a wonderful introduction for younger students because it’s such a beautiful play and a bit of a wild ride. And our Actors At Work will do Romeo & Juliet plus we’re working on a new primary schools show that is really exciting. I can’t wait to see it all take shape.
For more details about Bell Shakespeare’s 2016 Season, and to book tickets, visit https://www.bellshakespeare.com.au
Interview by Andy McLean, freelance journalist and writer @1andymclean