The King’s Shakespeare Company are heading to the Camden Fringe with a condensed, fast-paced production of one of Shakespeare’s best comedies: The Comedy Of Errors. They’re passionate about bringing a love of the bard to modern audiences and their production plays the Camden Fringe at The Cockpit 17th – 18th August, so I caught up with one of the directors, Molly Gearen (working with Kate Lee), to talk all things Shakespeare, new show and theatre…
Tell us a little about King’s Shakespeare Company – who are you and how did it all begin?
We’re the Shakespearean performance society at King’s College London! We do four main stage productions each year—‘The Comedy of Errors’ was our 2017 autumnal show, and the most successful we’ve had to date. We’ve been around about ten years, but this is our first Camden Fringe! We’re very excited to take part.
What would you say the goal or vision of King’s Shakespeare Company is when it comes to the work you produce?
We aim to produce accessible Shakespeare productions. That’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, but to us ‘accessible’ means performances under two hours (including interval) which are both visually and aurally stimulating to people of all ages and experiences with Shakespeare. ‘The Comedy of Errors’ is full of bright colours, exciting costumes, and runs under an hour with no interval.
What drew you towards creating a Shakespeare-focused company producing solely Shakespearean shows as opposed to a variety?
While we welcome play-pitches sourced from all Jacobean and Elizabethan playwrights, prospective directors have gravitated towards Shakespeare’s cannon in recent years. The Strand and Guys Campuses’ proximity to the Globe Theatre is perhaps one influence, but the continued relevance of Shakespeare to the modern vernacular makes him especially exciting to perform and watch, I think.
Your new production is a condensed version of The Comedy of Errors – how have you managed to condense such a hefty text into sixty minutes?
‘The Comedy of Errors’ is already the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays—coming in at less than half the length of ‘Hamlet’, but a lot of the condensing process focused on which jokes have survived the centuries which separate us from dear old Will. Some stuff that was funny then isn’t funny now because we’re missing the social context. This isn’t always the case—for instance, in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘ass’ didn’t mean for the Elizabethans what it means for us, and so jokes about Bottom and his ass’ head have gained a layer of humour. The Iambic Pentameter has in almost all cases been preserved, so loyal Shakespeare fans shouldn’t notice much deviation from his favourite metrical structure.
What drew you to this particular comedy of Shakespeare’s and why comedy over tragedy or history play?
It is the favourite Shakespeare of my co-director, Kate Lee. I took some convincing about ‘Comedy’ when we sat down to pick a play. My favourite is ‘Pericles’, and I think Shakespeare is at his finest in the tragedies. ‘Comedy’ is, however, the loveliest, funniest play I have ever had the pleasure to be part of—I invite all those sceptical of its merit to come along and see for themselves what a wonderful, summery romp this play can be.
Your production tackles a complex story of mistaken identity and farce with only a small cast – how have you approached the challenge of portraying such a winding narrative with restricted cast numbers?
The original play is riddled with subplots, but our production streamlines the story. The audience follows the main plot about the twins mixups, and skips the pompous doctor and wilting maidservant. Our small cast focuses the fun and laughter on a truly great storyline.
Your show promises ‘laughs for all ages’ – how do you handle the bawdier moments in Shakespeare’s comedies to ensure that they are child-friendly? Is it a panto-type approach, with the naughty bits designed to go over the heads of the young or have they been cut in your adaptation?
Yes it is the panto-approach! If any of the children who come to see our show were to see it again in their teens, they would probably be as surprised as I was rewatching children’s movies in recent years. The bawdy humour is there, but through implication rather than act.
As a modern director of Shakespearean text, even in condensed adaptation, what’s your approach to bringing the work of the bard to the modern masses? Do you go with a traditional style or do you consciously work to modernise?
The costumes are overall a nod to the era without going into decadent fabrics and underwire skirts. Striking a balance between modern inflection and following what is indicated by the folio is the job of any Shakespearean production nowadays. Our actors have worked to find the balance of speaking naturally but not lazily, and in my (perhaps very slightly biased) opinion, they’ve found it very gracefully.
What does the Camden Fringe mean to you as creators of fringe theatre?
The Camden Fringe offers us an opportunity to showcase a new version of a great show in a professional environment at significantly less expense than going to Scotland entails! We’re proud to be performing alongside so many other wonderful shows.
If an audience takes just one thing away from seeing your production of The Comedy of Errors, what would you like that to be?
We want people to walk out of the production hungry for more Shakespeare! The feedback we got from our audiences in the autumn was that they could happily have sat through more of the show, and we’ve added back in the character of the courtesan and a few lines here and there in response to that. Now for the Quick Fire Round!
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
My mother is an actress, director, and producer back home in the States. The theatre world was always one to which I had exposure, and I’ve grown up loving it.
Favourite theatre genre and why?
Shakespeare! Of course! His brilliant use of language and the many guides he puts into his text for the actor (repeated plosives or fricatives or full-stops in specific places or lines which fall out of metre) make him so exciting to work with. I find him to be the most intellectually stimulating playwright.
If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in the theatre industry right now, what would it be? What does theatre need?
We’re lucky to be students doing theatre as an extracurricular through the university, where societies have funding and free spaces to rehearse and work. The integrity of art gets challenged when artists have to focus on what sells rather than what moves them, and that is so often the case.
Finally, to close, sell your show to readers in just one sentence.
‘The Comedy of Errors’ is Shakespeare’s answer to the feel-good summer vibes of Mama Mia 2–you’ll be flying off to Ephesus after you see it!
So there you have it! Remember: King’s Shakespeare Company’s production of The Comedy Of Errors plays The Cockpit 17th – 18th August 2018 and you can find tickets here.