Grassroots Shakespeare London, which is currently presenting Love’s Labour’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington, calls itself an “original practice” company.
That doesn’t mean they have all their costumes made matching late sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century fabrics and methods nor have all roles played by men and boys as in the Globe’s “original practices” productions. They do however sometimes ignore gender in their casting and more importantly follow what they consider Elizabethan practice in that the play has no director, a short rehearsal period and the actors bring their own props and costumes.
Having seen some of their productions I found it difficult to believe that they had really been developed without a director and, wanting to find out how this worked, I asked the person who started the company.
That’s Siobhan Daly, a young woman who has already gained considerable experience in the business. She has been putting on shows since she was a little girl and making theatre seems always to have been what she wanted.
She studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and at Kings College and Goldsmiths College, University of London. She has worked on the staff of West End and touring producers, with the Royal Opera House on project management, with English National Opera and for the BBC Television on research and script development, was Chair of ENO’s Young Patrons and studied on the SOLT / TMA Stage One training programme for potential commercial producers. All that in addition to acting on television and in the theatre.
No director? Certainly not in the way most people think of a theatre director today she assured me. Grassroots productions are the pooled ideas of the whole company. She aims at a very democratic way of putting a show together.
The idea initially came from Mark Oram, an American whom she met when he was doing post graduate work in Exeter and she was performing in the Exeter Fringe Festival. He founded his own Grassroots Shakespeare in the United States in 2009 in Utah where it produces outdoor Shakespeare in the summer with a second branch set up this year in Alabama.
In their discussions about theatre and Shakespeare production in particular, she found his ideas stimulating and formed her company in 2011. It is entirely independent of the US companies but a sister company to them. While the American companies draw on student performers, Grassroots Shakespeare London is a professional company which has already mounted productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest as well as this summer’s two plays.
As well as playing seasons on the London Fringe, both indoors and out, they have performed at The Scoop on the South Bank during the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations and were invited by the RSC to take their Much Ado to The Dell Theatre in Stratford as part of the World Shakespeare Festival.
In fact the company is far from the anarchic free-for-all you might at first envisage. While the aim may be to free the imagination you can’t make theatre without discipline but that doesn’t mean one person bossing the others around.