Shakespeare has returned to Stratford a rich and famous man but all’s not well. Why is he so unhappy? Why can’t he sleep? Why is his wife furious with him? Who is Will waiting for and why can’t Anne find the dog? A sleepless night in Stratford. The secrets, lies, resentments and passions of a marriage laid bare.
Theatre Company ‘Bated Breath’, who recently performed at the Ilkley Literature Festival, visited Bradford Grammar School (BGS). They presented a short play by Philip Whitchurch ‘Shakespeare, his Wife and the Dog,’ performed by Philip Whitchurch and Sally Edwards, to all Year 10 to 13 students, studying English or Theatre Studies.
Described as ‘intelligent, witty and emotive’ and ‘an acting master-class,’ the play is a joyous celebration of language, despite the underlying themes of senility (use dementia instead?) and death. Finding himself unfashionable, Shakespeare retires and makes his household’s lives miserable. Challenged by his wife, he goes through his glorious past, quoting from his glories and trying to find meaning in his past. It proves that there is still much life in scripted theatre.
The pupils also took part in a Q and A session afterwards. Year 12 pupil Naiha Sharry-Khan, from Bradford said: “I thought it was really insightful. It really seems to link in with Hamlet for our studies in terms of the tragical aspects of Shakespeare.”
When asked about what makes the play unique, Phillip commented: “Rather than being about Shakespeare’s plays this is actually about the man himself. Usually the one man shows I’ve seen about Shakespeare quote the famous parts of all the plays. I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to write a drama about the man and his wife, his wife being, I think, the most important person in his life.”
Phillip continued: “I think young people have a preconception of what Shakespeare is about and that it’s in a sense ‘posh’. This play isn’t, it’s knock about, has a lot of comedy and pathos and I think this translates to a younger audience.”
Year 10 pupil, Joshua Poulsen, from Haworth really enjoyed the play, he said: “The way the actors interacted with the audience was great and I liked how it was very simple with just two people. It highlighted just how good the play is. It’s certainly less chaotic and focusses more on the script.”
On the subject of BGS facilities Phillip said: “The Hockney Theatre at BGS is a fantastic creative space. It’s very large but has a sense of being intimate – which other schools don’t have. It’s extremely adaptable and acoustically it’s more natural so you don’t have to force the characters, which makes it easier to connect with the audience.”
It always nice to speak young people about the reality of what it’s like to devise and create a play from scratch, from a practitioner’s point of view as a working actor dealing with Shakespeare. We looked at how you put a piece of work together, including the choices you have and early ideas that may change as you go along. Rather than purely looking at the academic side of things, I think this really helps pupils studying at English or Theatre Studies to really understand the reality and excitement of acting and writing.”
Lee Hanson, Head of English at BGS said: “We are so lucky to have worked with the Ilkley Literature Festival on a number of events this year. An extension of that collaboration has been the arrival of Bated Breath’s Shakespeare, His Wife and the Dog to the Hockney Theatre. We are of course delighted that such a high profile, quality touring production has stopped off at BGS and made real impact on the students.”
“We are delighted that such a high profile, quality touring production has stopped off at BGS and made real impact on the students.”