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Five actors and a suitcase to transform Bermuda stage

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Actors From The London Stage from left to right: Michael Wagg, Anne Odeke, Claire Redcliffe, Roger May and Annabelle Terry (Photograph by Casey Patrick, University of Notre Dame)

Twice a year, five actors from the United Kingdom head to the US with a complete Shakespeare play and whatever props they manage to stuff into a single suitcase.

It has been a success for nearly five decades. Actors From The London Stage is bringing Macbeth here this week as part of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts. The shows will mark the conclusion of their nine-week tour through America.

The cast was “drawn from Britain’s most prestigious stages” as happened in 1975 when the troupe was cofounded by Sir Patrick Stewart who gained later fame as Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Professor Xavier in the X-Men film series.

“I’ve heard that he and his buddies were doing a show at the [Royal Shakespeare Company] and an American director who came and watched it heard them saying how much they would love to direct something themselves and the American director said, ‘Do you reckon the five of you could pack a suitcase and do it over in the US?’” said Annabelle Terry, one of the actors in the show.

“The rest, as they say, is history really. Actors From The London Stage have toured two Shakespeare shows a year – literally all over the US – at various colleges and in the local schools, and with workshops that can be applied to pretty much any academic study.”

Annabelle Terry plays Banquo, Lennox, Porter, Doctor, Son, Menteith, Siward and Hecate in Actors From The London Stage’s performance of Macbeth (Photograph by Jason Comerford, Shakespeare at Notre Dame)

The Bermuda Festival describes Macbeth as “one of the playwright’s greatest dramatic achievements”.

“Prophesied to become a great king, the Scottish warrior Macbeth undertakes a brutal path to power,” the synopsis reads. “With his scheming wife by his side, Macbeth manoeuvres and murders his way on to the throne. But with his ascension comes a steep price. With vengeful rivals threatening to strip everything away, Macbeth’s tormented conscience leads him into a downward spiral of madness and self-destruction.”

Ms Terry was introduced to Shakespeare as a student in the UK as part of the school curriculum but did not fall in love with it until university.

Meanwhile, Claire Redcliffe, another AFTLS actor, connected with the Bard when she “was very young”, after she was cast as Ariel in The Tempest.

Claire Redcliffe plays Lady Macbeth, Donalbain, Ross, Fleance, Second Witch, Young Siward and Messenger in Actors From The London Stage’s performance of Macbeth (Photograph by Jason Comerford, Shakespeare at Notre Dame)

“I trained as a ballet dancer. I love movement and Shakespeare obviously has a rhythm,” she said. “I remember just finding joy in the rhythm and the unusual words. It was something that sort of related to me.”

As part of the outreach they do on every tour, AFTLS held a workshop at Westgate Correctional Facility attended by about ten inmates.

“We were just running exercises – how we, as actors, prepare for performance, how we study nerves, how we ground ourselves,” said Ms Terry. “And also, how we can improvise in moments where we might feel things are particularly tricky on stage – if someone forgets their line or something. We gave them tools that they can hopefully apply to their very unique situation and learn something from. And they were so responsive to it.”

The pair agreed that being able to use their acting skills to “give back” to the community, is one of the perks of the job.

“That's so rewarding and that should be what it's about because the arts, we really believe, are integral to the world, to human beings,” Ms Terry said.

“We teach college students, and also go into high schools. At the colleges we go into any academic lesson that the teacher would like us to go into so, for example, we've been teaching trainee lawyers about persuasion; we've been in with nurses teaching empathy and bedside manner; we've been in with scientists just teaching about working as a group, as a team.”

Ms Redcliffe added: “So we don’t go into the dance classes, the English classes … it's very much geared towards trying to find those people that haven't quite found the arts yet.”

It is believed that Shakespeare began writing in the late 1500s and completed about 37 plays before his death in 1616.

“The good thing about Shakespeare is even though it is 500-plus years old, the themes and stories at its heart are still relevant. So there might be a passage in a Shakespeare play that talks about being disconnected or fractured or distracted,” Ms Terry said.

“[He’s] talking about what's happening in the world now, even though it was written hundreds of years ago. Political scandal, relationship drama, crime – all these things we still feel today. And we try to emphasise those moments to our audience.”

The real beauty of Shakespeare is that the works are “open to interpretation”, she added.

“We can choose to set it in a certain time if we wanted to. It's just about choosing what's the best interpretation to give your audience so that they relate. There's multiple lines in Macbeth where they’re asking, ‘How goes the world now?’ or, ‘What's the state of the world now?’ And these characters reply with Shakespearean text but what they're saying is, ‘It's not in a great state, we need to build back, we need to work harder.’ And I think that's something that can be applied to the global majority right now.

“With our training, we've been taught to lift the text so it's not heavy ….so that [audiences] understand what we're saying.”

Actors From The London Stage will perform Macbeth at the Ruth Seaton James Centre for the Performing Arts tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm. Tickets, $50, are available at bermudafestival.org

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Published November 18, 2022 at 7:55 am (Updated November 19, 2022 at 7:45 am)

Five actors and a suitcase to transform Bermuda stage

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