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Shortened versions of two Shakespeare plays on soon at the ADC

Two of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, have been adapted for a new stage version by Madeleine Forrester, who also directs the production.

Madeleine Forrester. Picture: Keith Heppell
Madeleine Forrester. Picture: Keith Heppell

Newly-written narrative by Cambridge author Nick Warburton adds a storytelling component to the adaptations.

The plays, which have been creatively abridged to retain key storylines and characters – and enhanced by storytelling and music – will be performed as one production at the ADC Theatre in July.

Madeleine, who is working on behalf of Bawds, a leading amateur theatre production company from Cambridge, says that she and Nick worked on adapting three of Shakespeare’s plays a couple of years ago in a production titled Supernatural Shakespeare, which was successfully performed at Madingley Hall.

Shakespeare Shorts. Picture: Paul Ashley
Shakespeare Shorts. Picture: Paul Ashley

“The whole idea started during lockdown,” explains Madeleine, a former student at the renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, “and because Bawds is a very busy group, with many actors and directors, we were thinking about how we could keep everybody engaged. So we came up with the idea of running a series of podcasts based on plays and poetry and prose – all sorts of themes – and I directed and devised three based on Shakespeare.

“First up was The Tempest and then, while working on Macbeth and planning for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and focusing hard on possible themes, it dawned on me that these three plays had supernatural components – witchcraft, magic and casting of spells and thus the idea for a production of Supernatural Shakespeare was born, featuring shortened versions of all three plays.

“We did The Tempest in about 35 minutes, Macbeth in about 40 minutes – all based on the witches and the influence that the witches had on the Macbeths – and then The Dream. It was successful; the audience loved it, the cast loved it and people said, ‘Well why don’t you do some more?’ It’s a lot of work, but that’s how this second production of adapted Shakespeare plays came about.”

Shakespeare Shorts. Picture: Paul Ashley
Shakespeare Shorts. Picture: Paul Ashley

Madeleine felt that there were some similarities between these three plays and the two she is set to bring to the stage in July: Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice. “I know The Merchant of Venice quite well,” she notes, “and I wanted to do something that had a more serious but very dramatic end and then something that was comedic.

“For The Merchant of Venice, I focused very much on the ‘merchant versus the moneylender’, so the wider love story of Portia and Bassanio, and the princes coming to woo her, has not been shelved exactly, but condensed. The Merchant should run for about an hour and the full-length play often runs to well over two hours.

“So the focus is on the Christian community, the Jewish community; I’ve set it in Renaissance Venice during the Venetian Festival of masques and revels, so we’re having Venetian masks made, and there will be a short Venetian masked dance.

“So that’s the focus for The Merchant – with Twelfth Night well, it took me months to adapt because all the storylines are interwoven and by and large they are all still included. I’m very lucky in that I work with Nick Warburton, the writer, and he took my abridged scripts and added narrative to ensure the joins between scences are clearly written in – you leave a scene out so how do you make sure the audience has the full story? Through narrative and storytelling to music.

“In each of the plays we have a storyteller – one of the characters in the play who also speaks to the audience on occasions. We’ve a lot of newly composed music (by Ian Favell) and I use mime in much the same way that a ballet works when the dancers aren’t dancing but they’re still storytelling, is the best way to describe it. So, for example, in The Merchant of Venice, I’ve devised an overture, with the full cast on stage to the music and hopefully setting the scene with mini key storylines.”

The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night, although different in many ways, also have several common themes – disguise and deception, mistaken identity, prejudice, role reversal, revenge and rejection, as well as love and friendship. An ideal introduction to Shakespeare for school students, the ADC is offering a generous discount for schools on the opening night. “I’m hoping that a good number of schoolchildren will get to see it,” says Madeleine, “because I think it’s such a good introduction to Shakespeare.

“The ADC’s reducing the ticket prices on the first night for schools, but also a particular school contacted the theatre to ask if we’d consider doing a mid-week matinee, because they would like to book about 100 seats. I can now confirm this is happening as the cast and all the crew have agreed to take time off work, and so we’re doing a Wednesday matinee for schools and that will be at a reduced price as well.”

Madeleine Forrester. Picture: Keith Heppell
Madeleine Forrester. Picture: Keith Heppell

Madeleine, who used to be a teacher herself – and also worked for the BBC – adds: “I just think these condensed, abbreviated versions of Shakespeare, as I say, [are ideal] for students perhaps coming to Shakespeare for the first time, and we can pose all sorts of questions too...

“I think we might be working on an education worksheet for schools as well, but we’ll see what the response is before doing that – and also Nick and I have offered to go into three schools to do free workshops. All of this is still to be confirmed.”

Read more: Shakespeare’s Globe theatre unveils five films produced by Anglia Ruskin students

Shakespeare Shorts – The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night will be on at the ADC Theatre from Tuesday, July 11 to Saturday, July 15. Tickets (be sure to ask about reduced rates for the first night and Wednesday matinee if you are a school teacher) are available by calling 01223 300085 or emailing boxoffice@adctheatre.com. For more, visit adctheatre.com.

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