On Monday, Matt Trueman wrote a piece in the Guardian about the importance of companies such as Kneehigh, Complicite, Frantic Assembly and Filter’s approach to Shakespeare. Their refusal to be precious about the language and embracing the playing element of approaching a text, he argued, was equally as important as the more established approach – analysis of the text and a table-read.
Paul Hunter, who directed A Comedy of Errors at the RSC in 2009, said that using improvisational clowning methods ultimately helped the company find its way into the text. Hunter stated: “It’s not that text isn’t important, just that the process allows meaning to emerge organically. With Shakespeare, often I only understand it when I’m up doing it.”
This is why students have found Audition Doctor to be invaluable to them – especially during drama school auditions. Audition Doctor gives each student the opportunity to make Shakespeare totally their own. Unlocking the text and understanding the heart and depth of the play rarely comes from a reading but from the actual playing of it.
As Trueman states: “Obvious though it sounds, that’s because Shakespeare was writing for performance. Simon McBurney, Complicite’s artistic director, stresses that each of the plays is “an embodied text”: its meaning wrapped up in speaking and acting. Equally, he adds, they’re “just extraordinary poems” and their meaning is manifold. “When you start to analyse Shakespeare it simply starts to fall apart. What’s beautiful about a poem, like a piece of music, is that you can’t always say exactly what it means. The moment you try, you realise that it also means exactly the opposite.”
Audition Doctor’s strength is that each approach for every student is different. With Tilly, there is no one set way that she employs to unravel a text. Trueman warned against only following the more traditionalist approach: “If an orthodoxy’s problematic, it’s because it creates the sense that there’s a right way of doing Shakespeare. McDermott believes that creates barriers, like if you don’t understand every word, you’re not allowed to put the plays on. He’s been directing for 30-odd years. “It’s amazing how strong that feeling is that says, ‘You’re not a proper director if you don’t do it this way.’”
Audition Doctor students experience success as a result of regular sessions because they come to combine an absolute understanding of the muscularity of the text and complexity of character with that certain ineffable quality that McBurney speaks of that defines an outstanding performance.
The gift that Audition Doctor affords each of her students is to detach the reverence that inevitably is attached to Shakespeare. Pulling monologues apart and practically trying out different motivations behind each line is what makes your performance unique. Sessions feel liberating because failure is seen as a prerequisite to reaching a truthful interpretation.
As Tim Crouch said: “Shakespeare can take it. He can take kabuki and punk rock, clowning and improv. He will take Kneehigh and he will take Improbable and he will still be going strong long after we’re dead.”