If you’re in London during the Paralympic Games and you happen to overhear a pair plotting—in Elizabethan English—to assassinate a monarch, you needn’t be alarmed.
Rather than something sinister, they're more likely part of the London 2012 Festival Cultural Olympiad. Co-hosted by London Mayor Boris Johnson and created by Tony-award winning actor Mark Rylance, ‘What You Will: Pop Up Shakespeare” will appear in cultural hot-spots throughout the capital during the first week of the Paralympics, which begin next Tuesday.
With a historical location announced each day via Twitter, the mixture of one-to-one surprise interactions and Shakespearean flash-mobs will further the festival’s theme of “art in unusual places.” Without any props, costumes, or sets, the actors will blend seamlessly into the crowd and in some cases, appear as though they don’t intend to be overheard at all.
Jonathan Moore, acclaimed actor and director of the experience, hopes the pedestrian theatrics will result in someone asking: “Was that Hamlet that just walked past me on the River Thames?”
The pop-up production’s 50 cast members also include deaf or physically impaired actors. In line with the ethos of both the Paralympics and Shakespeare himself, the casting process was intended to be as inclusive as possible, explained Moore.
“The danger of Shakespeare is that it’s sort of middle class white men from Oxbridge talking in posh voices,” Moore said. “But Shakespeare wasn’t an Oxbridge type of person—he speaks to all people of all cultures. So why can’t he speak for and through physically challenged actors, deaf actors, and hearing impaired actors as well?”
The universal truth and appeal of Shakespeare’s work is timeless, Moore said, but the way people experience his prose nowadays has become far too rigid. While attending a production was once as commonplace as going to a football match, today Shakespeare’s works are rarely experienced outside of school studies or expensive theatres. Those cultural barriers often mean that only a portion of the population ever gets to experience those “moments and bits of grace and magic” that Shakespeare provides in droves.
Moore demonstrates what he means when, mid-sentence, he shifts imperceptibly into iambic pentameter. His musings, at first, sound unintelligible, but the rhythm and cadence of Shakespeare’s words are unmistakable.
“It’s that! That’s what it is,” he says with a laugh. “You hear the rhythm and there’s that lovely moment of delight where you think ‘My god, I’m being Shakespeare’d.’ People don’t have time to say they don’t understand it— so our hope is to bring the greatest writer that ever lived to the widest range of people.”
Image courtesy of Pop Up Shakespeare