Pour yourself a drink and make friends with Shakespeare
- Credit: Friends With Shakespeare
Shakespeare may be Britain's best known writer but too many of us find his plays daunting.
Hackney actress Claire Cartwright has played many of the Bard's heroines and says "it's a shame" so many have been put off Shakespeare by bad teaching or bad productions.
Two years ago she started started inviting "informal friendly" groups into her home to read a play aloud - one act a week, culminating in a trip to a West End production and post-show discussion.
"Listening to someone speak verse when they don't know what they are doing or being forced to read something at school can really put you off," says Cartwright, who has played Hermione from A Winter's Tale, and Lady Macbeth twice and studied Shakespeare for her English Literature degree.
"People go to the theatre to see Shakespeare all the time and don't get it. I speak to so many who said they find it hard work, they sit there with dread and feel they don't get the joke, or avoid it altogether.
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"The intimidating thing is you have to spend a bit of time with it for it to make sense. It does take concentration, you have to lean in and really listen, but it really repays your investment of energy - however when are you going to take the time to commit to that?"
The idea behind Friends With Shakespeare was to break down those barriers while meeting new people and discussing the plays over wine and nibbbles.
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"Saying 'I don't like it' is such a huge statement but it usually comes from a completely reasonable worry about how am I going to find a way in? Being in a room with like minded people from all backgrounds and perspectives makes it more a more adult and fun experience. We aim to show that Shakespeare can be enjoyed by everyone. The courses are based around meeting new people and gaining knowledge so by the time you go to the theatre instead of feeling you are missing something you have a richer understanding of the language, ideas and references and the confidence to hold informed opinions. It gives an amazing sense of empowerment."
Past London productions have included Twelfth Night, Hamlet, King Lear and The Tempest, but Cartwright took the course online during the pandemic and has reached students from America the Middle East and across the UK. She plans to continue them in tandem with in-person courses once restrictions lift.
"When lockdown happened I took the courses onto Zoom and we have been watching films or recorded theatre productions instead. In such a strange and difficult time Friends with Shakespeare has given people the chance to make new friends and feel they have learned something new that scratches that cultural itch. It has been a lifeline for some people in isolation."
A course on Romeo and Juliet has just started and another on Julius Caesar starts May 4 culminating in watching the Donmar Warehouse's all female production. Courses cost £175 but use the code NEIGHBOUR at checkout to get 10 percent discount.