We’re a theatre company who have been producing work in Bristol since September 2011, bringing to life underloved and underperformed texts. Our first production was Timon of Athens in a church crypt, the second was The Revenger’s Tragedy (right) at the Bierkeller. At the mo we’re preparing for our third show, All’s Well That Ends Well which opens at the Unitarian Chapel on Brunswick Square, on Tuesday 27th November. In between slurping tea, singing French songs (with mixed success) and rehearsing we asked a few local theatre practitioners to ask Artistic Director, Mister Philip Perry, a few questions.
Matthew Whittle, Co-Director, Wardrobe Theatre
What is Gentleman Jack Theatre?
We present underloved and underperformed classical plays in as dynamic and non-worthy a way as possible. While we work with traditional texts, we approach them with a modern, more immersive sensibility. We work in non-theatrical spaces right amongst our audience at tremendous proximity, implicating them in the action so that they become our collaborators, confidantes and accomplices. Company-wise we have a core of directors, producers and actors which is growing all the time. We’re very lucky to have collaborated with some seriously talented people to get our shows on the road- from photographers and film-makers to choreographers, make-up artists and lighting designers.
Justin Palmer, actor
Why did you start Gentleman Jack?
I needed something creative to sink my teeth into. I was very frustrated. I wasn’t doing the work I wanted to be doing. I felt I had little or no control over any aspect of my career. Actors are the least fortunate of artists in some respects. An out of work painter/cellist/etc. can at least go and work on something and feel they are improving themselves, whereas an actor needs an audience to hone his skills.
What challenges did you face getting the company off the ground?
The first and most obvious challenge was trying to learn everything as I went along…I’d never done it before, so everything was brand new. The second big obstacle was finding people to be in it. Because I trained in Cardiff, most of my peers were there or in London, so I had to track down a team. I felt like I was in the Magnificent Seven…it was brilliant.
How easy has it been to make new theatre in Bristol? Why Bristol?
Practically, I have lived in Bristol for eight years now and don’t really want to move. But, beyond that Bristol is a great place to make theatre. I grew up in Essex and I love it dearly, but if I’d put on an obscure Shakespeare play in a crypt in Southend, it’s doubtful that it would have found an audience, which we did here.
Alex, Macmillan, Artistic Director, Bierkeller Theatre
You often work with Jacobean texts and create new contexts for old stories, do you enforce any specific limits on how much alteration to the original – be it text, characters, cutting, etc – you might implement?
The practical limitations which come with doing plays of this era are a headache before you begin. Enormous casts mean that cutting roles and doubling are pretty much inevitable from the off. Impenetrable bits of slang and references to Jacobean preoccupations are also a struggle and have to fall to the red pen. So alteration is basically a starting point. It is a bit of a balancing act, we want to share the extraordinary, unique and brilliant things that we love about these plays with an audience who may not be familiar these works, but we have to accept that to do that we are going to have to streamline. Our version of Timon of Athens (right) cut half of Timon’s lines and bulked up the rest of the cast with lines from Henry IV, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Troilus & Cressida. There is probably a limit, but I haven’t reached it yet.
Locations are very important in your productions – do you decide upon the play or the location first?
Good question. It’s a bit of a chicken/egg conundrum. In a sense, we decide on the play first, but loosely, in the sense of getting a script ‘performance ready’. We have a number of projects waiting to be started, so that when the right venue comes up, we can mobilise ourselves quickly, and design the show embracing the challenges that the space puts in our path. In the present instance…We knew that if we did All’s Well That Ends Well we would need a venue with height, and so we found one.
Matthew Whittle, Co-Director, Wardrobe Theatre
How has the company developed from your previous productions?
We are more confident than we were a year ago. And much more organised. And our luck in continuing to find new talented and creative people to work with on each new show doesn’t seem to be running out.
Why have you chosen All’s Well That Ends Well?
It’s a big challenge, which is always exciting. It’s a knotty, difficult play that asks many more questions than it answers and it has just about the least conclusive ending of any play I can think of. Alongside this it is funny and powerful and subtle and ultimately very rewarding I think.
Is the piece still relevant in 2012?
Relevance is in the eye of the beholder…I suppose my answer would be that it feels familiar. It is a play that shows us a world of diminishing moral fibre peopled with con men, bullies, cheats and liars. But it also touches man’s ever-present fear of being exposed and humiliated in front of others.
How are you presenting this production (straight/modern/abstract)?
Somewhere between all three. I’ve never really thought that precision regarding time period was especially important in staging Shakespeare. However, it will be in an era much closer to ours than the time it was written in. But, in terms of presentation, because we are in a large square room with a limited budget we are obliged to create a representational world for the play. It takes place on either side of the Alps, so we’ve built Europe’s premier mountain range out of ladders and umbrellas. However, because of the nature of our performance and the proximity of actor and spectator, the performance style has to be relatively naturalistic to retain the psychological truth of the text.
What is your process in developing the production?
We’d have to kill you if we told you… but in a nutshell we start by getting the script as streamlined as possible, then we source the best actors we can find, get them all in one room and then ask questions constantly until we find the answers.
How do you overcome problems in the rehearsal room?
Usually with a nice cup of tea and a game of ballie. Feel free to email us for how to play, it’s addictive…
All’s Well That Ends Well runs from Tuesday 27th November until Saturday 8th December, 7.30pm at the Unitarian Chapel, Brunswick Square, Bristol BS2 8PE.
Tickets are £8 if you get em in advance from the Tobacco Factory Box Office or £5 for preview night on Tuesday 27th November