First published in The Times, Tuesday July 13 2021
Spontaneous applause breaks out at the announcement welcoming everyone to the new season of Bard in the Botanics. It has been nearly two years since audiences last gathered on the grassy rise behind the glasshouses in the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for the venerated Shakespeare festival.
As a specialist in outdoor performance, this company, led by Gordon Barr, the artistic director, may have an advantage over its contemporaries as theatre in Scotland slowly emerges from its Covid-era hibernation.
First published in The Times, Saturday July 27 2019
It was only a matter of time before Nicole Cooper, a linchpin of the Bard in the Botanics ensemble, was invited to play the Dane. Having spend a decade with Gordon Barr’s company, showing her mettle in a range of roles, from Rosalind in As You Like It to last year’s Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, her progression in the past couple of seasons to the title roles in Coriolanus (for which she won the Best Female Performance at the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland) and Timon of Athens has seemed entirely inevitable.
First published in The Times, Thursday July 4 2019
Shakespeare’s great pastoral comedy is a gift for outdoor performance. Who needs elaborate stagecraft when you have trees and foliage and natural light? The last time Bard in the Botanics staged As You Like It – back in 2012 – the shift from the court of Duke Frederick to the Forest of Arden was achieved simply by moving the audience from one part of the gardens to another.
The history of LGBT rights in the UK goes hand in hand with Edward II’s production history. Though the title is now synonymous with queer art, Christopher Marlowe’s 1594 tragedy didn’t come out of the closet until the late 1960s, thanks to an infamous staging from Prospect Theatre Company that made explicit the homoerotic content. A small screen version of the same production (which starred Ian McKellen) included the first gay kiss to be shown on British television.
“Star-cross’d lovers” is the theme of this year’s Bard in the Botanics, and in its pair of opening productions, the annual Shakespeare festival offers up the perfect complement of innocence and experience in tragic love.
Jennifer Dick’s production of Romeo and Juliet features a 13-strong cast performing against an al fresco backdrop while, at the other end of the botanical gardens, Gordon Barr stages Antony and Cleopatra beneath the glass roof of the Kibble Palace. It is an instructive pairing, reminding us of Shakespeare’s delight in recycling patterns of events in his plays. The latter couple may steal a march on the former in terms of erotic and worldly experience, yet both pairs of lovers die by their own hands, believing death infinitely preferable to life without their soul mate.
There is always an element of suspense for audiences to any production of Measure for Measure – even for those who have seen Shakespeare’s most problematic play many times. How will the director and company reconcile the pessimistic depiction of corrupted power, sexuality and relationships with the play’s supposedly comedic elements, including the final flurry of marriages, two of which are meted out as punishments?
First published in The Times, Tuesday June 27 2017
Last year, Bard in the Botanics, Glasgow’s long-running outdoor Shakespeare festival, launched a new strand, Writing the Renaissance, showcasing the work of the bard’s lesser-known contemporaries. The inaugural production was a radical adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, whittled down to a fleet 90 minutes and performed by a cast of just three actors.
Staging outdoor theatre in Scotland is a risky business. Just ask Gordon Barr, the artistic director of Bard in the Botanics, who has been anxiously watching the skies above Glasgow’s west end every summer for the past 15 years.
The weather gods were smiling on the opening performance of his new production of the Scottish Play, however. As the city sizzled in a heat wave, the crowd gathered in extraordinary numbers on the grassy embankment at the back of the glasshouses in the Botanic Gardens. For once, the extra clothes, the blankets and sleeping bags, proved surplus to requirements.
First published in The Times, Thursday June 30 2016
While cross-dressing is central to the plot and resolution of a number of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night occupies its own league as a comment on gender construction and elastic sexuality. The female protagonist spends most of the play dressed as a pageboy, inadvertently stirring the passions of a woman who has forsworn all male suitors while simultaneously harbouring a secret love for a nobleman. Talk about progressive.
In recent years, Bard in the Botanics, Scotland’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, has complemented its programme of full-scale outdoor productions with one radically pared-down adaptation, performed by a handful of actors in the Kibble Palace glasshouse. Last year’s ambitious reworking of Henry IV Parts I and II, performed by a cast of just three, was a powerful, drum-tight account of Prince Hal’s relationships with his two parental guides, his father the king and feckless Falstaff.