How do you tell a story using Shakespeare’s characters and make it original? How do you tell a story about Shakespeare himself for that matter? For Catriona Scott, playwright of Shakespeare Syndrome, the answer was simple: mix together a handful of the bard’s most famous characters (and the bard himself), put them in therapy, give them all a good shake, and serve with a nice red wine for comedy. Al Gillespie chatted with the playwright about all things Shakespearean at the Fringe.
How did you find the writing process? Was it difficult to try and reframe such well known characters?
As this was my first foray into writing comedy I found the process to be quite tricky, as I was not sure which jokes would work and which wouldn’t. The original script contained a great deal of more-obscure jokes and Shakespeare references which had to be cut when redrafting, though even some of the jokes in the show as it is are still a bit obscure!
As for reframing Shakespeare’s characters, I found this process to be more fun than it was tricky, mostly as I took aspects of the characters’ personalities or events in the plays and built on them in this new un-Shakespearean situation, such as Macbeth’s constantly seeing a dagger in the Rorschach inkblot test.
Why do you think Shakespeare's canon has remained such a cultural touchstone for the past 400 years?
The characters he wrote about, and their situations, are still very much relevant today. Issues of love and loss, family drama, political intrigue – all are still very much present in today’s society. The plays can also be reinterpreted and redesigned in many ways to draw attention to current issues, such as the racism present in The Merchant of Venice, or the abuse of political and religious power in Measure for Measure. I attempted to address this in Juliet’s monologue in Shakespeare Syndrome, where she discusses ideas of nature versus nurture.
You also directed the show - what were you looking for in your actors when you cast them?
I was looking for actors who worked well together straight from the auditions, as the play is more of an ensemble piece than my previous work. I was also looking for actors with a good sense for comedic timing and, as three actors in the show play multiple roles, I look for actors for those parts who could show particular versatility in vocals and physicality.
You've directed a number of shows that you have written - how do you approach the rehearsal process when you are working with your own text? Do you ever discover elements of your plays that you wouldn't have otherwise thought about?
Seeing as I have not yet directed a text other than my own, I am unable to compare my normal rehearsal process with that of rehearsing another’s text. I can say that, working with my own text, the process is very collaborative: lines are changed or cut a great deal more than I imagine they would be with a different script, as the actors are involved in the editing and rewriting process. The characters can change a great deal during the rehearsal process: Colin Paton, who plays Dr. Bard, has pointed out a number of traits in his character that I did not realise I had written, making him a less affable character than I thought!
Shakespeare Syndrome plays at Greenside this Fringe. Full Edinburgh listing: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/shakespeare-syndrome/713565