Exploring Fresh Approaches to Acting Shakespeare
We spread ideas about how to play Shakespeare as simply as possible, without any great conceptual frame placed between participants and the play, and seek to bring honesty and great passion to equal the work.
We are writer led, allowing the text to guide our performances. Using the versions closest to Shakespeare and respecting the verse, and physical disciplines Ben learnt from Complicité, we look for new paths up to the scope and scale of Shakespeare’s words.
We want to explore afresh to what extent we can let Shakespeare direct us, establish the benchmark for a new-old, fresh style of Shakespeare performance, accessible to all ages and backgrounds, and pave the way for the next generation of Shakespeare lovers.
Recent approaches have often had far too much to do with sounding and looking beautiful, rather than playing direct from the heart. Conceptual ideas have taken the lead and once-clear truths hidden under layers of conceit. People leave productions feeling indifferent, only remembering the show from seeing a ticket stub the next morning.
Shakespeare, as a cathartic writer from a classical tradition, should leave people feeling exhilarated, emotionally exhausted, and touched in some way – but certainly not indifferent.
As Olivier did in the 50s and Branagh did in the 80s, we want to breathe life back into Shakespeare, bringing a fresh approach to these wonderful plays, and challenging peoples’ expectations of what coming to see a Shakespeare play is like.
Ignoring all the emendations that have been made over the centuries by non-theatre practitioners we began with the idea that the Folio text is the closest to the author’s intentions and was written to be understood by actors.
How far could we follow the text exactly as it was printed – irrespective of compositors’ mistakes – and what directions and new ideas could we find from such a strict approach?
The Passion in Practice Ensemble aims to mimic the working relationship Shakespeare’s actor would have had.
Ben has been slowly forming a rolling Ensemble over few years. Looking out for like-minded actors with different skill-sets to form a semi-permanent Company as multi-talented as Shakespeare’s own, trained in the textual & physical methodologies we explore in our Workshops, and then bringing members of that Ensemble together to put our mutual passion into practice, in a series of bold experiments and productions.
Here below, examples of our recent work…
Making full use of the unique skill-sets held by members, Ben Crystal gathered together a collection of weird and wonderful characters from the Alice in Wonderland stories to delight and entertain an audience of embassy personnel from all over the world for and on behalf of parent company Tata.
150TH ANNIVERSARY LIMITED EDITION OF ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND
The London hotel launched it’s first bespoke edition in the ‘English Classics, Reinvented’ series. Literary classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have been given a new lease of life, as the Taj partners with UK based artists to create a selection of new limited edition covers for the UK’s best loved tales.
East London based designer, Ethan McClean re-designed the classic cover drawing inspiration from the start of Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole. The cover illustration captures Alice’s journey from our world into Wonderland, where she falls into the abstract, resulting in an optical illusion, which hypnotically pulls us into a strange new land.
In 2004, Shakespeare’s Globe reconstructed the accent of Shakespeare’s day, and presented an acclaimed production of Romeo and Juliet in Original Pronunciation (or OP). It was the first time the sound had been heard on a London stage for 400 years.
Since then, plays, poems, and songs from Shakespeare’s time have been performed in theatres around the world in OP, staging contemporary world premieres of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Julius Caesar, revealing these works in a fresh, new light.
Beginning in 2014 Ben and David Crystal and the Passion in Practice Ensemble were asked to bring Original Pronunciation back to Shakespeare’s Globe, to the then recently opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The series Exploring Original Pronunciation was born with two performance lectures and a reading of Macbeth in OP. In 2015 , one performance lecture and a reading of Henry V in OP (on the 600 year since the Battle of Agincourt).
– Exploring Original Pronunciation: Poetry and Prose
– Exploring Original Pronunciation: Songs and Sonnets
– Macbeth in Original Pronunciation
– Exploring Original Pronunciation: Regional Dialects
– Henry V in Original Pronunciation
Following a sold out performance in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as part of Globe Education’s Shakespeare Inspired season 2015, Ben and the Ensemble returned to the beautiful Tanner Street Loft. With a few minor cast changes, they once again restaged the production in 24hrs.
The production began with a Gala performance night of nibbles and drinks, opened with a David Crystal talk. The production ran for three performances and was the world contemporary premier of Henry V in OP.
Following their sell-out staged reading at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at nearby Shakespeare’s Globe in July 2014, the Ensemble gathered in London in December. They restaged their production in 24hrs without having rehearsed their scenes together, speaking the words to each other for the first time in front of their audiences (not all the cast were from the July reading).
This was a limited attendance, full production of Macbeth, for two nights only, and the world contemporary premiere of Macbeth in OP
Here is a sneak-peak of the co-production of Pericles: Recomposed with Daniel Harding’s Interplay Festival at the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, January 29th 2015.
– A modern iteration of Shakespeare’s Company
– A modern iteration of the accent his actors spoke
– A new version of Vivaldi’s masterpiece
Bringing together his Shakespeare Ensemble from the UK, Europe, India, and the US, the company had two days of rehearsal before being joined by a Chamber orchestra, three hours before the performance.
Recording c/o Deutsche Grammophone Featured artists:
Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin
André de Ridder
Ben Crystal, Actor
Nathan Markiewicz, Dramaturg
David Crystal, Linguist
Actors from the Passion in Practice Shakespeare Ensemble
The Trondheim Soloists
Daniel Hope, violinist
Recording c/o Deutsche Grammophone
To that end, we Cue-script rehearsed a staged reading of Pericles in 24 hours, using Original Pronunciation, dance, song and a lot of little lights.
November 2010, Ben brought together a group of like-minded actors, to explore the idea of a modern iteration of Shakespeare’s Ensemble. On the final day of the workshop we decided to explore acting Shakespeare on Film. Without notice, each actor was asked to perform something of Shakespeare’s writing that they knew off by heart. These videos are the result.
Filmed by Adam Etherington
With Ed Bowen-Carpenter & Hannah Richards
Produced by Adam Donneky
They explored Act 2 Scene 2-Scene 4, covering the stocking of Kent, Edgar’s flight, and Lear’s discovery of Kent in the stocks.
Fool - Sean Garratt Kent - Adam Webb Gloucester / Edgar - Warren Rusher Cornwall / Regan - Aslam Husain Lear (voice) - Ben Crystal Lear (puppeteers) - Ben, Aslam, Warren, Adam
Having learnt the accent from his father’s 2004-5 work at Shakespeare’s Globe, Ben began to explore the practical applications of the accent – how it makes for more personal, grounded, and meatier Shakespeare performance. In 2010, Ben was asked by the British Library to record the opening speech of Richard III for their Evolving English Exhibition.
Knowing the listener would be using headphones while reading the original Quarto edition, Ben found himself whispering the speech into the microphone. Have a listen and get inside Richard’s head. Note how the OP makes the rhythm canter on ‘Cheated of feature by dissembling Nature’.
Then in the summer of 2011 the British Library invited him back to curate a CD of Shakespeare in Original Pronunciation, he trained and directed a number of our Passion in Practice actors (with the linguistic tutelage of his father, David Crystal).
with Hilton McRae, Natalie Thomas, and Suzan Sylvester
with Natalie Thomas and Joan Walker
The full CD, featuring sonnets, speeches and
scenes from the canon, can be bought here:
” Whether it be a preparatory class, or even a single session, before we ask our schoolchildren to take his works seriously – we should teach them to play with Shakespeare. ” Artistic Director Ben Crystal, writing in the Telegraph
“Your Shakespeare magic that swept through the school never diminished until everyone left for the summer.” Annunciation Orthodox School, Houston
“We really can’t thank you enough for how you opened the world of Shakespeare to the students – there has been such a positive buzz from the classes – Year 9 ASKED!! to write reviews of their session for homework! And even more children have come to ask for copies of your book. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful – what a memory!” Ormiston Bushfield Academy
“The workshop was really interesting as I learned many things. I don’t like Shakespeare very much because I find the language difficult, but Ben totally changed this! It felt like he was teaching us from the heart, and that really clarified things. To sum it up, it was brilliant!” Year 9 student, Lycée International, St Germain-en-Laye
The format and length of session (hour, half a day, full day) can be tailored to suit, and the talk can be adjusted to fit the texts the students are studying or working on. We always get one or two (or all) the students up on their feet at some point, and there’s always time for questions.
“Witty, entertaining, highly engaging: Ben Crystal made
Shakespeare alive and we all became his audience in the Globe. The
session was too short: we want more.” — Susi Devlin, Sydenham High School, London
“It’s a pleasure to promote this introduction to Shakespeare by Ben Crystal, the actor and writer who also does workshops for schools.”
— Carel Press – Exciting Resources for Education
“Many girls I know didn’t look at Shakespeare and after your visit you have inspired them to perform even one word dramatically! You got them to play with and act out words. You got girls to be creative and step out of their comfort zone, whilst teaching them about Shakespeare.” — Year 7 representative, Hayesfield Girls’ School, Bath
“We began by discussing iambic pentameter — Crystal explained that it is not simply a metrical system, but indeed a tool Shakespeare uses to thread silent stage directions throughout his works. Using a few lines from Act 2, Scene 2 of Macbeth, and with a couple of volunteers (Tommy and Erin, two of the other bloggers), Crystal showed how actors can interpret the unwritten cues.”
— Kelsey Sharpe, UCLA
PIP currently receives no public subsidy, so to enable these initiatives to succeed, we are looking for support from individuals and organizations. We need help to mount productions which achieve the highest standards and to enable the company to develop as a whole.
For those wishing to help us cover the substantial costs involved in mounting an individual production.
£100 – PIP Well-Willers
£200 – PIP Shoulder-Clappers
£300 – PIP Bully-Rooks
For those wishing to support the overall development of the company.£500 – PIP Complices
All our supporters will be acknowledged in our publicity materials and programmes, unless they request anonymity.
If you’re interested in supporting us, or learning more about our work, we’d love to hear from you. Please contact Warren, our Company Manager.
For further information, please get in touch.