Merely Theatre arrive in Eastbourne 6-8 June as part of a second national tour of genderblind work with two of Shakespeare’s best loved shows performed in repertoire at the Devonshire Park Theatre: Romeo & Juliet and Twelfth Night.
Presented in Merely Theatre’s signature stripped-back style, the plays overflow with energy and urgency, seeking to blow the cobwebs off Shakespeare. Merely’s productions are raucous and joyous, stirring and visceral. When Merely visited last year with Henry V and A Midsummer Night’s Dream Eastbourne audiences revelled in the fast-paced, dynamic and mesmerising productions.
Merely’s commitment to gender-blind practice means actors rehearse their five-hand productions in male-female pairs, generating twice the amount of ideas for each role, while halving the rehearsal time for each individual. A man and a woman play each set of parts alternately across the venues on tour; a male Juliet, a female Malvolio – any combination is possible.
Much has been made of the death of repertory theatre. Doing multiple shows at once, working with the same actors, learning a huge breadth of parts, immersion in the classics and stretching an actor’s range are just some of the advantages of which theatre luminaries have mourned the loss. For some, that loss was too much to take. So, Merely Theatre started as a way for a company of actors to work together discovering the best way to put on Shakespeare’s plays. Rep is not dead, it has evolved.
Artistic Director Scott Ellis comments, “We’ve done our best to recreate that same atmosphere and attitude from the old rep system. The discipline and the technique, the focus, the commitment to making every time we’ve done it the best time we’ve done it. We put in the work, we sweat it hard and out of that pressure cooker come some extraordinary things. It’s an exhilarating way to work. We are doing raw, pure Shakespeare, the kind people get swept up in and excited by.”