Interview: Alice Blundell Talks SHAKESPEARE SNAPSHOTS at the RSC


By: Aug. 18, 2020
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Interview: Alice Blundell Talks SHAKESPEARE SNAPSHOTS at the RSC
Alice Blundell

The Royal Shakespeare Company is providing a series of free, live outdoor performances this summer.

Shakespeare Snapshots sees actors from the postponed productions of The Winter's Tale and The Comedy of Errors share speeches, sonnets (and even songs) from Shakespeare. We caught up with Alice Blundell about what it's like to return to a rehearsal room (well garden!) and perform once again.

What is your earliest memory of theatre?

When I was little, my Mum and Dad used to take me to this place called the Buddle which is in Walls End in Newcastle, where Bruvvers theatre company was. They used to do community theatre and really good pantos. Christmas shows are a big memory of mine from when I was little (I was obsessed with one called Soggy Socks!)

Soggy Socks?!

Yeah! And one of the actresses in The Winter's Tale company (Zoe Lambert) was actually in Soggy Socks - and now we're working together at the RSC! We have worked together before in Newcastle, but yeah it's a lovely full circle.

And is this your first season at the RSC, or have you performed here before?

This is my very first season. I mean... you can't write it!

What a one to kick it off with!

I mean it was so exciting when I got the job, it was really special. I get those moments when I'm like, "God, the one - the one time that I finally get to the RSC and we are a week away from opening and everything shuts down!"

But also, I'm still here - still being looked after by the RSC. They are being an incredible organisation. So I am one of the very lucky people at the moment, so it's got its positives.

And how did you spend lockdown?

My housemate is also in the company, so we were living together (luckily, we get on really well and she's lovely!)

We'd have themed nights where we'd be like, "Right so we're going to go 'out' for dinner" - so we'd make each other dinner at home! Or "Tomorrow we're going to go to the theatre!" So we watched all The National Theatre stuff, the RSC productions - because it felt really important to sort of stay in tune with our craft and the company we were working for.

So we watched Much Ado or Love's Labour's Won, which was the one that Ed Bennett and Michelle Terry did. That was a big highlight and we also watched Hamilton - that was excellent.

And of course I've done a lot of crafting, a lot of knitting and making pom poms!

And how did The Winter's Tale company stay connected during lockdown?

Through early lockdown, a few of us would meet every Sunday virtually and have a roast dinner together across Zoom. Because we were all in properties around Stratford, but that was before anybody was really brave to go, "Oh we could go for a walk together". So a lot of Zoom: dinners on Zoom and quizzes on Zoom.

And now theatre is allowed to return for outdoor performances, how did Shakespeare Snapshots come about?

So we've all been itching to create and do and help. And obviously the RSC is a massive organisation and there was so much lobbying being done, pre the announcement of the Government funding for the arts.

So we did an online festival around Midsummer through the Events and Development department and that was really good. We've been doing quite a lot with Education online, with storytelling sessions.

And then one of the other girls in the company and I, we'd done this big installation in one of the private gardens - basically because we'd spent so much time crafting! So we made this big rainbow that was a homage to lockdown and trying to stay creative and connected to Shakespeare.

And then when it was announced that outdoor performance could happen, I think Greg Doran and a couple of the guys in our company who've worked here a lot - they started having a conversation about, "What's possible? What can we do?"

And then the breaks were put on while we thought about health and safety and everybody being spaced. So that took the foot off the pedal for three weeks - and they made sure they curated a space that felt really safe for the actors and for the audience.

We've got this stump in the Dell, in the gardens next to the RSC. And it's sort of a spray painted stage on the ground where we can stand, so we know that we're two meters apart. And then there's hearts spray painted on the grass, so that the audience can sit there.

So yeah, it all just sort of appeared and it was like, "Great, we can perform - let's go!"

Interview: Alice Blundell Talks SHAKESPEARE SNAPSHOTS at the RSC
Shakepeare Snapshots

And what was the feeling like day one, being back?

I think everybody felt very frightened and vulnerable and quite emotional. And then by the end of the weekend, I think we were all so happy that we'd performed... and exhausted as well!

I think there was this sense that we'd been waiting and waiting in some weird stasis - people have been doing little bits of work, but it's all online and it's not in a room. So having that connection with each other so important.

Being in a garden together and doing a warm up together and saying those words again, it was really magical... but it was also really terrifying! Because we all felt a little bit rusty and a little bit overwhelmed by this huge space, because it is massive - you've got to fill a massive garden basically.

We'd joked on the Friday, "We're just going to be shouting words in a field!" But I think we've settled into it now: we know this, our voices are getting used to filling a space again. But it was a shock to the system initially!

So what can people expect from the weekends coming up?

Each weekend has been curated by the company. That's been really nice, because it's been contained within us and we have the ownership of what we want to do - within the parameters of what people know and what feels possible to rehearse.

And on the first weekend, we called it a Shakespeare Buffet! With monologues and sonnets and songs. I play the accordion so I managed to get everybody to sing a song with me, which was 'A Lover and His Lass' which is Laura Marling's version of the song from As You like It. That was really joyous to sing together.

And then I think we started to get a bit more confident in the weekends, so they're now themed. Last weekend was Lovers, this weekend is An Ode to Nature and then the final weekend which myself and Georgia Landers are curating is a Celebration of Shakespeare's Masques and the women in his plays.

We're celebrating the voices of women through the guise of a masked ball, so that anybody can speak those parts - so we'll have men and women playing all the roles, so it's a gender blind weekend essentially.

It's all really fun and light and joyous and celebratory and playful. So yeah... we're not doing Titus Andronicus!

And the performances are free to attend, aren't they?

Yes! The event is free - but we're asking for donations. So while it's amazing to be performing through August, there's still so much uncertainty around what's going to happen to our shows and what's going to happen to the organisation. Hopefully we will be back before the year is out - but we just don't know.

Finally have you had any favourite moments from performances so far?

The atmosphere so far has been so nice and people are really getting into it. We had a bit of audience participation last weekend with Lovers!

When Titania falls in love with Bottom, we get a guy up to play Bottom. And so Titania's coming onto this poor, old audience member! But it's really nice to involve them and make them feel part of it.

And it feels really important: these words must be spoken again and heard by people. And everybody keeps coming up to us and saying, "It's just so lovely to have theatre back in our lives, we've missed it."

Shakespeare Snapshots is a free, outdoor series of performances, taking place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in August in the Dell Gardens, Stratford-upon-Avon

Photo credits: Alishia Love, Mark Williamson


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