Edinburgh Fringe 2021
It’s 1606 and our Will has been ordered by recently crowned James I to come up with a play centred on his homeland, a Scottish play that casts all in a good light of course. But the Bard’s got a nasty case of writer’s block and is in desperate need of ideas and people to help him.
Bard in The Yard is a project launched by theatre company Will & Co in response to the closure of theatres by the pandemic in last year. Keen to reconnect audiences with the joys of live theatre while waiting for various posturing politicians to sanction a grand reopening, they came up with the idea of scripting one-man shows to take to back yards, schools, care homes, pubs, clubs, outdoor theatres, in fact anywhere in England and Scotland with a bit of open space and an ability to assemble people at an appropriate social distance. A kind of Deliveroo Shakespeare, if you Will.
Such ingenuity would have been the natural reaction of Shakespeare himself – after all, he had a wealth of experience of operating in pandemics. The plague was omnipresent throughout his creative career and lockdown rules bore a striking similarity to those imposed on us over the last eighteen months – isolation in the home for anyone affected leading, naturally, to everyone else in the often crowded households catching whatever variant was going around.
Bard In The Yard writer/director Victoria Gartner’s premise is that it’s 1606 and our Will has been ordered by recently crowned James I to come up with a play centred on his homeland, a Scottish play complete with heroes, villains, a cracking leading lady and a bit of romance on the side.
The trouble is that, despite undertaking a detailed tour of the land in the name of research, writer’s block has hit Will hard. He’s in need of ideas and ideas are best sourced by talking to people. Thank goodness the pandemic has relented enough to allow a crowd to gather around him.
So began what turned out to be an interesting part-immersive, part discursive hour exploring Shakespeare’s writing, his life, his loves, his successes, his failures and quite a bit in between. We start out, though, in silence. Will was genuinely stuck for ideas to put into words so just sat, pensive looking, on the bare stage and waited. And waited. Then waited a bit more. For inspiration one assumes. But none came.
It takes a lot of acting courage to sit quietly on stage doing nothing in front of an audience of well over 100. Five seconds silence on a stage can seem like an eternity with people hanging on your every nervous twitch but this went on for about two minutes during which time a great deal of entertainment could be had watching the audience watching each other grow increasingly curious and restive. Some took the opportunity to visit the rest rooms. One or two used the Pleasance’s app allowing you to order drinks to be delivered pronto to your seat. One or two shrugged their shoulders and left.
But eventually a few brave souls tried to help out by shouting out ideas and off we went on our Shakespearian odyssey that did, eventually, explore a few ideas for a Scottish play but wove a path that facilitated the introduction of a wide range of Shakespeare’s better known characters from his popular plays.
A lot of care has been taken to make the Shakespearian tongue accessible to modern ears – fans of Upstart Crow, a popular TV series penned by Ben Elton might spot linguistic similarities – and every attempt is made to break that fourth wall and get the audience involved. And Edinburgh audiences generally need very little prodding to make a contribution to the entertainment.
I’d love to see how this works in a more intimate environment, perhaps with an audience of 10-20 rather than the one here that was north of 100. Those of us parked at the back lost a bit of actor contact, essential to maintaining engagement in endeavours such as this. That’s not intended as a criticism, merely as advice to those thinking of going that there’s a danger of feeling you’re not a part of the show if you’re not in the front ten rows.
Recommended viewing for sure, but get yourself in the front of the audience queue to get the full benefits of this innovative production.