Bard in the Botanics
Artistic director Gordon Barr tells Yasmin Sulaiman why annual outdoor Shakespeare festival Bard in the Botanics keeps going from strength to strength
There are probably fewer people in Scotland more excited about the Met Office’s predicted heatwave this summer than Gordon Barr, artistic director of Bard in the Botanics, Glasgow’s annual outdoor Shakespeare festival. ‘I’m really keeping my fingers crossed for this promised heatwave,’ he says. ‘We have struggled a little bit with the weather over the last couple of years but our audiences have been very loyal and supportive.’
The two major productions at Bard in the Botanics this year will be The Taming of the Shrew (pictured, above) and Macbeth, both of which were performed at the festival in 2004. ‘2004 was the very first year that I took over as artistic director and I was only about 24 at the time,’ Barr explains, ‘so The Taming of the Shrew was a play that I’ve always wanted to come back to. We also thought it would be nice to complement a very famous couple like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth with another strong couple, Petruchio and Kate. But we wanted something fun as well, given the current climate.’
This idea of outdoor Shakespeare being more light-hearted than the indoor variety is a quality that attracts many casual theatregoers to Bard in the Botanics. Yet, the thought of Macbeth – described by Barr as Shakespeare’s ‘leanest, darkest tragedy’ – being performed in the lush, leafy Botanic Gardens seems incongruous. However, the director is sure that the site-specific nature of the production, this year directed by Jennifer Dick who played Lady Macbeth in the 2004 incarnation, will make it a success.
‘Obviously there is a section of our audience who want to come along with their picnics and relax out in the sunshine,’ Barr says. ‘But Macbeth is going to be much more site-specific [than Shrew] and will use its surroundings to bring the audience in. I think that’s what people get from coming to see the play in the Gardens: they see Macbeth out on a windy blasted heath – or the closest we can get to that in the terribly beautiful Botanic Gardens.’
Completing this year’s trio is Richard III, which will be performed in the Kibble Palace. This play is also a repetition from five years ago, but audiences need fear no overlaps. Barr says: ‘My predecessor Scott Palmer directed Richard III some years ago but this is my first-time directing the show. Certainly with Macbeth, Jennifer is coming to it with a fresh directing eye and while I’m carrying over the same basic conceit as my first production of Shrew – it’s all in modern dress – there’s a whole new cast and I haven’t even looked at my old script.’
The inclusion of a tragedy, a comedy and a history play sets up 2009’s Bard in the Botanics season as one that’s likely to appeal to a wide audience. Yet, despite this year’s re-visitations of the past, there are still plenty of Shakespeare’s plays that the festival has yet to tackle. ‘We’re now at the stage where we’ve produced more than half of his works,’ Barr says. ‘But every play that he wrote has merit and has a place at the Botanics if we can find the right way to do it. I don’t think we’ll ever run out.’
Bard in the Botanics, all events Botanic Gardens, Glasgow. The Taming of the Shrew, Wed 24 Jun–Sat 11 Jul; Macbeth, Wed 15 Jul–Sat 1 Aug; Richard III, Thu 16 Jul–Sat 1 Aug.