King Lear, Queen Margaret, Twelfth Night and Titus Andronicus - Bard in the Botanics 2010

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King Lear, Queen Margaret, Twelfth Night and Titus Andronicus set Bard in the Botanics 2010

As Bard in the Botanics unveils arguably its most ambitious programme to date artistic director Gordon Barr discusses the festival’s appeal with David Pollock

‘Every new play I’m approaching is what keeps me excited by this job,’ says Gordon Barr, artistic director of Bard in the Botanics, Glasgow’s outdoor Shakespeare festival. ‘Each of Shakespeare’s plays brings new challenges and opportunities because every one is so rich in elements that any director would love to get a hold of, whether that’s out and out farce or the depths of the human self.’

Barr’s passion is shared by the audiences who have made Bard in the Botanics such a summer institution. A year short of its tenth anniversary, BitB has been steered by Barr for the past seven years – this year he tackles what might well be its most challenging bill yet. Over five weeks the 29-strong company will be staging a run of four different plays, the centrepieces of which will be King Lear and Twelfth Night, both directed by Barr.

‘We haven’t reached rehearsals for Twelfth Night yet,’ says Barr at time of going to press, ‘but King Lear is coming along really well. When you have a text that’s so rich it’s a joy to work on, and part of the enjoyment is watching the actors grab a hold of it, particularly considering it has the reputation of being such a daunting play.’

Rounding off the bill this year will be Titus Andronicus and a specially adapted piece called Queen Margaret. The latter is a three-hander from Bard in the Botanics’ associate director Jennifer Dick, which traces the titular character through her appearances in various of Shakespeare’s plays, from Henry VI to Richard III. ‘It’s all Shakespearean text,’ says Barr. ‘I want to say it’s bits of the plays, but that makes it sound rather chopped up. Her story actually travels on a rather clear narrative through the piece.’

Titus Andronicus, meanwhile, is part of BitB’s emerging artists scheme, and will be directed by New Yorker Mark Silberschatz. A postgraduate student at the RSAMD, Silberschatz has staged Shakespeare in his home city in the past, and Barr describes the opportunity to invite young professionals to extend their working knowledge of Shakespeare with Bard in the Botanics as one of the most rewarding aspects of his tenure.

Reflecting on the upcoming tenth anniversary, he points out that there’s plenty of life in the concept yet, with barely half of Shakespeare’s plays having been performed so far. ‘There’s a real immediacy to an outdoor performance of Shakespeare,’ he says, ‘because the barrier between company and audience is removed, so it’s an active relationship that’s much more an approximation of how these performances worked in Shakespeare’s day.

Does he have any plans for the anniversary next year? ‘Well, we’ve never wanted to be the kind of outdoor Shakespeare company that just performs Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream over and over again and we’ve performed most of the major tragedies including Macbeth and now King Lear, so hopefully Hamlet won’t be too far away. Planning this is a year-round business, though, so that could change at any time.’

All shows at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow. King Lear, Wed 23 Jun–Sat 10 Jul; Queen Margaret, Thu 24 Jun–Fri 9 Jul; Twelfth Night, Wed 14–Sat 31 Jul; Titus Andronicus, Tue 20–Sat 31 Jul.

King Lear

Outdoor performance of what is arguably Shakespeare's greatest tragedy, in which a King divides his estate between his three daughters according to the magnitude of their love for him - his former Kingdom spiralling into chaos soon after.

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