Bard in the Botanics - 10 years of Glasgow’s outdoor Shakespeare festival
Artistic director Gordon Barr on 2011 anniversary programme
Artistic director Gordon Barr reminisces about ten years of Glasgow’s outdoor Shakespeare festival and looks ahead to the anniversary programme with Steve Cramer
It seems a little odd that we should think of Shakespeare played outdoors as a peculiar and quirky tradition from the 20th century. After all, that’s precisely the way the original audience would have seen the work of the ‘upstart crow’. In those days, an actor’s cry to the heavens seldom had a ceiling to prevent its passage. So next time you’re making the usual speculation about whether you’ll need a bus or a boat home in the dreich weather, comfort yourself that you’re also participating in a very old tradition.
Besides, Bard in the Botanics, which this year celebrates its 10th year as Glasgow’s summer outdoor Shakespeare festival offers the prospect of shelter from the elements, at least for its two flagship productions. This year, that most traditional of fare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by the outdoor festival’s artistic director, Gordon Barr will kick things off, with a special musical production, that will see our familiar confused young lovers and fairy monarchy chasing each other around a giant tent. Barr is excited at the prospect of confounding the traditions of the park production for this one. ‘That might seem paradoxical, but it’s the best way to play it with the music. Part of the trick is people might expect A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a park, but they won’t expect us to do it this way – there are some surprises in the tent.’
Jennifer Dick takes the paradox further, directing an outdoor Hamlet, although the tent will exist as a stand-by for rainy days. Surprisingly, this is BitB’s first ever version of the Dane. ‘When I thought about it, I realised we hadn’t done a Hamlet yet. I don’t know if we’ve been a bit scared of it, or what – just the name can be a bit daunting, it’s so culturally iconic,’ Barr comments. ‘I think perhaps it’s a mark of the confidence we’ve gained over the years working in the Botanics – we’ve learned how to use the locality more and more over the years, so now we feel ready. It’s certainly a play I feel quite personally connected to but it’s also a case of finding the right actor to do it, and in Paul Cunningham l I feel we’ve got that. This is an actor who has the status for it. I hope it’ll prove bit of a launching pad for him.’
But there’s always been a quirky side to this festival, with some neglected text reinterpreted for contemporary audiences. This year, the graft, corruption, pirates and adventure of Pericles certainly falls into that category. ‘It’s fun and there’s beautiful human emotion there as well. Beyond that, there’s a lot of craziness. It’s being done with just four actors, so they’re going to be busy,’ Barr comments. ‘It’s definitely a play that people don’t get to see that often, and there’s been a strand of that that’s always gone through the festival. Much as it’s a pleasure to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream again, if we become a company that only does the Dream, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and so on, it wouldn’t be the same. As a company, we always like to say, yes, there’s all these well known plays, and we like doing them, but perhaps you haven’t seen this before, and you’ll find it worth exploring.’
So, after a decade of Shakespearean park life, what’s co-founder Barr’s take on the festival?
‘Ten years of battling with midgies and Scottish weather, ignoring them all and fighting on, and none of us can believe we started all that time ago,’ Barr remarks, on what has clearly become a labour of love for him. ‘You know, a lot of theatre companies start up and can’t last that long without being well funded, and we feel we’ve really hung on in there. On the way, the festival has established itself as something of an institution. ‘I think there’s a really strong and loyal core audience that have come back each year. They’ve got used to it, and have developed a real passion for it over the years. They seem to go to everything each year. That said, 40% of our audience are there for the first time, so we seem to have also become good at getting people interested, who might, for example, be just passing through.’
Bard in the Botanics, Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Wed 22 Jun–Sat 30 Jul.