Richard II in 60 Hours Across Six Time Zones… Impossible Shakespeare?
Famously, Shakespeare didn’t give his performers much time to rehearse. They were often allotted only one or two read-throughs (or perhaps slightly longer if the script included a fight scene), were given the barest of margins to learn their lines and expected to deliver magical monologues and powerful performances to an audience. With most modern theatre productions dedicating around six weeks for rehearsals, this very quick-turnaround now seems challenging, if not impossible – could contemporary theatre companies ever hope to match the sheer speed of rehearsal that Shakespeare’s actors maintained?
Well, confronted with the industry-shattering impact of Covid-19, 60 Hour Shakespeare not only aims to achieve this speedy feat but does it one better: their performers aren’t even in the same time zone!
Founded in 2017, 60 Hour Shakespeare was formed with the express purpose of recapturing the rehearsal process of Shakespeare’s time whilst also raising money for altruistic causes: with each iteration, the creative team and cast have only 60 intensive hours to piece together a faithful reproduction of a Shakespearean classic, encouraging their eventual audience to donate to the company’s chosen charity. Using both professional and amateur actors from around the globe, the company has staged a handful of shows to critical claim over the last few years – their A Midsummer Night’s Dream from May earlier this year was described as “a piece of theatrical bravura”. Now, with £3,000 raised for charities so far, this organisation is putting on their most ambitious project yet: a live-streamed production of Richard II performed simultaneously across six different time zones.
The famous historical play, which is based on the eponymous King of the same name, denotes the political and personal struggles stemming from the sovereign line of succession, and it couldn’t be more topical. Now more than ever, people are worried about the future and how our leaders will rise to each challenge; a production of Richard II couldn’t be better suited than to our contemporary moment. However, in performing, the actors will have to overcome numerous challenges themselves… most notably, how do you convincingly act with someone on the other half of the world?
Indeed, 60 Hour Shakespeare draws from an international cohort of performers. Their various accents are noticeable throughout the production, colouring the characters with extra twists of intrigue and interest. As the play progresses, the actors will have to stage fights, pass across props and even feign love whilst being unified only by a Zoom call; the blank verse and perfervid monologues of the Bard’s plays are usually difficult enough to deliver, imagine compounding them while having to contend with Zoom as well!
Nevertheless, the cast and crew seem confident. On the 60 Hour Shakespeare’s YouTube Channel, the team has built up anticipation for its premiere through releasing interviews with the performers and even masterclasses with Shakespearean experts, like the RSC’s Voice and Text Associate Michael Corbidge; to say they seem prepared would be an understatement.
As the clock counts down to Richard II’s premiere, only time will tell if the team can pull it off. But, with all the good 60 Hour Shakespeare is doing – raising money for charity, offering invaluable masterclasses and providing free access to art during this tumultuous time – it’s easy to say that the show is already very much a success.
Watch Richard II here: