‘Young India is motivated by live theatre’

Actor, director and ‘Shakespeare missionary’ Gareth Armstrong on why the bard is relevant today

‘Young India is motivated by live theatre’

For as long as there are young people in the world struggling to find their identity, William Shakespeare and his works would remain relevant. Gareth Armstrong, a theatre artiste from Britain, reminds us that Shakespeare’s appeal is universal. His characters and their realities resonate with contemporary life.

A stage actor for over 50 years and a member of London’s iconic Royal Shakespeare Company, he has also worked at Shakespeare’s Globe, the historical playhouse for which the bard wrote his plays. Gareth calls himself a Shakespeare missionary, having played everything from Romeo to Richard III, and from Puck to Prospero, around the world.

In Kochi, as a Trinity College of London examiner for Speech and Drama, Gareth talks of how theatre is still thriving despite popular belief that it is dying. “People have been predicting the death of theatre forever. But it will never die; it draws young people to it even today, they respond to it. It is a political medium and the experience of theatre is like nothing else,” says Gareth, who concentrates now on directing after half a century on stage. “I stopped acting when I felt I might no longer be able to memorise my lines.”

A director who lets his actors find their own interpretations of a character, Gareth feels Shakespeare is not taught in the right way today. “I don’t know how it is in India, but in the UK, it is treated as literature and not as drama. It should be taught in a way in which one can unlock the treasure that each work is.”

The challenges of being a director are many. Most often than not, the text does not lend itself to changes. “I assume the role of a facilitator, rather than an original creator. All I need to do is make sure the story is told. They say the second oldest profession in the world is that of an actor.” Having been an actor gives him the empathy that is required for the job.

‘Young India is motivated by live theatre’

While theatre has undergone drastic changes from the time he started performing, the core essence remains unchanged. Illuminations, microphones and other digital interventions notwithstanding, a simple, one-man play doesn’t need the assistance of technology, he says. “A simple play can still take people by surprise.”

The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie, which he has directed, is the longest running play in UK; it has been on in the West End for 67 years and a different production will be brought to a three-city tour of India. The old-fashioned whodunnit has been performed all over the UK. He is also working on Wilde Without The Boy, based on a letter Oscar Wilde wrote from prison to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. He would be taking the play to Italy next month.

This is Gareth’s tenth visit to India and he speaks of a performance he witnessed by children in Thiruvananthapuram recently. “Scores of children had written and devised a whole evening of plays, which were hugely satisfying and successful. This is proof that the young in India are very excited and motivated by live theatre.” He also admires the works of actor and playwright Girish Karnad, whom he has met during one of his visits. He has a collection of Karnad’s plays, too.

Gareth says he has not yet thought about retirement: “Every day, every performance and every rehearsal is different. Theatre constantly evolves and that is its beauty.”

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 11:01:30 PM |

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