Questions and Answers with Victorine Pontillon and Tilly Lunken co-creators of In Souliloquy.
Why take on re-writing/re-interpreting Shakespeare’s characters?
T: Well I was interested in hearing the other side of the story for some characters and anything at all from others. Quite a lot of Shakespeare’s plays are quite plotty so there isn’t time to get to know the innermost thoughts of characters unless it is integral to the action. For example we hear quite a lot from Lady M when she is busy steeling herself to persuade her husband to murder the King but her death happens offstage and is not explored at all. That tied in with the popular opinion she was responsible for everything and theatrical superstitions gives us a really interesting Souliloquy. We are saying here is what she might say if given the chance.
V: I was exposed to Shakespeare at a very young age, and of course he was a huge and integral part of any and all theatre studies. I was always intrigued by those characters that seem to pop in and out, or only make a short appearance. They always seem so developed and whole, even though they are barely on stage! So that plays into I suppose. Generally, I was always fascinated by people and characters that are always represented the same way, or at the very least, in similar fashions. You can’t help but wonder, yes but what else is there? The facet we show to the world is only one of the facets which make us whole and human – why not explore that idea through some of the most beloved and recognisable figures in theatre?
Is it respectful to mess around with Shakespeare?
T: At the risk of totally theatre geeking out here – there is a wonderful tradition of messing about with Shakespeare. David Garrick in 1772 completely altered the ending of Hamlet because he didn’t feel it cast him in a flattering light as an actor. Despite critical resistance his version became the dominant ‘performance text’ of the eighteenth century.* While we can now probably agree this wasn’t a respectful thing to do it gives us a lot of information about the importance of actors at the time and Garrick’s considerable influence.
Theatre is a live medium it requires the present to be a part of a production in order to be relevant to a contemporary audience so within reason why not play around with it? With decent thought and consideration a new context can really bring new insight into a play. In Souliloquy is not a pastiche project – we are very serious about how it is connected to the characters.
V: Shakespeare himself borrowed characters and retold stories, making them his own! So no, I think it is an integral part of the creative process to beg, borrow, steal and re-invent! Shakespeare is a monument, but I think being too reverential to such works and authors can inhibit the spirit of playfulness and the idea of artistic dialogue. Besides, we are hardly the first to do so – I think the fact he still inspires, and sparks debate today, 400 years later is precisely the heart of the matter.
How do the Souliloquies sit alongside the source texts?
V: It is about truly understanding the source material, Letting it be the pencil lines on the canvas before the paint comes. The structure, the backbone, which both defines and remains invisible beneath the final product. Our work is a response to those visceral feelings, those unanswered questions which arise from readings of the source material, a variation, an alternate universe where we can explore and play.
T: Any reinterpretation of a classic text enters a dialogue with the source material. Each should give a deeper understanding of the other but also stand up as a single artistic entity. Also it’s not like we have just matched up speeches from Shakespeare’s plays and mirrored them – a big part of the project is to bring new voices to the stage. This project is about saying the unsaid and it is being shared in both a traditional/contemporary way in the form of a direct address to the audience.
Have you read all of the plays?
T: Working on it! I studied Romeo and Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and King Lear at school and Julius Caesar, Richard III and Hamlet at uni. I have also read quite a few others and am aiming to read more during this project. Although I would say it’s harder to say something new if you are too deeply immersed in your source material so it’s a balancing act.
V: All of the plays we’ve taken inspiration from? Or all of them generally? If the former, yes, if the latter, I admit, not properly! I got lost mid-way through some of them, Pericles, King John, Timon of Athens. Having never seen them in performance either, I find it more difficult to go back and read them, I think we all have our favorites and prefer to just read those over and over… Which is terrible to say!
T: Yes, it is worth saying here that while both of us have studied Shakespeare – neither of us are specialist scholars and our take on the characters and how their souls speak to us is a creative response to the collected works of Shakespeare.
V: Agreed – and I would add I think that is what makes In Souliloquy exciting – it’s an emotional and intellectual endeavour rather than simply an intellectual one.
Is it difficult to write to a form?
T: To a certain extent yes. But it is also fun to play with words and language. As was pointed out recently by Giles Block much of Shakespeare’s work does conform to iambic pentameter but a lot of it doesn’t. Sometimes you need to go with the line or how someone would say it. For example the Juliet I wrote has shorter and more simple lines than Lady M. Lavina’s words are full of rage so that is a very different feel to Helena justifying to an audience and herself the nature of true love. If you sit there and try forcing everything into a beat it doesn’t work as well – you need to feel it.
What are the challenges in directing the project?
V: Well, this will be my very first foray into self-shooting, and that in itself is a huge challenge! I feel a great responsibility in bringing these texts to life in the way they deserve! Currently, it’s about trying to make simple choices, so that the texts, and the wonderful actors we have on board (and who I would be lost without!), speak for themselves. It’s not about making fancy or cool choices, it’s about making small, significant ones, which will infuse meaning and truth into the pieces, without being a confusing and useless mess of “directing”. I think the main challenge I always face, and with which the actors and their creativity and imagination have helped enormously so far, is trusting the work, and trusting myself to make the right choices.
T: Victorine’s mood boards are amazing!
V: Haha – that is a remnant of my theatre directing and acting classes! We used to have to make journals and mood boards, I’ve found it’s a great tool for communicating emotions and mood. I’m more pictures, Tilly is the better one with words!
How hard is it, letting the text go?
T: As a writer working in theatre you just have to get over it. I am a strong believer in both the ‘written text’ and ‘performance text’ coexisting but the only way everyone is satisfied is if you and your collaborators are in sync. Working with Victorine is a dream. She is a fantastic collaborator and I really feel that all the souliloquies belong to us both and together we share them with our fantastic performers. I trust in her vision.
One of the best things about In Souliloquy is the quick turnaround in producing the project – the media we are using gives us the power to make it when we want to and distribute accordingly. Seeing it come together so quickly is very rewarding as a writer. I mean it is a lot of work self producing but when you are working with a great team it’s worth it.
What if any are the connections between the Souliloquies?
V: Everyone I am sure will have their own thoughts on what connects them all, well I hope so because that is a huge part of this project! For me, I think the main themes connecting all our souliloquies is the idea of identity. Nature vs. nurture: what makes us who we are? And how can we reshape our images, our identities, when those have been sculpted and influenced by others.
T: Visually as well there are some nice connections. This is definitely a curated collection!
V: I’m definitely looking forward to seeing people’s responses to the work – and what else they find!
Can I get involved?
V&T: Please do!
* This is totally referencing Tilly’s honours thesis and is a fascinating example of how critics can sometimes be awesome.