Creator: A Bit Lit
Marking the launch of digital learning platform A Bit Lit, A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre is an immersive, online experience. Its premise is to imagine attending the theatre in 1600. The same year Hamlet was performed for the first time, A Bit Lit illustrates cultural life at this point in history, including the latest in academic research.
On paper, this may sound a little dry. However, the team behind A Day Out relay this information using a fun, interactive format. Presented by Andy Kesson and Jimmy Tucker, the event runs from discussions, comedy shorts and improv, with the audience getting to vote on where the production goes next.
We start with a discussion between actor Simon Russell Beale and author of This is Shakespeare, Professor Emma Smith. They coyly imagine what a theatre date would be like in 1600. A Day Out does a fantastic job at looking at not only the obvious differences between then and now, but also more intriguingly, what elements have remained the same.
The tone of the event is very much kept light, bright and fun: A Bit Lit even manages to get William Shakespeare himself to act as compere. Played by Ralph Bogard, this version of the Bard is gregarious and delightfully pompous The banter between Kesson, Tucker and Bogard is what glues together the entire experience – Bogard’s Shakespeare is a campy vision in a feather boa ruff, whose ego is routinely massaged by Kesson and Tucker.
For anyone who didn’t enjoy school, A Day Out is education by stealth. The comedy shorts include weather reports from Tudor TV (with great in-jokes about their aristocratic sponsors). The highlight is a weather report from Deaf performer Bea Webster – as she signs that speech from King Lear, she also tells us about the Elizabethan means of forecasting. Shakespeare’s world (termed here as early modern) still clung to much older superstitions. Thunder, depending on which direction it was coming from, heralded good fortune or worse luck.
Keeping the audience at the forefront of the event, A Day Out uses interactivity to keep us engaged. It’s not often your theatre experience involves raiding your spice cupboard, but A Day Out asks us to bring household items: sprigs of rosemary, a jar of ground cumin, an orange. With the guidance of associate professor Holly Dugan, we sniff our way through a journey to the theatre in 1600. Dugan’s presentation goes beyond the immediate associations – spices and exploration – and draws connections to our present day. Rosemary was used as a means of guarding against plague – a scent associated with health and wellbeing, becomes tinged with a sense of vulnerability.
A Day Out in Shakespeare’s Theatre is unapologetically enthusiastic and that’s hard to resist. The wealth of new information really impresses, but the way it’s delivered makes sure that no-one gets left behind. This is a production actively reaching for inclusivity, and tackling subjects such as Shakespeare – typically prone to academic and cultural gate-keeping – is a significant step in the right direction.
Livestreamed on 15 January 2022