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The Comedy of Errors

Shakespeare's Rosalind Comes to Nottingham

24 February 17 interview: Lucy Manning

James Cousins has given Shakespeare's fearless heroine a makeover through contemporary dance...

How much do you stick to the story of As You Like It? Is it a direct portrayal or more of a creative interpretation?
Rosalind references As You Like It and draws on its themes, and obviously its main character, but it’s stripped of much of the story. For me, what was interesting was Rosalind as a character and her journey of self-discovery, not the ins and out of the narrative.

Will there be any speech in the production at all?
There is a voice over used in the show. We collaborated with poet Sabrina Mahfouz who has brought to life Rosalind’s inner thoughts. Sabrina drew inspiration from Shakespeare’s original text as well as the themes we were exploring and combined this with personal contemporary experiences.

How do you go about transforming the written word into a piece of choreography? What’s your creative process like?
I try to go beyond the words. There’s no point trying to do it so literally – someone may as well have gone and watched the play. Dance can provide a layer of insight into the characters which text cannot, and it’s my task to find that, draw it out of the dancers, and present it on stage.

I worked very closely with the dancers, drawing a lot of the material from them, sometimes from the narrative, other times from the themes or a more physical starting point. We explored the different facets of Rosalind; the oppressed princess and Ganymede her male persona, and explored how they interact to create a really multifaceted character.

Do you prefer to have a written stimulus when creating work or do you sometimes find that it hinders the creative process?
It can definitely be a hindrance as much as it is a help. I find if I get too hung up on the text it really impedes the process. However, it’s also great to have a rich source material for all collaborators to draw inspiration from. It works best for me when I have read and explored the text enough that I can then leave the script outside the studio and follow my instinct to discover what my version of the work will be.

Shakespeare wrote As You Like It over 400 years ago – what is it, if anything, that makes the story relevant to today?
It is so relevant, more so than I even imagined when I chose to use it as the starting point for this show. The play’s themes feel incredibly modern: it explores a society with changing attitudes; deals with questions of social diversity; and most brilliantly, it puts a woman in the driving seat. Rosalind is the real driving force of the play, working tirelessly to bring the broken society around her together and to create a sense of community – something I feel we most certainly need in this country today.

What drew you to this particular play, and more specifically, the character of Rosalind?
When we were asked by the British Council to pitch for Shakespeare Lives, my producer said to me “you always do dark stories, why not chose one of the comedies?” So I accepted her challenge and we chose As You Like It because of the gender changing and the focus on a female lead which both felt like very relevant themes in contemporary Korean culture.

But as we started exploring it, I was actually thinking, what is the real interest for me in this play? So we kept on stripping it down and removing characters to get to the heart of it, which led us to Rosalind.

She is a diplomat and a peacemaker and has great qualities of patience and kindness. She feels hugely relevant in today’s Brexit/Trump society; she’s been exiled and banished from her community, but that only strengthens her resolve and she works tirelessly to create a love that will survive in the real world.

You created the piece in South Korea – was there a reason for this? Will the show transfer to British audiences? Will you change any part of the show to accommodate for British audiences?
In South Korea, women’s rights is a really current topic -- having made a huge leap from almost nothing to equality in the past twenty years, creating a real shift in society. As Rosalind is Shakespeare’s most celebrated heroine, it seemed the perfect place to explore a character who is taking control of who she is.

I think the show will absolutely translate to British audiences as this story has so many layers to it. Ultimately, whether you are fighting for gender equality, gay rights, or the right to marry who you want, I think we can all connect with the desire to want to be ourselves and be accepted for that.

Dance is a universal language and yes I’m sure British people will read into things differently from Korean audiences, but that’s the exciting part and I’m resisting changing too much.

The piece asks the question of whether women still need to emulate stereotypical masculinity to find equality in the modern world. What is your opinion? Does the piece serve to answer the question, or pose the question?

The piece aims to purely pose the question, to put certain scenarios on stage that challenge and provoke the audience to see men and woman in certain ways and to reflect on how that makes them feel. Do we accept that situation? Does it make us feel uncomfortable? How does it make me feel when we invert the genders?

The Hillary vs Donald campaign was in full swing when we were creating, and I think that had a big impact on the creation; seeing this perfectly qualified woman being forced to jump through hoop after hoop that her male opponent was not being made to do.

Was the female perspective of your dramaturg, Hejin Jang, important to you and the piece?
Hejin was amazing to work with; she was constantly challenging my ideas and questioning me on things. We had brilliant discussions.

Hejin has experienced the big shift in attitudes towards women in Korea and has also lived in America, so she has this western perspective as well. I think her perspective, as well as that of all the collaborators was really important in feeding in to the voice of Rosalind and making her truly relevant for todays world.

Rosalind will be on at Djanogly Theatre on Friday 3 March, 7.30pm, £12/£14/£16

Lakeside Arts website

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