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Barking mad for Shakespeare

THEATRE DUO: Director Angela Michaels with Merchant of Venice writer Ashley Joseph [Photo credit: Mark Sepple]

THE GREAT William Shakespeare’s renowned play, The Merchant of Venice, has been given an East End spin.

This year commemorates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and to mark this auspicious occasion Barking-based Studio 3 Arts will present an exciting promenade outdoor production of The Merchant of Venice next month around Barking Town Centre’s key landmarks.

This adaptation explores a celebrity-driven, internet world full of selfies and hashtags, which sees a wealthy heiress looking for a husband. Back on the streets of Barking, a rich merchant is looking for a loan. Everyone is out to make it for themselves; but everything comes at a price.

Relocating Venice to Barking in an adaptation directed by Angela Michaels and written by local writer Ashley Joseph, Studio 3 Arts presents a professional cast of actors alongside a team of community performers from across the borough.

“We’re doing something very different with this,” director Michaels tells Life & Style. “Though it’s The Merchant of Venice, we’re relocating it so it’s set in real locations in Barking. And the characters are Barking residents.”

During the play, the audience is taken to more than five locations including the Town Square and the local library
“It’s a story about love, revenge, race, money. It will be a very uplifting theatrical experience,” Michaels adds.

Born and raised in Nigeria, Michaels is influenced by her cultural heritage to produce dynamic visceral theatre. She brings a fresh approach, combined with rigorous investigation and research to her directing processes.

She is the co-founder of Tell Tarra, a theatre company dedicated to developing and producing new writing from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, for which she has directed extensively for showcases at the Albany, Rich Mix, Ovalhouse and Royal Court theatres.

Explaining the need for a theatre company like Tell Tarra, she says: “Our stories are rich, colourful and diverse.

“Writers should feel free to write what they want, but we’ve heard stories of writers being told their scripts were not ‘black enough’ – and that’s something I’ve heard more than once. It’s also essential that stories from our communities are heard and are not regarded as one story.”

She continues: “That’s the passion behind Tell Tara. We wanted to make sure there was a greater exposure of stories and we also wanted to facilitate writers’ development as well.”

As a champion for diversity, Michaels, who has worked as a dramaturg and director at Goldsmiths College and the University of Greenwich, believes that there is a huge amount of “ignored” black and minority ethnic talent on the British theatre circuit.

In the US earlier this month, for the first time ever, all four musical acting gongs at the prestigious Tony Awards went to people of colour – including British actress Cynthia Erivo for her starring role in Broadway’s The Color Purple.

The success was celebrated on social media with #TonysSoBlack - a pointed contrast to the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which has taken the movie industry to task for its lack of diversity.

While it’s a historic feat to celebrate, it shone a glaring light over on this side of the pond, where diversity is still lacking.

Michaels thinks she has a solution: a theatre awards ceremony to celebrate black excellence in theatre and the performing arts.

“In an ideal world, it’s better to integrate, but if people are getting passed over and ignored – not necessarily deliberately but because people’s vision isn’t wide enough – one way to get attention is to do it for yourself.

“Do you keep waiting for them to notice that you’re there, or do you just get up and do it yourself and then broaden the scope of what people are looking that? I think it might profile the high level of excellence there is in the theatre from people of colour.”

“It would be nice if we didn’t have to wait to be invited in,” she adds:

Studio 3 Arts presents Merchant of Venice, playing from July 5-10 in Barking. For more information, visit: www.studio3arts.org.uk

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