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The Pub does Shakespeare

The cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo: Jacob Sammut

The cast of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo: Jacob Sammut

It’s that time of year again, when The Bard gets a beered up makeover by director Philip Leone Ganado. Interview by Ramona Depares.

This is the third edition of Shakespeare at The Pub – how was the idea born?

I was, for no particular reason, re-reading Two Gentlemen of Verona and the rather odd thought occurred to me that all the scenes could conceivably take place in a pub. Shortly after, my friend and collaborator Nathan Brimmer took over The Pub in Valletta and it seemed like it had to be. Since The Pub only has 25 seats and not enough room to swing a cat, it was clearly an incredibly stupid place to try and stage Shakespeare – which only made us want to do it more.

Did you anticipate that it would become a yearly event?

Absolutely not. Before we announced the first show, we had no idea if anyone would actually show up. But it turned out a lot of people were interested in our crazy idea: we sold out all our shows in a couple of weeks and people loved it. So we decided to do ‘just one more’ the next year, and when that went even better, ‘one more’ this year. We’ve repeatedly said this is the last one, but I’ve given up on committing to that.

What has response been like?

We’ve fully sold out and had a long waiting list both years, so in terms of numbers it’s been incredible. But the most satisfying thing has been the number of people who’d never been to a Shakespeare show, or who’d read Shakespeare in school and hated it, who came along and loved what they saw.

One thing which we heard again and again was from people who said they never realised Shakespeare could be so much fun, which is what it’s all about for us.  

Shakespeare is typically, perhaps unfairly, tied in with highbrow scenarios. Has staging it within a pub ruffled any feathers on the local theatre scene?

I think we’re considered a little fringe oddity – one critic told me he wasn’t going to attend as we’re not part of the ‘official calendar’ (whatever that is), and you’re not going to see us on the V18 programme any time soon – which is absolutely fine by us.  Ultimately, what I hope we’ve done is show that Shakespeare doesn’t have to be big sets and beautiful settings, and absolutely doesn’t have to be shouty men in tights. Shakespeare can be six people in a tiny pub, being a bit silly and sharing jokes and a great story with a small audience.

Shakespeare can be six people in a tiny pub, being a bit silly and sharing jokes and a great story with a small audience

What is this year’s play and why did you pick this one?

We’ve gone with Much Ado About Nothing, which is a really fun rom-com about two people who hate each other but are actually a perfect match, and two people who love each other but find themselves torn apart.

We were keen to go for another comedy, but this one also has many moments which are much darker than anything we’ve previously done, so it feels like a great evolution for us. It’s got great characters, music, dancing and the iconic Benedick-Beatrice ‘merry war’, so it seemed a great fit.

When did preparations start?

We’ve been planning it out, casting and preparing the script pretty much since the end of last year’s show, but rehearsals kicked off around five weeks ago.

The Pub Shakespeare offerings are known for an amount of quirky additions/improvisations and so forth. What can we expect this year?

Some surprising song choices, a conga line, a constable played by a different special guest every night, and a number of costume changes so fast we’re still not sure we’re going to pull them off. This apart from the now ‘usual’ facts of six actors taking on two or three roles each, audience interaction, and way easier access to alcohol than would probably have been advisable.

What is the biggest challenge in putting up a play within this environment?

The Pub throws up some big challenges, but over time they’ve all become a key part of our approach. Being so close to the audience means we can make them a big part of the show, having so little room to manouevre means we get to explore every inch of what the space has to offer and playing with so few actors allows us to get really inventive with our doubling.

Do you have any special message for the audience?

Give Shakespeare a go if you haven’t before, and give The Pub a go if you have. If you don’t enjoy the show, you can always keep drinking until you do (we even give you a free beer to get you started). 

Much Ado About Nothing: Shakespeare at The Pub is a What’s Their Names theatre production. It takes place between April 22 and May 3 at The Pub in Archbishop Street, Valletta. A few remaining tickets are available online.

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