The first recorded performance of Twelfth Night took place in Middle Temple Hall in 1602. His earlier play, The Comedy of Errors, was staged at Gray’s Inn in 1594.
Shakespeare’s Globe marked the 400th anniversary of the Middle Temple Hall performance with a memorable production in February 2002 with Mark Rylance as Olivia. A production of Shakespeare’s King John is planned for April 2015 in Temple Church as part of the Magna Carta anniversary celebrations.
However, the relationship between the InnsVand theatre began before Shakespeare was born and continued after he died. Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s and Gray’s were all well known as venues, sometimes infamous venues, for performances by their own students as well as professional companies. Performance was seen as providing students with opportunities to develop their deportment, ease of bearing and oratorical skills as well as offering them an entertaining release from the daily grind of study. Students from the Inns of Court also regularly frequented theatres north and south of the River.
Indeed, the Inns of Court deserve to be credited as the breeding ground for the golden age of British drama. The use of dramatic “blank verse” – unrhymed iambic pentameters – and dramatic prose was pioneered and first heard at the Inns. Sackville and Norton broke free from the shackles of rhyme and were the first to experiment with blank verse in their Gorboduc, written for fellow Gentleman of the Inner Temple, before being played in front of Queen Elizabeth in 1562.
George Gascoigne can be credited with the first prose comedy. His Supposes (a translation of an Italian play by Ariosto) was written for Gray’s Inn where it was performed in 1566. Both Gorboduc and Supposes were revived in their respective Halls by Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013 as part of Read Not Dead, Globe Education’s bold quest to stage all plays written between 1558 an the closing of all theatres, by Act of Parliament, in 1642. In November 2014, a performance of Richard Edwards’ The Most Excellent Comedy of Two The Most Faithfullest Friends Damon and Pithias was given in Middle Temple Hall. The play – in rhyming couplets – had been written for a performance at Lincoln’s Inn in 1564, the year Shakespeare was born.
The Read Not Dead quest began in 1995 and, to date, over 230 plays of the c.400 plays that have survived in print, have been staged. Most performances are given by professional casts but the staged readings in the Inns of Court often involve members, too.
The ground rules are simple. The cast meets on a Sunday morning with their scripts. It is fairly unlikely that many of them have read much of their own part let alone the entire play. By 4pm, when the audience arrives, a director and cast have the play up on its feet. Far from sedentary affairs, Read Not Dead performances have their entrances and exits, token costume and music when needed. There is a shared spirit of adventure for both actors and audiences. Like Hermione’s statue in The Winter’s Tale, the play “stirs” once again.
As noted above, Globe Education staged Damon and Pythias – a play about the power, beauty and virtue of “amity” – in Middle Temple Hall to help launch its Shakespeare and Friendship season (more information at www.shakespearesglobe.com/friendship).
The season continues at Gray’s Inn on 15 February, 2015 with John Ford’s Love’s Sacrifice. Ford dedicated the play to his cousin and namesake “my truest friend, my worthiest kinsman, John Ford of Gray’s Inn”. Ford is attracting a lot of interest, at present, with revivals of his plays in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and at the RSC. A Caroline playwright who wrote for indoor theatres, Ford was greatly inspired by Shakespeare and especially Othello. Love’s Sacrifice at Gray’s Inn will be the first in a Read Not Dead series which will stage all of his solo-authored plays in the summer of 2015.
On 1 March, 2015, Read Not Dead will return to the Inner Temple to help celebrate the Magna Carta anniversary with George Peele’s The Troublesome Reign of King John, the play behind Shakespeare’s own King John.
Both the performances at Gray’s Inn and Inner Temple will involve Globe actors and Members of the Inns – a heady mix of doublet and wig. Iain Christie is a trained actor as well as a barrister and sees the value of combining both practices. As a Bencher of the Inner Temple and a member of the Inner Temple drama society, he was involved in the staging of Gorboduc. “The relationship between the two professions extends beyond the use of legal venues for staging historic plays and the pleasure of lawyers entertaining their colleagues in after-dinner revels,” he says. “It applies also to the comparative skills employed by both professions. Modern training courses for young lawyers increasingly engage professional actors to teach presentation skills which focus on breathing, posture, presence, and vocal projection.
“I am interested in how law students can use the drama-school techniques of narrative and improvisation in their work. Storytelling is a core aspect of the craft of both the advocate and actor. The advocate must always remember that his objective is to connect emotionally with the person he is trying to persuade.
“But the transference of skills does not only travel in one direction. When I was at drama school I was struck by the similarity between the process of textual analysis in rehearsals and preparation for trial. The actor must create a consistent back-story for their character so their performance is grounded in a continuing reality; a barrister must build a case theory for a version of events he wishes the judge or jury to believe. And the processes are strikingly similar.”
Iain Christie will return to the stage of Inner Temple for The Troublesome Reign of King John in March while Sir Michael John Burton and Masters Roger Eastman, Charles Douthwaite and Colin Manning will star in Love’s Sacrifice at Gray’s in February. A plan for a staged reading at Lincoln’s Inn is in the pipeline.
The actors from the Globe will return to Bankside for the last Read Not Dead of the season on 19 April, of the anonymous play The Faithful Friends. The lawyers will be left north of the river, however. Hopefully the amity between clown and gown will prevail.
More information and booking details online: www.shakespearesglobe.com/readnotdead.