Nathan and Simon Dowling are the faces and masterminds of the YouTube channel, The Break A Leggers. In the final episode of this series Anjna talks to them about their experiences of reviewing theatre and their expectations of watching Shakespeare live in the modern world.
Support the show (https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/podcast-support)
Nathan and Simon Dowling are the faces and masterminds of the YouTube channel, The Break A Leggers. In the final episode of this series Anjna talks to them about their experiences of reviewing theatre and their expectations of watching Shakespeare live in the modern world.
Support the show (https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/podcast-support)
Anjna Chouhan: Welcome to Shakespeare Alive, a podcast from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. My name is Anjna. This podcast hosts conversations with people from all over the world who work or engage with Shakespeare across all sorts of media and genres. In this episode, I'm joined by the power couple behind the YouTube phenomenon that is the Break A Leggers. So Nathan and Simon Dowling have become what I'm going to call ‘celebrities’ in the theatrical world with their raw, on- the-spot reviews of productions filmed in the intervals, and immediately after each show. They have an incredible following on social media and they have fantastically warm personalities. And I know that their mission is to celebrate theatrical experience and to encourage conversations about theatre making and, most importantly, theatre accessibility. So it's a very great privilege to welcome Nathan and Simon Dowling to Shakespeare Alive.
Simon Dowling: Thank you! You’re amazing, too. Thanks for having us.
Anjna Chouhan: Can you tell me what got you into theatre? Now, Simon, why don't you start us off?
Simon Dowling: Yeah, it's what gets a lot of young people into theatre and that's the family experience of going to pantomime every year. And I can vividly remember my first ever panto. And [I] fell in love with a story unfolding in front of me with real people acting it out. Specifically that audience engagement. And I think it was that moment that sticks out most vividly in my mind.
Anjna Chouhan: Nathan, how about you?
Nathan Dowling: I think it's quite different for me, actually, because, um, I guess we're not very academic as a family. We have dyslexia in our family. So I had, um, learning challenges and difficulties growing up. And the one place I did find my vocation, I guess, of expression was through drama, because you're entering a space. …You don't have to study and read. You're just expressing yourself… and fell into then doing like a BTech and performing arts, and then going into a career as an actor, because it was one of the only skills open to me, really. So I guess that was my first introduction to theatre as a place to fit in a place to express myself.
Anjna Chouhan: So theatre is, therefore, very...an empowering experience, both being part of it and watching it for both of you then?
Nathan Dowling: Absolutely! And I think that's a really clear distinction actually, um, that my journey now with theatre is very different to then. Then it was very much about myself and being a part of expressing myself. For me now, I think it's very much about being taken on a journey.
Simon Dowling: It's quite strange actually, because your journey with theatre started as a performer and as sort of developed into audience member. Whereas mine started as audience member. And since meeting Nathan, I've since gone on to direct and perform. It's almost in some respects we've swapped roles. But I think what has always remained consistent in both of our lives is just that a thorough enjoyment.
Anjna Chouhan: Can you talk to me a bit about what Break A Leggers is, for the benefit of the audience who haven't come across you before?
Simon Dowling: The Break A Leggers is two approaching middle-aged, gay, married men, talking a load of drivel about what they think about the show they've just seen as an immediate reaction to a production that they've just watched. And that production might be in London's West End, or it might be at a regional theatre around the country, or it might be in Stratford upon Avon. And I think, um, our USP is firstly really honest, unfiltered opinion about the show. We film uh, reviews straight outside the theatre, as soon as the curtain goes down, whereas a print journalist would have a note pad perhaps return home, take some time to mull over what they've seen...
Nathan Dowling: Articulate each word, re-write a sentence. Spell check, go back in say that doesn't make sense…
Simon Dowling: We don't do any of that. What we are is completely raw. And what we are also are people that don't make any money out of what we do. It's not a job for us. It is completely the unfiltered opinion of two theatre lovers.
Nathan Dowling: What we also try and do is a community. We want to link people. So I guess the Break A Leggers, is a bit of a platform for other people as well to express their views, um, which they do, um, some quite strongly, all of which are valid and we welcome. So I think in terms of the Break A Leggers, not only is it just us commenting on it. But, I think it's linking together the people who go and see theatre and have a passionate view on it as well.
Simon Dowling: Yeah. That's the lovely thing about having a comment section underneath the video and the social media interaction that we have. If you pick up a newspaper, it's very insular. It's such an isolated experience reading and not having a feedback method, whereas our fellow Leggers will often talk in our comments section with each other about what they've seen, talk to others and we'll respond.
Anjna Chouhan: So, this is a really positive side of using social media to engage with theatrical audiences and theatre-goers. You have a great community of "Leggers", as you call them. For the benefit of our audience, how, how do people become Leggers?
Simon Dowling: So, yeah, you can become a fellow Legger by heading over to YouTube. If you pop the Break A Leggers into the search bar, you'll see a little...
Nathan Dowling: Was that, was that the Breaker Leggers?
Simon Dowling: Want me to spell it? The Break A Leggers and you'll see a little symbol, a little red curtain with BAL emblazoned over it. Wherever you see that logo, you'll find us. Subscribe on YouTube and over on Instagram and Twitter as well. If you search the Break A Leggers, um, you'll find us and you'll be able to start the conversation about pieces of theatre that you've seen.
Anjna Chouhan: So over time, I'm assuming you've ironed out some of the kinks in how you, how you approach your theatre-reviewing practise, as it were?
Nathan Dowling: Oh boy, have we! I think they say practice makes perfect. I don't think we're at perfect yet. You have to go wrong a number of times, and only by going wrong do you figure out: ‘okay, what we need to do next?’ We have many a debrief session. In fact, looking back at some of our earlier reviews...
Simon Dowling: Or trying to avoid looking back at our early reviews...
Nathan Dowling: They're awful! We're like: ‘oh my goodness!’, at the time our intention was right; but they're just, they're not us. We're trying to perform or trying to be something, we're trying to do something... There was a time where we used to script the openings because um, Legger Simon is really good at getting like the information we need.
Simon Dowling: I'm the research buff!
Nathan Dowling: And there was a time when we'd almost learn it as a script and watching them, they do come across as scripted, even though they have all the information and we'd have to do take after take after take where I kept getting it wrong.
Simon Dowling: Yeah and as a result you lose a bit of us and our personalities. And as we sort of started doing more videos and started to get feedback from the people that were watching us, we realised they liked us as people, as much as what we were saying. And when we did disagree or we had little... because sometimes we do… there's two of us reviewing the show and sometimes I can get something from the piece, which will pass you by entirely and vice versa. And it was those spats and those debates that, that people really liked because they could see our personalities. So then we started to scrap a lot of the scripted things and just be more…well, and as a result, more relaxed and enjoying the process more as well, actually.
Nathan Dowling: And I think that's the thing, when we go to the theatre, although we review theatre, we want it to be good.
Simon Dowling: Yeah. We just want it to be good!
Nathan Dowling: God's sake! we're giving up our time, we want to... we don't know what good looks like, but we just want to be engaged. We want to be taken on that journey and that's always the tricky part then when we’re reviewing it, and when that doesn't happen - articulating just what it is that hasn't connected with us.... and at the same time, we know that it's a form of art and it's objective, and because it didn't resonate with us it doesn't mean that there's other people that it did - do you know what I mean? We can't say who is and who isn't going to enjoy it.
Simon Dowling: There are some easy, quick wins when it comes to how to stage a production that can be applied to, to Shakespeare's works as much as everybody's works. Um, but yeah, it's, it's that fine line of always maintaining, as theatre reviewers that this is just our opinion on what we think of a piece. It doesn't mean that if you go and see it, you're going to have the same experience.
Nathan Dowling: And I think the downside is our reviews can be quite long. Looking at our earlier stuff, they were quite short and succinct, but I think as we've gone through our journey, it's the age old question that we often say we don't like, which is: did you enjoy the show? Which is a closed leading question. And it's so limited because there are so many areas to a show we've kind of identified. We don't just talk about the show. We need to talk about the piece. We need to talk about the lighting, the direction, this production, projection, like there's so many different elements [than just] did you enjoy the show? So we've kind of found over time that we are breaking down many of those, but yes, we've definitely learnt and are learning as we go along.
Simon Dowling: Can I spin it just one way, just to sort of sum it up and say, it's not always how we've ironed out the kinks, it's how the kinks have ironed out us. Getting feedback from our community as fellow Leggers has really shaped what we do and how we approach it because, you know, we talk about that theatre needs to be an experience that's enjoyable. So does spending 15-20 minutes of your time watching our videos.
Nathan Dowling: One of the journeys we've been on as well is this key thing is the integrity idea as well - the integrity argument. Very early on, we were getting invited in to see productions by people. And then what happens if we don't enjoy that performance? And do we satisfy the people who are inviting us in and help to promote the show? Or do we give our honest opinion and potentially never get invited again? Who are we going to serve? Productions want to put bums on seats. They need to generate a revenue. And so I guess the media they produce promotes the show. We've quite often… we'll be at press nights and there'll be cameras outside the theatre, ready to capture the audience reactions as they leave the theatre. And sometimes we get asked: ‘Oh, do you want to give your comments to on camera?’ And we have to say no, because we don't think what we're going to say is going to help. It's not going to sell you production , what we honestly think about the show; but as an audience member or someone who's potentially coming to the show, all they'll get is the soundbites of the people who enjoyed the show. And then ultimately in the end, what we've decided is, you know, we need to serve on integrity.
Anjna Chouhan: Can we talk about Shakespeare a bit? What was your route to Shakespeare?
Simon Dowling: At GCSE level at school, I studied Romeo and Juliet. And when you are put into a situation where you've got to academically break down Shakespeare, and you've got to dissect it and interpret it, it wasn't a particularly enjoyable experience for me, and I didn't come away from my GCSEs with this absolute passion for the Bard. It wasn't until much later when I started to experience productions of Shakespeare' s works, that I thought: "you know what? This is meant to be entertaining!" It never ever came up in the GCSE study that this is, this is meant to be enjoyable. It just felt so sterile.
Nathan Dowling: Yeah, I think the same - funny what you're saying there. Definitely at school, I think we would have touched on Romeo and Juliet, I think, as a standard. And also Henry V. I specifically, distinctly remember learning the prologue: um,
Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention
A kingdom for a stage monarchs to act
And princes to behold the swelling scene...
I still remember it now! I remember learning it.
Anjna Chouhan: I’m applauding for our listeners onto the camera.
Nathan Dowling: It's funny that it's all in there. But similar to Legger Simon, I think that it was brought to me from an academic point of view that I didn't entirely make sense of. So it became a thing that was for clever people and I didn't feel close to - quite alienating. So I think there's almost a bit of a stigma that developed within myself to kind of be a bit switched off to you, um, Shakespeare - Shakespeare's not for me! Which was probably broken when I was about 17, 18, when I did an outside production of As You Like It with the local drama group. But I remember looking at the text and it being really alien to me, then I started to learn. And then when I threw myself into it and got the emotion, understood it. The two connected. And I was like, wow, actually this is great! The words are there to carry the emotion and from an actor's point of view, this text is a great tool for a performer, and then I got it. It took a bit of time, and I remember specifically I was a few weeks into the rehearsal and doing the same bits I'd done a number of times before. And so it was like a penny dropped, as like okay....
Simon Dowling: I think what you learned in that moment was something that I never got the experience of because only studying it, sort of, in English at that time is that Shakespeare's words were written to be performed and I think you probably had that moment where you were given the words to act through, I never got in English. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more.
Nathan Dowling: And I'd broaden that out - I'd say that's any play, you can read a play and it's only written to be performed. It's what's said when, how nothing is said. It's how it's said - it's in the reactions. So it's very much in performance, which I think I didn't get as a school student. We studied the text.
Anjna Chouhan: I know that you're obviously very, very passionate - both of you - about theatre and you gave a talk at the 2018 English Talks on this very subject. It was called "In the Room Where it Happens". In this talk, you quoted some research from Arkansas University and they were looking at the measurable impact of watching live theatre on students' tolerance, understanding of a play and their emotional intelligence. So obviously this is something that you, too, feel strongly about. So what do you think seeing Shakespeare live gives to audiences that a film or perhaps a text just can't do. Why is it so important to be live?
Nathan Dowling: Do you know, that's a really interesting thing. I think one of the things that always strikes me is that Shakespeare writes about the extremes. It's not mundane and when we say drama, Shakespeare got drama! So, "they all die". and if you've got a piece where they all die, we're talking about extreme stuff that so many people die - there's a lot of passion in there to drive people to that extent of action. So I think first of all, it's almost like escapism in a way to see those things. What drives people to that? What drives them to absolute love? What drives them to absolute revenge and seeing that onstage is, is quite, um, I wouldn't say it's magical, but it's definitely like a ‘wow’, real insight into a person's psyche.
Simon Dowling: For me, it's about that seeing in person - that... the physical and sometimes visceral response that a situation can bring up in an individual and not only whoever's experiencing it; but I think about film and I think about its ability with the screen-based medium and when you're working on quite a small, relatively small frame space, um, you are completely at the director's mercy of where that focus is drawn to. So for me, a lot of the time, the person that might be undergoing or experiencing, you know, a heightened emotion such as grief or joy or laughter, I think a lot can be done in the context of that onstage. You're almost given a freedom of where you put your eyes when it comes to the stage that you aren't afforded with the screen. I get much more from looking at the reactions of people that are out of focus or out of frame on a stage, whereas if this was a film, that's where the camera would be pointing. It heightens an entire experience for me -not being constrained to someone else telling me what I should or shouldn't be looking at.
Anjna Chouhan: Do you think, then, theatre is much less of a passive viewing experience? That there's a lot more agency for the audience and a lot more expectation that you have to put some work in as you're watching?
Simon Dowling: Absolutely. It's a conversation in the arts. I think theatre is definitely a relationship between a physical audience and a physical person or set of people. It just doesn't happen when you're looking through a screen.
Nathan Dowling: That was really interesting that you used the idea of it being passive or is it passive or is it active? And I think you're right. It is absolutely active, um, Shakespeare specifically as well. If you think about how many of the characters actively engage the audience and talk to the audience. Um, and I think it's the magic of when the actors look out into the audience, into our eyes are saying: ‘come on board with us’. And I think that's, um, invited you into their heads, physicality, this whole idea of being that being in the room, I guess, where it happens and how you engage with that. That's, that's a classic example that you're not just watching something it's not just the fourth wall removed. You are being pulled into that world. You are as much a part of that narrative as an audience member when you're addressed in that way.
Anjna Chouhan: Okay. We're just going to pause for quick break.
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Anjna Chouhan: You're listening to Shakespeare Alive, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust podcast, and I'm with Nathan and Simon Dowling from the Break A leggers. You guys review a lot of Shakespeare. I know you, you go to London and see Shakespeare. You see Shakespeare in Stratford. So what is it that you hope your audiences are taking away from contemporary productions of Shakespeare?
Nathan Dowling: I'd expect them to come away with what they want from any theatre: an engaging occasion, which makes people think. I think we are in, uh, in this age, depending on where you see theatre, you see in a different way, because the Globe will be kind of how it was in those times. However, other theatres are producing it in a way that is much more contemporary. I'm thinking of, um, Hamlet with Andrew Scott, at the Almeida theatre, for example, which was very modern with TV screens. So I think it depends on what you want to see and how you want to see it, because ultimately it's the same story. How many times are they doing Hamlet? There's at least three or four productions a year going on. That ...so it's not as if people haven't seen it. To a degree it is also the context or the concept that a director is going to throw at it to make it different or to try and connect with us in a different way. For me personally, I think as long as it makes sense and I'm engaged, then I’m up for the ride.
Simon Dowling: I think what we're trying to get across to our audiences when we review Shakespeare, isthat even though they might understand the story, even though the themes of it might be familiar, the way that it is communicated to the audience by the vision of the cast and the creatives can be completely different, which means that you can have a different experience than before. Some people may have seen a specific work of Shakespeare that they didn't enjoy and think that was the problem of the piece. Whereas I think we can demonstrate and what we tried to get across with...sometimes it can be the responsibility of the production. And if you saw it being told in a different way in the setting, in a situation or setting that resonates with you and you understand it and you can project your own, you know, your understanding of that setting, it will reach you in a way that didn't before, maybe. So I think what we always want to say is don't write Shakespeare off. If you've had a bad experiences in one production, you, you can see it again and have a completely different experience and, and it can lift a veil on, on the piece for you that has maybe remained after the last time that you saw it. That being said, I don't need to see another production of Hamlet, I'm done!
Nathan Dowling: But I think that it depends on the production. I think you make a really good point and why you should go and see Shakespeare. For example, we saw Othello at the Globe with Mark Rylance as Iago. Lovely open venue, and it was in my opinion, okay. We also saw a production of Othello at the National Theatre in the Olivier space with Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester, which was brilliant and a real modernised version, like almost like a second… almost like the Middle Eastern - the Gulf war, and it had a completely different feel. And I engaged with that on a different level. And if I'd have judged it on like a production I'd seen before, I'd have thought nah...
Simon Dowling: Even though it’s the same text!
Anjna Chouhan: This goes back to your point about different directors and different creatives, bringing something new to the table. Yes, it's the same text, but a lot of work goes into people understanding behind the scenes because one of the criticisms that's often levelled at contemporary productions of Shakespeare is that there's almost too much concept. There's too much conceit slapped onto it. I suppose this is where criticisms around shows being too modern comes from. I don't think people mean that it shouldn't be set in the 21st century. I think what people mean is that it becomes distracting.
Nathan Dowling: I think you're absolutely right. I think I do like a context, and I do like a different, interesting concept. I do like seeing things in a different way. And the key thing you're saying there is it needs to serve the core story as opposed to being clever or like, see what I go see what I've done here.
Simon Dowling: Or we've got a big budget, let's put bells and whistles on it.
Nathan Dowling: I'm thinking of, um, the recent production we saw as big concept was the Taming of the Shrew at the RSC where they switched the, uh, male and female characters.
Simon Dowling: Very challenging piece at the best of times.
Nathan Dowling: And I think it really served to amplify ...like when you saw the other way around - how messed up it is, it's a real messed up piece!
Simon Dowling: Women treating men in the way that, in the piece, men treat women. You think this doesn't wash, you know...
Nathan Dowling: As if it's messed up in the first place, like this is amplifying it - even worse! So I think, and again, that's a concept that people go, oh, I don't know you’re messing with Shakespeare. But I think when they get it right, and when it does work, it really does serve to amplify the piece. We saw the tragedy of Richard II, at the Almeida with the fantastic Simon Russell Beale. Heavily conceptualised - this kind of white box. Um, I think it was one act of 90 minutes straight through, um, there's lots of blood on the stage - it's because it's so white they really amplified the blood going here, there and everywhere. Um, so visually it was impressive, but didn't know what was going on. So that for me was a fail.
Anjna Chouhan: So first of all, with Taming of the Shrew, that was Justin Audibert and I think that particular production - for the audiences that didn't see it, it was gender swapped. So all the men were played by women and all the women were played by men, but the women played men as women rather than playing them as men, and that's a crucial distinction; but I think it was clear from the start, and I think you mentioned this, that there was an agenda. But with the Richard II at the Almeida, that show to my mind makes sense if you know that play. And I think this is where the distinction with the audiences comes in. If you're a director trying to appeal to new audiences, you have to tell a story. However, if you're not necessarily interested in new audiences, you're interested in audiences who know this play who love this play, then actually you're, you've got something else to offer and there's space for both of those, but you run the risk of alienating your audiences.
Simon Dowling: For me, it's extremely…we've had this conversation with our fellow Leggers before. For me, there's an extreme arrogance of a director that can sit back and say, well, if you didn't understand it that's because you didn't do your research before coming in. Or you should have read the programme. There's an arrogance to that because not everyone has the luxury of being able to do that. It's got to just be what those 90 minutes or two hours or two and a half hours are. You need to come at it as, that's all these people are going to get. You can't expect your audience to go away and study for three years just to access the piece. I don't think that's fair.
Nathan Dowling: I think that there are certain pieces that if they're based on real things that they want to inspire you to go out and do some more research, but it doesn't detract from your actual initial engagement with the piece.
Simon Dowling: It can inspire you to want to learn more about it, especially with Shakespeare's historical plays. You know, I've been so compelled upon seeing those to go, Oh wow, that's such an interesting period in history. I want to learn about how much of that actually happened. That shouldn't have to come before the piece. It should be as a result of the, of that production.
Anjna Chouhan: Is there anything about contemporary productions of Shakespeare that you think works really, really well? I mean, you've talked about maybe conceits and setting it in places or settings that you relate to in some way. But is there anything else that you've seen that you thought, yes, that's right. And I know why that's right, why that works.
Simon Dowling: The RSC in Stratford do this really well - a real, um, understanding and a real focus given to the music and the score within Shakespeare pieces. I think that does so much to amplify the action in those productions. Also, live dance, um, actors playing instruments on stage, those elements of just pure… firstly entertainment, and secondly, um, when choreography and music are done well. The emotional impact that can have to lift the whole piece or… and by lift, I don't mean necessarily anything to have a happiness about it because I think dance and music can use, can be used to, um, amplify a despair and a sadness too. But they're such powerful tools. And whenever that happens, I always am given something extra.
Nathan Dowling: I think when you're talking about there are specific things that heighten an audience member's engagement with the piece, and I think that's kind of what we've been talking about. It just needs to be engaging. It's not just enough to have good actors. Um, I'm trying to think one of the things I've always said... you're probably going to hate me for this, is that - and I think it's to do with engagement though - is when they have been cut down to say if it's a three hour piece that's been cut down to 90 minutes. Um, that always works well for me, but I think it's because the plot points have been kind of put together that helps my engagement with it. But then saying that, I have seen longer productions, um, that two and a half, three hours that I have also been engaged with. So it's not just about the length of it. It is very much about: ‘what is this production doing to engage me?’.
Simon Dowling: With Shakespeare, it's like a religious tome to a lot of people, like you can't mess with it.
Nathan Dowling: I think it depends on your concept. It depends on you are doing - whether you keep it in, on what production you're going with. So that's... like I say, don't hate me! But I think that's one way that when I've seen productions that I've just gone, just stick to the key points, not like in the tragedy of Richard II, where you kind of ... it still needs to make sense, but something that drives. I'm a big lover of drive! Drive through the piece, drive through the narrative, keep us engaged as an audience.
Simon Dowling: It doesn't mean speed up how quickly you're saying everything. It just means take out the bits that are...
Nathan Dowling: Give us the plot points. Give us the...dun dun, dah... all the EastEnders (drumroll) what's going to happen next. You want to give us the reason to keep on going.
Simon Dowling: I've literally just realized, because Nathan has an Olivier, right? Which is like amazing. But I've just realized that Lawrence Olivier - it's as he portrayed Henry V, like that's his costume. I've never made the link before ever, that that was your first encounter and now he has this!
Anjna Chouhan: So, why do you have an Olivier, Nathan?
Nathan Dowling: Um, that's for my work on Jerry Springer, the Opera which we did at the National Theatre, then transferred it to the Cambridge. ‘Best Supporting Actor in a Musical’. It was given to the ensemble - as an ensemble we were 20 strong. The Olivier panel recognised us, and it was the first and only time since, I understand, that the panel nominated a whole ensemble for the Best Supporting Role category, and we won it! We've got our own little Olivier award.
Anjna Chouhan: That's fantastic, well, many congratulations for that. Do you have a vision for what you want to be doing with Break A Leggers in the future?
Simon Dowling: It is a labour of love. It really is. And it's, it's such, it's a thing that we can afford that time to when the going is good. For the past two years, it has really taken over our lives in many respects, but it takes a lot of organization. It takes a lot of planning, preparation, and it's a big financial commitment as well. I think going forward, it will probably end up being something that takes up less of our time. But as a result maybe becomes more enjoyable for us.
Nathan Dowling: The Leggers was ultimately a hobby for us. It's just a huge hobby. Um, and I think it's going to stay there, but it's also afforded us massive opportunities. I mean, us talking to you now is a huge opportunity. You spoke about the presentation we gave as part of the English Talks. Again, that was a great opportunity. We get the opportunity to, um, speak to cast members and speak to directors. Such a huge opportunity, which we wouldn't have had if we were just regular theatre goes. Also, I think what’s great, about the Leggers is our journey with theatre is documented. So in a way it's nice to have our journey and our love and our passion documented for us to go back to personally. And I guess, for other people as well.
Simon Dowling: Well it's a specific day, you know, something's gone wrong or something, and you've been there to document that. Without, uh, you know our YouTube videos or, or bloggers those things have gone.
Nathan Dowling: It's a tragedy that productions, great productions are lost, that they're only available to the live audience that are able to access them at the time. And we can't see them again. So I'd like to think that we're kind of paving the way or contributing somewhat to archiving that production.
Simon Dowling: Also, I think for the future, we have had conversations as well about it would be lovely to use the Break A Leggers moniker, to, to sign to more production aspects of the work, because we really have enjoyed directing before.
Nathan Dowling: I guess we don't know, ultimately. We'll keep on doing what we're doing and take opportunities. See who, what, when, why, where.
Anjna Chouhan: We've been asking all of our interviewees the same set of questions, which relates to our activity at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as the keepers of Shakespeare's legacy. Given that you've seen some of our collections online, was there anything in there that appealed to you? That stood out and you thought, ooo, I'd quite like that?
Simon Dowling: There's certain pieces, which to us were very, very eye-catching. There was one in particular, and that was the sculpture of William Shakespeare by Leonty Usov, which is very modern created in 2010. It was visually immediately striking. But then reading about it, I actually fell in love with it even more now. And it's visually appealing, because it speaks to the profanity [profoundness] of the question "to be, or not to be?", which in these really mentally question, questioning times, they're mentally strained at the moment…. And the fact that Shakespeare's portrayed with a split in his head that opens up that question of life and death and purpose… but it's surrounded by the names of some of his most accomplished works. It really spoke to me to ay, what is life without theatre arts? You know, when you're looking for a purpose and you're looking for an answer to the question ‘to be, or not to be?’, If you're looking for a reason to live, for us theatre is that reason.
Nathan Dowling: I liked it just because it looks good, but you know, if you can get more from it....
Simon Dowling: What can I say, like, I'm a deep thinker!
Anjna Chouhan: So my next question to you both is: is there anything that you would bequeath to us if you could, or that you think we should collect to continue telling Shakespeare's story in the 21st century?
Nathan Dowling: We've had a good chat about this, and we feel it's quite relevant actually with the recent revelation...
Simon Dowling: Revelations.... well, there's alwaysbeen debate about Shakespeare's sexuality. Um, and I think in 2020, it's now time to sort of embrace those ideas that he may not have been a cis-gendered heterosexual man, more than ever before. And I think an acceptance of society that that may have played a part in Shakespeare's character and subsequently his work - it’s something that should be celebrated as much as spoken about with the sort of, I feel previously, with a sort of embarrassment almost – of acknowledging that he may have, you know, if you want to pigeon hole him - bisexual - and if you want to sort of apply a more modern terminology to him, perhaps pansexual, perhaps not limited by gender, you know, how he wished to express his love and desires both physical and spiritual. So I think it's time to display somewhere in your collection a pride flag, a rainbow pride flag stenciled on top with an outline with a silhouette of Shakespeare at the center of it to celebrate, um, the growing acceptance that he may have had, you know, amorous feelings or lustful feelings towards people of both genders.
Anjna Chouhan: We obviously keep the Shakespeare homes as part of our collection as well, and if you could choose one of them in which to live, which one might you choose? And I recognize that you might not both choose the same one.
Nathan Dowling: Well, do you know what, we did have a bit of a debate actually as to whether we'd stay in the same place. We did come up with an agreement in the end, I think, because we're quite, we're city dwellers, it doesn't really appeal to live on a farm. It doesn't really appeal to live out in the sticks. Now we want to be right in the centre of where things happen. So assuming that we wouldn't be transported back in time and Shakespeare's birthplace the actual house surrounded by nothing, assuming that we'd move in there now and right outside, we'd have life going on and cafes and shops and be just around the corner from the theatre - dedicated parking space, hopefully a dedicated parking space because parking in Stratford can be tricky at times, then I think we'd want to live at his birthplace just because it feels like the centre of town.
Anjna Chouhan: Fantastic. Well, it's been an absolute pleasure speaking with you both. Thank you so much. And may we wish you all the very best with the Break A Leggers!
For Nathan and Simon, pieces that celebrate Shakespeare and pride would be invaluable. So what would you like to deposit into the collections of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust? Something real or imaginary? We'd love to hear from you via shakespeare.org.uk/future and while you're there, please consider completing our short survey so we can produce more of the content that you like.
Thank you for listening to this season of Shakespeare Alive. We'll be back after Christmas. Take care all. Farewell!