It’s not often that you find yourself sitting in an East End pie and mash shop while a woman with a blood-smeared neck knocks back tumblers of whisky, screams vicious domestic abuse at her out-of-sight husband, hacks at a sack full of carrots then tries to wipe a shower of gore off the walls. Well, you know, unless you’re a regular.
But with RIFT’s Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival taking place around Hoxton this week, chances are you’ll see exactly that; ten short, modern interpretations of Shakespeare characters, taking place in unlikely and unexpected venues around Shoreditch – the very place where Shakespeare wrote some of his most exciting, most dangerous plays.
‘We want to celebrate the time when Shakespeare wasn’t the richest man in Stratford; he was transporting timbers across the river to try and make his plays happen,’ says Felix Mortimer, artistic director of RIFT. ‘The Curtain and The Theatre, Shakespeare’s first two theatres, were right here, where Hoxton meets Curtain Road. Those theatres were where, in his twenties, he performed the prologue from ‘Henry V’ and where ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was first staged.’ And, according to legend, where Shakespeare was made to look after the audience’s horses during the performances.
Visitors to Shakespeare in Shoreditch are split into groups and taken through one of two routes; The Hoxton Path or The Pitfield Path. The former includes a one-woman monologue about the Arden Estate by playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, which you watch sitting on the floor of an empty ex-council flat; a cardboard strewn interpretation of Macbeth in an alleyway; a short film inspired by ‘The Tempest’, which you watch in a lamplit garage, a ‘Romeo and Juliet’-ish rap battle in the Hoxton Community Gardens and that gore-fuelled, pastry-crusted reworking of Titus Andronicus in a pie and mash shop. The Pitfield Path, on the other hand, follows the loose narrative of ‘King Lear’ and takes you through five plays, including a meeting with a skinhead gravedigger and a family bust-up in a hair salon between Les and his three daughters.
‘He recycled stories to create his plays,’ says Felix, ‘and we’re recycling his characters to create our plays. We want people to not be as pretentious and precious about Shakespeare.’
And when it comes to being less precious, you can’t beat eating a tin foil-wrapped handful of mystery meat pie, sitting on a cardboard box, watching a man steal a drunk guy’s shoes.
Shakespeare in Shoreditch is taking place until Sunday October 12, at 7pm. All tickets are £10. Tickets can be collected, and the tour starts, at the Rose Lipman Building, 43 De Beauvoir Road. For more information visit the website.