Who are Propeller Theatre?
Since the 1990’s, Edward Hall’s Propeller Theatre has been taking their physical, radical and often outrageous approach to performing Shakespeare. Having won a vast array of awards over the last 30 thirty years, their productions are powerful, visceral and hard-hitting. Their work is a mix of rigorous text work and modern physical theatre. They have been influenced by mask work, animation, film and music from all ages.
What is their style of performance?
Their production of Richard III epitomises their style perfectly. Directed by Edward Hall, as all of their productions are, he is not afraid to take risks. In an interview, Hall says that in Richard III he’s done a few quite outrageous things that he’s never done on a stage in twenty years. He’s set the play in a gothic Victorian hospital and featuring evocative, bloody imagery in the style of Grand Guignol. The interpretation swiftly changes from gallows humour to rage and madness in a blink of an eye. Every line spoken by the actors brings forth the blood thirsty nature of the play. As one reviewer described it, this is not a Richard for the purists but there’s plenty of imagination on display here even if some of the poetry has been lost.
And that is the focus for Propeller Theatre. Their aim is to unlock Shakespeare for a modern audience, especially a young audience. They style is also about creating a total theatre performance. Everything they do on stage is designed to contribute to the narrative. Including music, one thing that Propeller Theatre particularly prides itself on is creating all its music and sound effects in view of the audience to establish a credible background to the action.
Examples of their work
Here is a YouTube playlist that I have curated to showcase the work of Propeller Theatre and Edward Hall’s direction.
Getting practical with Propeller Theatre
A key element to the work of Propeller Theatre is reimagining a Shakespeare text to a new, often gruesome, context. This is a process called transposing. Think of a Shakespeare play that you are familiar with and consider how the play could be transformed into a new context. In a true Propeller Theatre style, try to take it to an extreme and consider how every part of the production can be transposed. So that is characters, setting, context, content and meaning.
Explore the first scene of the play and spend time working on the text. Read it carefully and annotate the text for meaning, context and interpretation. Make sure that every word in the text is understood by everyone and that you can explain it in several different ways. Ensure that everyone understands the context of every line: how it fits into the scene, the play, the character, the themes and issues within the play and how it relates to the audience. Finally, how does the line transpose into the new setting you are giving it?
Perform the first scene of the play, but place it in a deliberately tough location so that it impedes the acting, like an office where the audience sit in the doorway watching the action unfold. Find creative, unusual and interesting solutions to the problems of staging in that location.
Finally create a soundscape for the action, so that there is continuous sound throughout the scene that both adds and underlines the tension within the scene.