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Quarantine Players: stars and theatre fans unite to perform Shakespeare solos | Stage


Theatre lovers in isolation around the world have come together to perform three of Shakespeare’s best-known speeches alongside stars including Roger Allam, Stephen Fry and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

The Quarantine Players project is a remix of the Guardian’s Shakespeare Solos video series, which was created in 2016 to mark the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death. In that series, a lineup of top actors delivered monologues from the plays straight to camera. A trio of the films have now been updated for Shakespeare’s birthday, with the lines shared between the original performer and a new cast comprising a handful of household-name actors – and many members of the public simply acting in their households.


‘All the world’s a stage’ Shakespeare performed around the world in quarantine – video

The Guardian and Shakespeare’s Globe put out an open call for theatre fans to record their own renditions of the speeches. More than 500 submissions were received for the project, which was produced by Jess Gormley, and a selection were edited together by Noah Payne-Frank.

For her original solo in 2016, Zawe Ashton performed Jaques’s “seven ages of man” speech from As You Like It, on location in east London. She is joined in the new version by actors Sophie Stone, Sandi Toksvig and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as well as others including schoolchildren and one reclining chap joined by his snoozing dog. The magnificently bearded David Threlfall starts off Prospero’s “Our revels now are ended” monologue, with others – including Fry and Allam – then performing lines in their living rooms, in the car and even in the bath. Adrian Lester shares Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy on mortality alongside Shakespeare enthusiasts of different ages, in their bedrooms, gardens and, for one contributor, amid working out in a home gym.





The new films bring together Shakespeare enthusiasts and professional actors.



The new films bring together Shakespeare enthusiasts and professional actors. Clockwise from top left: Stephen Fry, Sophie Stone, Livy Potter and Gaël Le Cornec. Composite: Guardian Video

The Globe’s artistic director, actor Michelle Terry, said the videos offer an opportunity to enjoy these fragmented speeches as “cosmic timeless words that trigger the imagination” rather than being tethered to a plot or the concept of a particular production. “There is such negative connotation around Shakespeare – that it’s for a certain demographic, or for a certain intellectual brain,” she said. Enjoying individual speeches “relieves the pressure of trying to understand every single word and allows you to experience him sensorially”.

The contributions from members of the public burst with a palpable passion for Shakespeare and for sharing these monologues with others. Terry said that while we think of a soliloquy as being spoken by someone on their own, “in the theatre you are surrounded by hundreds of people. There is no such thing as a moment on your own if you’re a character in Shakespeare because you’re always with people.” She believes the videos offer a way to continue her theatre’s dialogue with its audience while the Globe remains closed due to the coronavirus.





Michelle Terry at Shakespeare’s Globe.



Michelle Terry at Shakespeare’s Globe. Photograph: Sarah Lee/the Guardian

As the speeches are performed by a succession of people in the videos, it feels “as if they are in conversation even though they are in different parts of the world” said Terry. The three speeches suit our current period of contemplation under lockdown as they “ask questions about our place in the planet and where we go when we are no longer physical beings”. They provide an opportunity for questioning – “rather than worrying about what the answers might be”.

Terry, who played Hamlet in 2018 as part of her opening season in charge of the Globe, said she admired the “bravery and fearless audacity” of the prince’s soliloquy in which he considers life and death. Poetry and plays, she suggested, offer a way for us to explore issues of mortality that we may otherwise find difficult to discuss.

Shakespeare’s Globe is a charity that receives no annual government subsidy and has launched an appeal for donations. It had been due to open its summer season this month with a new production of Romeo and Juliet directed by Ola Ince. To mark Earth Day on 22 April, a run of matinee-only performances had been planned for this week to reduce the use of energy-consuming lighting at the theatre. The Globe is instead streaming its 2009 version of Romeo and Juliet, starring Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun, on its YouTube channel. A different archive production is streamed for free on the channel every fortnight.

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