In a very special event on Sunday May 6th 2007, comedian Lenny Henry and Barrie Rutter, Artistic Director of Northern Broadsides theatre company, led a masterclass/workshop on Othello. Additionally there were workshops on voice and movement lead by RSC specialists to introduce students to the skills used in interpreting Shakespeare's texts.
Student Nicola Cutcher writes on the masterclass:
Lenny Henry came to the CAPITAL Centre this term to try reading the part of Othello in an open rehearsal with Barrie Rutter. Students sat in to see how the actors worked with the text. The visit was an inspiring example of what the CAPITAL Centre can do.
I chatted to Lenny afterwards. His radio show, Will and Me, he said "was me talking about my allergy to Shakespeare. It seemed to me that Shakespeare was very much in the province of posh people. I'm black, I'm from Dudley, I'm working class- Shakespeare's not for people like us. But then when you study it, the way that I have been, you realise that it's for everybody. If Shakespeare is this universal then what I have to figure out is where does it and I meet?"
Lenny studied Shakespeare as part of his recent Open University degree and was further inspired by watching his wife Dawn French play Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream. "If we're to change people's idea about Shakespeare then we've got to roll our sleeves up and get involved with it and it can't just be people who always do it, sometimes you've got to have people that don't usually do it. If Billy Connolly or Lee Evans or me show up in a play playing the fool or the duke people will go, "God, I didn't know he could do that". I saw Gary Waldhorn play the Duke in Much Ado about Nothing and he made me cry he was so good. He's Sir David in The Vicar of Dibley but in the scene where he's heard his daughter's died you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre".
Lenny seemed truly exhilarated by his day at CAPITAL and felt positive about going on to play Othello. "Imagine doing five weeks of that; it would be exhausting but by the end of it you'd have learnt a lot. And then you'd be doing it in front of an audience! God, can you imagine that? I'd be so scared - I'd have to have a cork. Barrie wants me to do it next year and I think I might do it. It's been an exciting day".
The CAPITAL Centre is an exciting place that wants to encourage learning in new ways. If adults and professionals like Lenny can take risks and try new things in that space, then we should feel excited about putting ourselves on the line there too.
Lenny will be appearing as Othello with Northern Broadsides next year.