Moving magic to Bard's work

SINGAPORE - The artistic director of British physical theatre company Frantic Assembly, who was lauded for his choreography for the award-winning play The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time in London, will work his magic on a staging of Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice in Singapore.

Scott Graham will provide movement direction for Singapore Repertory Theatre's Shakespeare In The Park - The Merchant Of Venice, which opens at Fort Canning Park tomorrow.

Last year, he was nominated for the prestigious Olivier award for his choreography in The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time based on the bestselling Mark Haddon book of the same name.

In 2011, he was nominated for a Drama Desk award for his movement direction in Beautiful Burnout, a play about five young boxers who are trying to make it big.

Graham, who was here earlier this month to work with the company, says his approach to the Bard's work is no different from the way he tackles any other script.

"It's no different from doing any kind of play. The movement comes from the relationships, the subtext, what's actually going on, and allowing physicality to articulate that, sometimes through big choreographed movements, sometimes through absolute stillness."

The Merchant Of Venice is the seventh edition of the company's annual Shakespeare In The Park series, and tells the story of titular merchant Antonio, who locks horns with Jewish moneylender Shylock over a debt. It will star Daniel Jenkins as Antonio, Julie Wee as Portia and Remesh Panicker as Shylock.

The play will be directed by Bruce Guthrie, 33, who has helmed two previous productions of Shakespeare In The Park: Twelfth Night in 2012 and Othello last year.

The Merchant Of Venice marks the first time Graham and Guthrie are working together. Movement director Graham says of their partnership: "The reason why I did this was because it is an opportunity to learn. I've been running Frantic Assembly for 20 years, and some people might think that's when you know what you're doing, but that's the time when you have to learn more, because otherwise, you'll fall into patterns."

Director Guthrie is also enjoying the infusion of movement into the Shakespearean drama.

He says of the choreography: "It's not dance, it's movement, and it's about the actors moving in their characters, and creating the whole world of the play. That connectivity between voice and body and story and character can sometimes become separated, and that's been something I'm very interested in."

Graham, 43, adds that the visual quality of the movement will also help to carry the play to the audience seated right at the back of Fort Canning Green.

"The movements will help tell that story to the people who are right at the back because every move is a line, is a sentence, that we understand so much quicker than we can take in text," he says. "We understand a very, very complex paragraph in a split second through physicality."

Along with the addition of movement, director Guthrie has also decided to update the piece to a nameless 21st century city, with some aspects of Singapore in it.

"It's originally set in Venice, but there are aspects of Singapore and Singaporean life that we think audiences will recognise, such as the fact that Venice in those days was a city of commerce, like Singapore is now," he says.

"It's a fantastic story, it's a really interesting, rich, complex and brilliant story, and it really resonates with today, and if we've done our job right, it won't feel like a 400-year-old play."

Book it


Where: Fort Canning Park

When: Tomorrow to May 25, 7.30pm daily, except Tuesday

Admission: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, $45 (advance ticket, available until one day before the performance) and $55 (event day ticket); Saturday and public holidays, $55 (advance ticket, available until one day before the performance) and $65 (event day ticket)

This article was published on April 29 in The Straits Times.

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