Old theatre’s new radicalism: interview with Brice Stratford



It isn't all about you, William.
It isn’t all about you, William.

Owle Schreame is a theatre company specialising in a rather unusual field. Mediaeval and Renaissance theatre practice are not themes often seen in contemporary production, and nor are they often understood as truly radical or exotic. That’s what the troupe seeks to change. Founded in Cambridge, the company delights in the experimental and the unusual; their mission is to reinvigorate theatre’s lost arts and techniques. Their current project, the Cannibal Valour Classical Repertory Season, is a revival of three never-before-performed, obscure (but rather intriguing) Jacobean plays, to be staged at the authors’ gravesides. The OxStu speaks to Brice Stratford, Owle Schreame’s artistic director, to find out more…

Jacobean theatre. Can you characterise it for us in a sentence?

Bloody, wild, bawdy, extreme, but above all always Human; the plays are humanity, in all of its terrible, beautiful, magical, cynical, animalistic glory.

But aren’t some plays obscure for a reason? What made you decide to revive them?

Classical theatre cannot be judged on a page in a library, and certainly not properly understood when studied as literature (a play script is not the finished piece of art, unlike the Novel or Poem – rather, it’s the foundation of an entirely separate and ephemeral artwork, the Play). Until these scripts are given legs and arms and an audience, at best our understanding of them is theoretical.  Quite aside from this, I believe that we owe these plays their début productions, and we owe it to their authors. The disproportionate focus on Shakespeare (whilst perfectly understandable) has created a skewed and inaccurate concept of what classical theatre is – I want to address that in practice.

So: what makes Owle Schreame’s interpretation unique?

Well, two of the plays are being premièred this season, so our productions are by definition unique. The approach we take to the text is not museum theatre (faithfully curating and reproducing what we believe to be historically accurate techniques) nor is it modern (by which we mean a post-Victorian naturalistic production slammed into the proscenium in modern dress with a shallow “concept” governing every directorial choice) – instead we’ve attempted to find the artistic consequence (if not, necessarily, motivation) behind the historical practices, and to reproduce and evolve that with contemporary performance in mind – to reproduce in a modern audience what the play when written was intended to produce in an ancient one. But is being “unique” what matters?  First and foremost, our productions serve the audience, and then the play itself. Any concept or ideology comes much lower down the list.

A six-way swordfight, sex, torture, death, deceit, the summoning of devils, psychopathic evil and the merciless kidnap of women“. Friday 13th. Burial sites. Should we be scared or excited?


And, finally… where next? 

Wherever offers hot food first. I like the idea of creating truly, divisively controversial classical theatre, and I’m not sure if that can really be done in Britain any more – I’m not talking about causing a polite protest, I’m talking about offending and inspiring people to the extent that they actually do something, to the extent that things might actually change. There’s talk of projects in both Israel and China, but both would put lives at risk and cost money. The money’s what makes it difficult.

Brice Stratford is the Artistic Director and founder of The Owle Schreame Theatre Company, whose website is available hereThe Cannibal Valour Repertory Season runs from Friday 13th September until Friday 13th December 2013. Find out more

PHOTO/ Wikipedia Commons


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