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Electrifying the Shakespeare experience

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Mark Elstob and Abi Harris perform in Westport Entertainment Ltd short and dramatic performance of Shakespeare’s great tragedy ‘Macbeth; in association with Open Window Productions as part of a Theatre for Schools initiative. The play also takes place tonight, Tuesday, October 4 in The Mill Times Hotel as part of the Westport Arts Festival.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Mark Elstob and Abi Harris perform in Westport Entertainment Ltd short and dramatic performance of Shakespeare’s great tragedy ‘Macbeth; in association with Open Window Productions as part of a Theatre for Schools initiative. The play also takes place tonight, Tuesday, October 4 in The Mill Times Hotel as part of the Westport Arts Festival.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Electrifying the Shakespeare experience


A Westport company is bringing Hamlet and Macbeth to life

Trevor Quinn

SHAKESPEARE may be renowned as one of the world’s greatest ever writers but for many students his prose is merely a very difficult obstacle while sitting life-changing exams.
However, a newly-formed Westport based entertainment company are hoping to slightly alter the preconceived notion of some of Shakespeare’s classic plays with energetic and vibrant theatrical shows that have so far been very well received.
John Thornton and his business partners at Westport Entertainment Ltd (WEL) have been pleasantly surprised by the reaction they have received from students who have already seen the performances.
“They do seem to love it. The acting is really in their faces. It’s very powerful and the actors shout at the top of their voices. They’re only maybe a couple of feet away from the kids,” said John, who said the key to the performances is the ability to entertain but also to educate.
WEL, in collaboration with Open Window Productions, have put a fresh twist on both Hamlet and Macbeth. The idea first came into being when CEO John Thornton and his business partners Dick Bourke and Melvyn Dubell were throwing ideas about with an objective to bring something fresh, dynamic and original to the theatrical world.
“We wanted to do something different. We were thinking about doing theatre initially and maybe having an evening where we’d provide a dinner and then a show. But in the current climate we had to ask ourselves, ‘Will people pay?”
So having knocked that idea on the head, the three men felt that bring theatre to the doorstep of the many schools around the county had serious potential.
“I know Art Ó Súilleabháin from the Mayo Education Centre and I rang him and asked would he be interested if we put on a Hamlet show for them. We did a show in Mayo Education Centre initially and then from that the schools started booking us. Other Education Centres heard about our performances and it has just gone from there,” added John.
Speaking about the productions, Art Ó Súilleabháin, Director of Mayo Education Centre said, “The performances and workshops proved to be genuinely passionate and professional, real and resonant as well as being genuine and genial. This event brought theatre to life for teachers and students alike. It is something that the Mayo Education Centre is delighted to have sponsored for the teachers of the region.”
The success of the theatrical productions so far has ensured that seven jobs have been created, with six Irish and English actors having committed themselves to the projects until Spring 2012. 
WEL are now taking bookings from schools across the region.
“The obvious benefit of a show like ours is that it removes the hassle for schools in rural areas. We bring the show to them so there is no need to travel to Galway or Dublin,” said John.
Abi Harris is one of the actresses currently involved in the Shakesperean production.
A former schoolteacher, Abi Harris is very much central to the productions and for her the goal of the performances is to unlock the complicated meaning and make it easier for students to appreciate.
“When we go to the schools it is about making it more of an intimate experience because we also offer the students a workshop which helps to pull apart the scenes.”
Harris said that most Hamlet productions can last for three or four hours while Macbeth usually lasts for approximately two hours. However, the productions put on by WEL get to the point much quicker.
“You’d go out of your mind trying to work out Macbeth as a kid. It’s about hacking away and just really getting to the nitty gritty of it - the passion of it. I mean you should feel so exhilarated after seeing a Shakespeare. You should feel just like you’ve run a marathon really. That manic exuberance sort of thing, and if you don’t come out feeling like that its been done wrong I think.”
Hamlet is on the Leaving Certificate curriculum for 2012 and has regularly featured in the Leaving Cert in recent years. Macbeth meanwhile is due to appear on the English paper in 2013 and will be a prominent feature of the syllabus for the coming years.
John Thornton believes there are enormous benefits for students witnessing live performances.
“I know this now because I have seen it with my own eyes. In one school, the teacher was watching one particular corner of the room while our show was on as all the boisterous lads were in that area. There was about seven or eight of them, and he was watching them because he said felt they were going to start causing trouble. However, as soon as the play started and they got in to it they just sat down and never opened their mouths. He couldn’t believe it. He said he never saw them as quiet for an hour in his life.”

For more details visit: www.westportentertainmentltd.com or telephone 098 29828.