It may seem foolhardy to stage outdoor Shakespeare in Glasgow, but this is what Bard in the Botanics has excelled at for the past ten years
‘Open-air Shakespeare? In Glasgow, in summer? Are you serious?’
This is the usual incredulous reaction that Artistic Director Gordon Barr gets when he talks about Bard in the Botanics – the annual event held in Glasgow’s Botanic gardens.
But the popularity of the event is undisputed. After 10 years it’s almost an institution in the city’s west end.
The company is known for presenting well-known as well as ‘lesser-spotted’ Shakespeare plays to the local audience. In a change of tack, this year they plan to take Romeo and Juliet out and about, around Glasgow’s community venues.
“This is probably the most famous play in the world, so rather than showing our regular audience a play they may not have seen before, which is what we usually do, we are taking a play to audiences that may not have seen our work before,” says Gordon.
Gordon reckons it’s the audience that have guaranteed the success of Bard In The Botanics. Regarding a trip to one of the plays as a social occasion, many people bring a picnic and a few friends and, crucially, “they come back year after year and show after show,” adds Gordon.
Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens, opened in 1842, are an impressive piece of Victorian heritage. Its woodland, formal gardens, glasshouses and plant collections among the best in the UK.
The company makes best use of the fantastic setting in the Botanic gardens and this year As You Like It will be a promenade performance. “As You Like It is perfect for a promenade performance because it is about a journey into the forest,” explains Gordon.
“So we’ll be taking the audience on a bit of a journey with the characters through the beauty of the gardens, to mix the location and the narrative together.”
One of the company’s future aims is to use their expertise and provide more educational opportunities. Already they promote Shakespeare to young people through summer schools and workshops in schools. They also work with actors in training in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and other colleges.
But Gordon has aims for more of this outreach-type work. “We want to use our creative learning programme to bring down barriers, real or perceived, between audiences and the enjoyment of Shakespeare.”
And how do they cope with the weather? “We have one show under a canopy this year – Romeo and Juliet – but the environment and location are so important to the staging of the shows we can’t just take them away to somewhere else.
“Besides, a lot of the audience are local, so everyone wraps up and gets on with it – just as we do with the summer in general.”