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5 Reasons to Be Excited About the National Theatre + ProQuest
21 Oct 2019

5 Reasons to Be Excited About the National Theatre + ProQuest

From creative re-imaginings of classic plays to illuminating archival materials, this new collection is a boon for students and researchers

By Courtney Suciu

A new partnership between ProQuest and the U.K.’s National Theatre provides unique avenues of insights and inspiration for performing arts and drama studies by making streaming video of world-class productions more widely available.

But video is only a part of it. We take a closer look at what the National Theatre is about, examples of the theatre’s inventiveness and what users can expect with access to this invaluable content through ProQuest.

The National Theatre makes world-class theatre that is for everyone

The National Theatre’s mission is to make world class theatre that’s entertaining, challenging and inspiring – and to make it for everyone.

It aims to reach the widest possible audience and to be as inclusive, diverse and national as possible with a broad range of productions that play in London, on tour around the UK, on Broadway and across the globe. The National Theatre extends its reach globally through digital programs including NT Live, which broadcasts some of the best of British theatre to over 2,500 venues in 65 countries.

It invests in the future of theatre by developing talent, creating bold new work and building audiences.

This means fresh, innovative takes on classic favorites

The National Theatre’s commitment to creating bold new work can result in reimagined characters that lend surprising new depths to familiar stories, such as Shakespeare’s bawdy comedy Twelfth Night.

In the National Theatre’s production, directed by Simon Godwin, the character of Malvolio – steward of the sought-after countess, Olivia – is reimagined as Malvolia, played by Tamsin Grieg, bringing to the Bard’s gender-bending tale of mistaken identity a twist of same-sex infatuation.

Beyond creative casting, other aspects of the play have been modernized, making it more relevant to contemporary times and culture. For example, Twelfth Night’s signature musical interludes feature hep-cat jazz tunes and Olivia’s mourning veil is replaced with a chic pair of shades. Rather than detract from Shakespeare’s original, these well-considered changes affirm the play’s timeless appeal while pulling forth and emphasizing elements that resonate with today’s audiences.

It’s not just Shakespeare

Contemporary retellings of Twelfth Night and other Shakespearean classics like Hamlet and Othello are only part of what comprises this new collection. There is an eclectic variety of performances available from ProQuest. Highlights include:

  • Literary adaptations, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein adapted by Nick Dear (2011) and directed by Danny Boyle, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller
  • Greek classics such as Medea by Euripides, in a contemporary adaptation by Ben Power, directed by Carrie Cracknell with Helen McCrory in the title role
  • 20th-century classics such as Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs and the Young Vic’s production of Lorca’s Yerma, adapted and directed by Simon Stone with Billie Piper in the title role
  • Comedies such as She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith (1773), directed by Jamie Lloyd with a cast including Cush Jumbo and Katherine Kelly, and One Man, Two Guvnors (2011) by Richard Bean (based on the 1743 book by Carlo Goldini), directed by Nicholas Hytner, and featuring James Corden's Tony Award-winning performance

And, it’s not just video

Along with video recordings of these performances – enhanced with subtitles and searchable transcripts – the National Theatre Collection also includes digitized archival content including prompt scripts, costume designs and costume bibles, an essential reference for the costume department in constructing the production.

These materials provide unparalleled opportunities to study how performances take shape. For example, the video for Twelfth Night is supplemented with prompt scripts for understanding not only how traffic is managed on the stage, but the ways that actors’ positioning and movements channel emotion and create subtext. This inspires close examination of how the meaning of a text might change depending on performers’ physical expressions and how body language is as valuable to actors as the lines they speak.

Additionally, when an institution subscribes to other relevant ProQuest databases like ProQuest One Academic and Arts Premium collection, reviews and scholarly articles provide further context for deeper research with videos and archival content.

In the case of Twelfth Night, a review of Godwin’s production from The Stage1 provokes critical thinking about the director’s choices and the actors’ performances. Critic Natasha Tripney particularly considered how Greig’s Malvolia “rises above” interactions which “skirt uneasily close to [lesbian] stereotype.”

“Hers is a performance of great comic skill,” Tripney wrote, praising Greig’s ability to “[engage] with the audience and [convey] the full extent of the hurt and humiliation her character is subjected to.”

These observations prompt critical thinking and urge viewers of the video to consider if they agree with such assessments. In addition, alternative perspectives of the play might be sparked with articles like Chad Allen Thomas’s2 scholarly analysis of other productions of Twelfth Night in an effort to “connect theatre practice and pedagogy” through performances “that draw on the aesthetics of queer theatre.”

He argued that this approach “can open Shakespeare performance to a new generation of young artists.” Which inspires us to ask How does the National Theatre’s production fit in with his conclusions?

Or, researchers might discover additional layers of complexity through scholar Jami Ake’s3 article “Glimpsing a ‘Lesbian’ Poetics in Twelfth Night,” which examines how the interview scene between Olivia and Viola/Orsino reveals “the ways that female desire finds imaginative space outside the restrictions of a thoroughly masculine Petrarchan poetics and how newly forged languages of female desire find their way into action.”

What do Ake’s observations say about Malvolia’s attraction to Olivia?

These are just some of the ways additional materials can augment content available from the National Theatre Collection.

Experts are saying things like this:

This is what we have been waiting for! Our university drama students need to see as many shows as possible. To be able to easily access full National Theatre productions that we comment on or use as examples in our teaching is so valuable. The NT Archive is a priceless resource, so to be able to access its treasures from afar is a huge opportunity for many more students across the globe. This is a very exciting moment and as a regular visitor to the NT Archive I am thrilled that its doors are being opened further still via this digital platform.

– Dawn Ingleson, Senior Lecturer in Drama and Performance at London South Bank University

Learn more about National Theatre Collection from ProQuest.

Notes:

*Image by Marc Brenner from Twelfth Night with Tamara Lawrence as Viola and Phoebe Fox as Olivia.

  1. Tripney, N. (2017, Mar 02). Twelfth Night. The Stage. Available from Arts Premium Collection.
  2. Thomas, C. A. (2010). On Queering Twelfth Night. Theatre Topics, 20(2), 101-111. Available from ProQuest One Academic and Arts Premium Collection.
  3. Ake, J. (2003). Glimpsing a "Lesbian" Poetics in Twelfth Night. Studies in English Literature, 1500 - 1900, 43(2), 375-394,555. Available from ProQuest One Academic and Arts Premium Collection.

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Courtney Suciu is ProQuest’s lead blog writer. Her loves include libraries, literacy and researching extraordinary stories related to the arts and humanities. She has a Master’s Degree in English literature and a background in teaching, journalism and marketing. Follow her @QuirkySuciu

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