The ambitious event, organised by the Cork Shakespearean Company, is also a celebration of the amateur company’s 90 years in the city. Over a 12-hour period in 12 different venues, with nine readers per venue, Shakespeare’s 38 plays, 154 sonnets and four narrative poems, will be given rehearsed readings in Cork City Library, Cork Opera House, Cork Unitarian Church, the Firkin Crane and Eason’s Hill Community Centre where the Cork Shakespearean Company (also known as The Loft) is based.
Chairperson of the company, Kieran O’Leary, says that co-ordinating the event is a logistical challenge. “It’s been just me and my laptop for the past year and a half. I’m delegating people in the various venues to look after the groups that will be reading in them. The Globe in London actually performed the full works of Shakespeare some years ago. It took them a year to put on full productions.”
O’Leary says that all the plays will be recited without any editing. “The important thing for me is to get all the words out in the 12 hours. All the bits of Latin, Welsh and French are in there. There are apparently 38 plays by Shakespeare, although some of them were collaborations.”
To time the plays, O’Leary consulted websites that give estimates as to their length.”Hamlet, for example, has 4,100 lines. The plays average about 1,000 words per hour. Because we’re not putting on full productions, we don’t have to worry about set changes. But it will be quite tight. I’ll be a little bit disappointed if the words aren’t recited within the 12 hours.”
O’Leary says that it’s difficult to attract audiences for Shakespeare’s plays unless they’re on the school curriculum. “People have a fear of Shakespeare which they get from studying him at school. It’s to do with the way the plays are presented. It’s quite regimented. I wasn’t the best student in the world. It was only after I left school and happened to be rehearsing for a play in The Loft that I realised Shakespeare’s plays were something I’d like to get into. They’re universal. What I like most is sitting down and discussing Shakespeare. Yes, there are rewards to be got from producing his plays and acting in them. But if you catch me a bad day, I could spend hours just talking about the work of Shakespeare.”
The Cork Shakespearean Company, which meets faithfully every Thursday night and stages two productions annually, was founded by Fr James Christopher O’Flynn in 1924. Initially, classes took place in the presbytery of the North Chapel before moving to the loft of Linehan’s sweet factory on John Redmond Street for 75 years. Among the theatrical notables that have passed through The Loft are Michael Twomey, Eddie and Geoffrey Golden, Kevin Flood, Joe Lynch, Paschal Scott, Rachel Sarah Murphy and Michael Loughnane.
The company has a core group of 15 to 20 people and welcomes new comers. Asked if The Cork Shakespearean Company is appreciated, O’Leary says that he sometimes comes across theatrical people unaware of its existence.
“It’s not that we’re a closed circle but it’s that whole thing of people shying away from Shakespeare. It’s hard to find an audience for any play in Cork because there’s so much else to do these days. People are slow to go to Shakespeare because of the language which can be hard to follow. We try to make it as accessible as possible,” says O’Leary, a dedicated fan of the Bard.