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Ophelia Thinks Harder – Sedos Production at Bridewell Theatre London

How are shows put together? Find out through interviews with directors, musical directors and other members of the team just how it's done.

Ophelia Thinks Harder - Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All Rights Reserved

Ophelia Thinks Harder - A comedy by Jean Betts/William Shakespeare. Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All Rights Reserved

Ophelia Thinks Harder - A comedy by Jean Betts/William Shakespeare. Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All Rights Reserved

Shakespeare Meets Feminism

Sedos, one of London’s most vibrant and exciting community theatre companies, presents Ophelia Thinks Harder at the Bridewell Theatre from 28th September-2nd October 2021.

This hilarious comedy, by award-winning New Zealand playwright Jean Betts, is based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But now, in a play that explores women’s issues, Shakespeare meets feminism and the world is turned upside down.

Downtrodden Ophelia? – Not Any More She Isn’t

Ophelia is the daughter of Polonius and sister of Laertes. Up until the start of the play she was romantically involved with Hamlet. However, the narcissistic Hamlet treats her badly and she rebels. “Woe is me” she cries, but instead of sinking into the depths of self-pity she takes control of her own destiny. She starts to use her brain! She starts to think harder and guess what – the ‘new’ Ophelia gets all the best lines!

Ophelia Thinks Harder - Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All rights reserved.

Ophelia Thinks Harder - A comedy by Jean Betts/William Shakespeare. Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All rights reserved.

Ophelia Thinks Harder - A comedy by Jean Betts/William Shakespeare. Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All rights reserved.

Director Matt Bentley Speaks Exclusively to HubPages

Ophelia Thinks Harder is directed by Matt Bentley who speaks exclusively to HubPages.

HubPages: Matt, please tell us about your background and productions you’ve been involved with for Sedos and elsewhere?

Matt: I have been acting all my life and got into directing fairly early (my first full-length show was when I was 17). I have a BA in Theatre and English Studies from Victoria University of Wellington (in NZ) as well as an LLB. Before moving to the UK in 2014 I directed a range of musicals and plays, including Tick Tick Boom, Curtains, By Jeeves, I Hate Hamlet and The Cat's Meow. Ophelia Thinks Harder will be my third directorial effort for Sedos, after Serial Killers and Reefer Madness, and I played Underling in their production of The Drowsy Chaperone. I have also directed, produced and performed in many other London community theatre productions, including directing Big Fish, Romeo and Juliet, Plaza Suite, On the Twentieth Century and The Merchant of Venice. Over lockdown I was heavily involved in many online productions, and directed several for Sedos including Radium Girls and Handbagged.

HubPages: What inspired you to direct this production?

Matt: This is a very well-known play in New Zealand (to the point where it is often studied in high schools), but it's very rarely done here and I hadn't seen it performed. I pitched it following the peak of the "me too" movement, and its themes as well as the familiarity of its story, seemed like a perfect combination of substance and commercial draw. Over two years later, those themes and ideas are still incredibly relevant.

HubPages: Do you have a particular interest in New Zealand playwrights or is it just coincidence that your first directorial role with Sedos was Serial Killers by James Griffin, another New Zealand playwright?

Matt: Yes, I'm from New Zealand. There are some fantastic writers there so I enjoy being able to introduce them to new audiences. What's key for me is that (with the obvious exception of Shakespeare) I like to tell an audience a new story when I direct. I lean more towards the unusual and unknown rather than something that was done at the National or Royal Court three years earlier, so NZ theatre is a great pool to fish from for those sorts of stories.

HubPages: Ophelia… is a very different type of play to Serial Killers so how does your approach differ?

Matt: Very different! Although both do deal with some important issues. The key difference for me in this case is the idea of place - Serial Killers takes place in a single, defined room, while Ophelia is more vague in the stage directions. I needed to spend a lot more time thinking about what the play wanted that space to be and how we could use it to tell the story clearly. In the end I struck on the idea that while Hamlet is taking place on stage, Ophelia is happening in the wings, the green room, and general backstage area. We've ended up with a very flexible design that looks like a backstage area, but allows lighting to clearly tell us where we are.

HubPages: Were you looking for a particular set of skills at the auditions?

Matt: Auditioning for this one was interesting as the actors needed to be able to handle the Shakespeare as well as the modern comedy. I usually take the approach of asking three questions: who can do it (in terms of ability), who would we like to spend months working with (very important), and then which of the people who fit into the first two questions best fits each character. With this show, the Shakespearean dialogue fits into that first question and then it was a matter of putting together a cast that would work well together. It's such an ensemble show that it really can't have anyone who isn't going to engage with the others - we've been very lucky in that regard.

HubPages: What fascinates me is how a director plots out a show. Everyone has their own way of doing things. How do you do it?

Matt: It really depends on the show. I'm about to direct a show with very little dialogue, so will need to do a lot of groundwork to ensure that each scene has a strong concept that we can build on. In this case (as with a lot of shows) I went in with a relatively clean slate to each scene - a few ideas but nothing concrete. That allows us to work through each scene as a group and take the best ideas from a process of trying things out and seeing where things seem like they should fit. I'm just one person, so there's no way I'm going to come up with the best possible scene myself. The cast know their characters far better than I do, so a lot of the best ideas come from them - my job is to make a hundred decisions a minute as to which way we take the scene, and make sure that everything hangs together and, most importantly, tells the story.

HubPages: What particular challenges did this show bring?

Matt: I've alluded to this earlier, but this play is written in a very loose style. Any scene feels like it could happen anywhere, which was quite common in plays like this in the early 90s. The challenge there was to make sure that the story was clear - the focus had to be on the interactions between the character and, as long as that was strong, the audience wouldn't worry too much about the layout of the castle or anything like that.

On that note, the text is somewhat dated. The way we talk about gender equality and issues of discrimination has changed in the last thirty or so years. The issues are, sadly, still very similar, but feminism looks very different and uses different language. I don't think it matters too much for this play as the ideas being discussed would certainly have been boundary-pushing in the 1500s (when it is set), but it's important to note that this is essentially a period piece set in two periods (the original Shakespearean context as well as 1994 when it was written).

Finally, we've had the additional challenge of having to re-rehearse a play that was nearly finished 18 months ago. I've described it to people as being like writing an essay and then losing it in a computer crash - you know that it will never be rewritten the same way, but you have to hope you can get it as close as possible or even improve on it. Fortunately, the cast we have retained have been amazing at picking up where we left off, and we have cast 4 new people who have picked things up incredibly quickly. I think we have a much stronger production, and am really looking forward to sharing it with an audience.

Ophelia Thinks Harder - Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All rights reserved.

Ophelia Thinks Harder - A comedy by Jean Betts/William Shakespeare. Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All rights reserved.

Ophelia Thinks Harder - A comedy by Jean Betts/William Shakespeare. Image by David Ovenden. Sedos 2021 All rights reserved.

Sedos Magic – A Great Night Out

This highly entertaining production is a fine example of the extraordinarily hard work that goes into every Sedos event. A great night out!

What's Next?

Sedos has an exciting and varied programme planned for the remainder of 2021 and into 2022 including:

  • Working: The Musical – 26th-30th October 2021
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – 24th November-4th December 2021
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 22nd-26th March 2022
  • American Idiot – 10th-14th May 2022
  • Love! Valour! Compassion! – 5th-9th July 2022
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream – 14th-24th September 2022
  • Carrie: The Musical – 25th-29th October 2022
  • Amadeus – 23rd November-3rd December 2022

Let's Keep Amateur Theatre Alive

Are you interested in keeping amateur theatre alive? Sedos is a friendly and vibrant society always on the lookout for new members.

Whatever your interests, a varied programme of workshops offer interesting opportunities to acquire new skills and develop existing skills. The company is fully committed to diversity and inclusion. Full details can be found on the Sedos website.

Finding the Bridewell Theatre

© 2021 Frances Spiegel

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