Freshers’ Features: Shakespeare Company

Ahead of term, REGINA CO interviews society president, KIT SCHWARZ (she/they) on being the latest addition to the artsUCL landscape.


This year, Era Journal’s Theatre section is featuring the societies that make up UCL’s bustling theatre scene. For the final feature, we turn to the newly-formed UCL Shakespeare Company. As the only society at UCL solely devoted to the works of William Shakespeare, it finally comes after years of speculation among the performing arts community.


Schwarz and the committee in performance with the UCL Drama Society. Image courtesy of Schwarz.


What made you want to set up this society?


I really just happened to meet the right people at the right time. We recognised each others’ interest in Shakespeare as something that had potential.


In fact, UCL actually used to have a Shakespeare society. While I was directing a shortened version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Drama Society Pride showcase, I saw that there was a production at Edinburgh University at the time, and that they had their own Shakespeare company, separate to their Drama Society. I brought up the idea of restarting the Shakespeare society with our now treasurer, Lio, after seeing what Edinburgh was doing. It’s basically just that we love Shakespeare and were sad there wasn’t a society for it at UCL anymore at the time.


Nicholas Hytner’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre. Image by Manuel Harlan.


Speaking as an English Literature student, I take it that you’re also taking advantage of the academic culture surrounding Shakespeare’s work as well.


Definitely! It was something else that inspired the concept for the society – the idea that it should be academic as well as performance based. It made us want to set it up even more since it felt like there wasn’t any other society that prioritised both of those elements, other than the Classics play. Electra was the first Blooms show I saw at UCL and it was insanely brilliant. I was especially interested in the culture surrounding it; the way that discussion was twinned with performance through open lectures and workshops. It makes the play its own world, which I think is really cool. It also means that people who like theatre but don’t want to act or direct, but they also don’t want to just watch, can easily get involved.


Kathryn Hunter as King Lear as part of the 2022 season at Shakespeare’s Globe. Image by Kate Bones.


You’ve touched on Electra being a show that helped contribute to the concept for the society. Do you have any performances or productions that continue to inspire you?


Right now, King Lear. Every single piece of media I consume or remember I’ve ever loved at the moment makes me think, “Oh, just like King Lear.” There’s Simon Russell Beale and Kathryn Hunter’s almost polar opposite but equally brilliant interpretations of the role of King Lear. There’s also so many pieces that I didn’t realise circled around the same themes as King Lear: Dave Malloy’s concept musicals Preludes and Ghost Quartet, Indecent by Paula Vogel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Fun Home, Succession, the CW’s Riverdale, Fiddler on the Roof… – and yes, they are absolutely all going to inspire our production of it this year.


I also went absolutely insane for Nicholas Hytner’s 2019 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Shakespeare comedies are difficult when it’s kind of deeply unsettling that everyone has to be married at the end. But I came across it when researching for the Pride showcase and it contributed to the fervour of reinstating the Shakespeare society, so it has a place in my journey as well.


The 2022 production of Much Ado About Nothing at the National Theatre. Image by Manuel Harlan.


Thank you for sharing! You’ve also touched on the fact that you’ve had to set up this new society. What is your advice to people who want to set up their own society?


Find a committee you get on with and know you can rely on. You need a president, treasurer, and welfare officer to start a society, and there’s a lot to the affiliation process so it’s really important to be able to collaborate. There’s no way anyone on our committee could’ve done this on their own. Also, if you can, start everything early and plan schedules in advance, probably further than you think you need to. It’s like a minefield of SU deadlines out there. Aside from all that, though, I do think anyone who wants to start a new society should go for it as long as they’re genuinely passionate about the concept! It’s hard but not actually that hard!


Paapa Esseidu as Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Image by Manuel Harlan.


My next question revolves around Shakespeare’s work itself. A lot of the time, people who know nothing about Shakespeare think the language is too difficult or that it’s not for them… what would you say to people who think that they’re not the right people for the Shakespeare Company?


It’s literally just words! Really good words, but still. I’m a big proponent of trying to let go of the weight and pomp that often seems to come with Shakespeare. In my opinion, a performance that is too heavy-handed can crush a lot of the language’s intricacies. And off that, I would also say we’re not just a performance society, and are here for anyone who could possibly have any kind of interest in Shakespeare, or in talking, or listening, and who doesn’t love at least one of those things? Also, I’m going to make loads of cake and biscuits for our events, which will almost always be free, so hopefully that’s a decent incentive for anyone who doesn’t like Shakespeare or talking or listening.


I completely agree! What events do you have lined up for the next few weeks?


We’ll be at the arts fair on the 28th September, as well as the freshers fair on the 2nd October, answering any questions, giving out sage advice and general memorabilia, probably speaking solely in iambic pentameter. Then, throughout October, there’ll be free playwatch socials, where we hang out with nice food and watch a recorded Shakespeare production (NT Twelfth Night and RSC Hamlet coming up!), as well as open academic forums in which to chat about Shakespeare like fancy smart people. Our first lot of auditions will be for a yet-to-be-confirmed table-read to be performed at the end of term 1, then auditions for our first big show of two, King Lear, will be in mid October.


The National Theatre production of Twelfth Night. Image by Marc Brenner.


To stay updated with the UCL Shakespeare Company, follow their Instagram (@uclshakesoc) and their WhatsApp group chat which can be found on their Instagram page.


Featured image by John Tramper, courtesy of The Globe Theatre.