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Guest Blog: How we learnt to love Shakespeare (with some help from Judi Dench)

Muse of Fire, a new documentary from actors and regular WhatsOnStage bloggers Dan Poole (Jerusalem) and Giles Terera (The Book of Mormon), premieres at the Raindance film festival this week

By • London
Dan Poole and Giles Terera
Dan Poole and Giles Terera

For us, like most people, Shakespeare was the classroom equivalent of waterboarding. We read Macbeth. Should have been cool. Soldiers and magic. But algebra was clearer than this. None of us had a clue. Only thing that was clear was that teacher was in about as much pain as we were.

It was a decade later when Dan and I met at Drama school hell bent on becoming actors that the name Shakespeare resurfaced to haunt us. There was a new film out, Romeo+Juliet. We went to see it and our worlds were rocked. This wasn't the same dude surely? This was about people like us. It was about being young, on the run, falling in love. There were Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes expressing things we felt. Shakespeare seemed to know us.

We then binge-read the other plays, Othello was even better. Titus was bad. Hamlet - the best. Breakthough! How could what seemed so alive to us here have felt so dead to us before? We saw that others had sat through the same classroom torture as us. Shakespeare - isn't that for posh, clever, white people?

What is it about Shakespeare? Still around 400 years on, with Hollywood making blockbuster movies of his plays. Mandela and JFK quoting him in their most humanistic speeches, yet the very name can also induce feelings of deep nausea and worse - make you actually feel inferior.

The more we fell for Shakespeare the more these questions bugged us. Until finally we decided to do something about it.

Let's make a film, a road movie documentary that hunts the reasons why Shakespeare is so feared, loathed and loved. Let's try and overcome the loathing and encourage the loving.

By now we'd worked at the National Theatre, RSC, The Globe, with some great actors. Let's ask them for help. Ian McKellen was first. He agreed to an interview and we were off. On the road for three years.

When it was all said and done we'd travel to Denmark with Jude Law's Hamlet, perform Shakespeare in a German prison, find Baz Luhrmann in Hollywood, see all 37 plays in a single summer at the Globe, hear Judi Dench speak Shakespeare in her back garden and perform guerrilla Shakespeare in the Natural History Museum with Mark Rylance.

We'd be broke, exhausted but ultimately not only were our feelings towards Shakespeare changed, our lives were changed. Because there couldn't be a better metaphor for life than Shakespeare - if you fear it you'll get nothing from it. Perhaps we couldn't hear the words of Macbeth at school but throughout the making of Muse Of Fire, whether it was attempting a scene, an interview, walking into a prison or wondering if others would see a value in our quest, these words became our concrete moto:

Macbeth: And if we fail..?
Lady Macbeth: We fail. But screw your courage to the sticking place… and we'll not fail.

We tried and hopefully succeeded in making the film we wished we'd been able to see the first time we ever heard the name William Shakespeare.

The film premieres this week at Raindance (on 26 & 27 September 2013). We hope people will come and see that there is method in our madness.


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