'My 8-Year-Old Daughter and I Are Making Shakespeare Movies During The UK Lockdown'

My daughter Neve loves watching YouTube—she's eight-years-old and has wanted to have her own YouTube channel since she was about five. During the Easter holiday we started off filming a couple of Harry Potter themed recipe videos in the kitchen. Niamh made 'Butterbeer' and little ham and cheese parcels.

I'm based in the UK, but I'm off work at the moment as schools are shut because of COVID-19, but normally I run a theatre and education company called the Shakespeare in Performance Project. I had a little bit of Shakespeare going around in my head, so I suggested we film a couple of scenes from Hamlet at home. That was the start of our Lockdown Shakespeare videos.

For the past 17 years I've been working with students in the UK and the Netherlands, bringing Shakespeare to life. I wanted to make Shakespeare fun, so I created a workshop where students have a chance to play the main characters within the texts.

It doesn't matter if the kids are six, 12 or 18-years-old, everyone loves a foam sword!

We cut the scripts down into short, snappy scenes with some original Shakespeare lines, and we add humor and modern, pop culture references. I usually find that they have a lot of fun with it and the text doesn't seem as difficult to understand.

It doesn't matter if the kids are six, 12 or 18-years-old, everyone loves a foam sword! And they love playing dead and poisoned, so we take a load of props with us, like crowns, bits of costume, and plastic skulls—which are very popular with Hamlet.

I was due to do a one-hour Shakespeare workshop with Neve's class in April—since she started school, I have gone in every year and worked with them on a different play. It's become a bit of a tradition and they love it. Since we can't do it this year, I thought Neve and I should try a bit of Shakespeare at home.

Shakespeare, Lockdown, movies, theatre, family
Marc Norris' daughter, Neve Norris, as Hamlet in a poster for Lockdown Shakespeare's Hamlet. MARC NORRIS

I decided to storyboard the basic storyline of Hamlet, like we do with the students in the workshops I run. Neve took on the character of Hamlet in her black hoodie, and we decided to use her cuddly toys as the other characters. She wanted Winnie-the-Pooh to be the evil King Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, though I do think Pooh is way too kind and benevolent to play Claudius. But it was funny—once she put a crown on him— he looked quite sinister.

I gave Neve her lines from Hamlet, and then she put her own twist on them. The lines before Hamlet kills the king should be, "The King, the King's to blame. The point envenomed too? Then, venom, to thy work." But Neve would tell me, "I think I'm going to say, 'The King's to blame, the King must die," and then she threw Winnie The Pooh down the stairs.

Well, obviously the King doesn't die like that in Hamlet—he gets stabbed and drinks his own poison—but Neve's idea worked way better.

At the moment, I think a lot of parents are wondering how to homeschool and get up to the standard of what's expected. The things I know how to do are Shakespeare workshops, making Shakespeare's texts come alive and making little short films. So I thought that we'd have some fun, and that Neve would learn about Shakespeare, storyboarding, editing, filming and maybe a bit of acting.

We weren't going to put the video online, but we were so pleased with it, I decided to tweet it and tag in the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). They are doing an 'At home with Shakespeare' season—part of which is people posting Shakespeare content on Twitter under the #ShareYourShakespeare hashtag— and they retweeted it. My daughter got the chance to play Hamlet at the RSC before I did!

Shakespeare, Lockdown, movies, theatre, family
Marc Norris posing with props he uses in his workshops for the Shakespeare in Performance Project. MARC NORRIS

After that, I decided to extend Lockdown Shakespeare and make it a little video project with Neve's class. We're making a film about Shakespeare's tragedies—the kids will have two lines each from roles like Lady Macbeth, Claudius, Hamlet and Othello. Their parents will film them, and I'll do a voiceover and piece the parts together to make a film featuring the whole group.

Shakespeare actually wrote King Lear during lockdown as theatres in London were shut because of the plague.

The wonderful thing about Shakespeare, like any good and enduring art, is that he deals with very fundamental human truths about existence—who we are, our failures and frailties, human nature and emotion. And he brings it to the audience in a wonderfully lyrical, poetic and concise way.

He was also a jobbing writer, writing in the middle of a plague, 400 years ago, at another time when London was on lockdown. He actually wrote King Lear during lockdown as the theaters were shut because of the plague.

I was thinking about doing King Lear next with Niamh—I could be the old grumpy King Lear, and Neve could play Cordelia the good daughter. She's got Supergirl and Wonder Woman toys, so I thought those two could be the two evil daughters, Goneril and Regan. But I think the key to it is seeing if she's interested and wants to do it again, then we'll go for it.

Learning is wonderful, but studying can be quite difficult and boring, and I think the lyricism and the age of Shakespeare's language can sometimes get in the way of people understanding it.

But if you have a foam sword and a costume and play out a couple of scenes, then in playing that, in living those characters and those emotions, you can bridge that gap of 'this is difficult to understand' to 'oh, actually this is really fun!' and want to learn more about it.

Although I certainly didn't start out intending that other parents may see the video, I think if someone looks at it, and sees that there's a real joy in playing together as a family, and achieving something through play, that would be really nice.

Marc Norris is a writer and the artistic director of the Shakespeare in Performance Project, a theatre in education company that runs drama workshops with young people in the UK and The Netherlands.

As told to Jenny Haward.

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