Shakespeare returns to Eastbourne’s Italian Gardens

The uncertainties have been unnerving, but the cast have been amazing, says director Jaz Manville as she prepares to bring Shakespeare back to Eastbourne.

Jasmina Manville
Jasmina Manville

Jaz is in charge as Eastbourne Operatic and Dramatic Society (EODS) revive the town’s great open-air Shakespeare tradition, one sadly broken by the pandemic last year.

She has come in to direct the production which was planned and then shelved for 2020, inheriting around two-thirds of the “incredibly loyal cast” who were primed for last year.

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“We have got an incredible producer who has been on top of everything and has got so many different back-up plans.

“We have been able to rehearse in a Covid-safe way and we have got so many different game plans.

“And we have also got the great advantage of being outdoors which takes off a lot of the pressure. It has been unnerving not knowing what is happening next.

“But the cast have been amazing.

“They have shown such optimism and such flexibility. If people are prepared to adapt to changes, then there is definitely a point in keeping going.”

The production is The Taming of the Shrew, but a production transplanted to the roaring 20s. The characters include a retired suffragette, World War One veterans and motor industry magnates freshly arrived from Detroit.

“It is set in 1926.

“The play brings up so many questions about gender and class and psychology, and the 1920s are an era when so much was in such flux.

“We have got so many people that are still haunted by the First World War and that are not getting the help that they need.

“And we have also got huge social change. There is a huge amount of movement and questioning about whether my life needs to be the way it is.”

Jaz was in an Eastbourne open-air Shakespeare five or six years ago as a teenager and then went off to uni. She has come back knowing that she would far rather direct than act.

“I think actors do an incredible job, but I would far rather have the overview. I don’t act now at all if I can help it!

“For me, it is about having the opportunity to dig into the whole script and to be able to see the whole thing and bring to it my own history and my own experience.

“It is different for everyone with every different interpretation, and for me that is the most exciting part.”

The Taming of The Shrew is a play that a good few people would baulk at.

“It is a piece that when I started looking at it, I did struggle with.

“Its reputation as a difficult play does change how some people view it, but I try to go right back to the stripped-down text.

“And once you take away the expectation that it has for gender politics and coercion, you can actually see that there is a really interesting play going on.

“I think you have got to think what is Shakespeare actually telling us about the characters.

“For me, it is a play about characters trying to change their own circumstances.”

Jaz believes that perceptions of gender coercion have been placed on the play by the Victorians, by the late 19th century going into the early 20th century, and that is what we have got to see beyond.

“It is not just a play about a man who abuses his wife into submission.

“There is something rather more interesting than that going on.”

The Taming of the Shrew will run from Friday, July 23 to Saturday, August 7 in Eastbourne’s Italian Gardens.

Tickets for the show are available Eastbourne Theatres box office, 01323 412000. Tickets are priced at £19, £17 and £16.