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All men together raises eyebrows; Arts.

Byline: Joe Riley

THERE'S always a hoot and a holler at one of Ed Hall's Shakespearean shows.

Not least because the son of theatre grandee Sir Peter Hall, runs an all-male acting company.

Men dressing up as women is one thing: merely an extension of panto.

But men heavily romancing women who are very obviously men, doesn't universally spare blushes.

"The Elizabethans weren't as obsessed with sexuality as we are," says Ed, originally a child cricketing protege, who once took 50 runs off Nasser Hussein.

"Their attitude was (dramatically speaking) you don't love a girl or you don't love a boy. You love a person.

That was never an issue on the Elizabethan stage.

"Men playing women is sometimes part of the story.

Shakespeare's contemporaries were not concerned with showing what's 'going on' physically; they preferred to describe their feelings. Very quickly, any neurosis disappears."

But the test still comes with every performance: "It always gets a reaction, but in a very positive way,"insists Ed.

We can judge for ourselves when Hall's Propeller company returns to Liverpool Playhouse next week.

After already touring Twelfth Night and The Taming Of The Shrew, the double header this time out is A Midsummer Night's Dream (the revival of a 2003 production with new actors) and a wholly new staging of The Merchant Of Venice: the first a comedy, the second, some would argue, a tragedy, given the treatment meted out to loan shark Shylock.

But, according to Ed Hall, fresh from filming episodes of TV favourite Spooks, and three episodes of Kingdom, with Stephen Fry, linkage can be found.

"There is cruelty and conflict in both, and in the case of the Dream, the more painful it gets, the funnier it seems to be.

"Both plays deal with love, and what effect the breaking of bonds have on people."

The Dream, he enthuses, is a mix of "wonderful poetry, the perfect plot and some elements of sheer farce."

Merchant, he counters, "proves that we have a judicial system which can only work if we interpret every single case individually, balancing justice with mercy, and if the human element of compassion and understanding resists a temptation to take revenge.

"Of course it deals with intolerance - not just of Christians to Jews, but of Jews to Christians, and of Christians to French people and to Muslims and Moroccans. It's rife.

"If I had to boil it down to one line it would be: debt, violence, and love by lottery."

All quite philosophical. But also subjected to Propeller's guiding principles that Shakespeare should be delivered with clarity, vigour and passion.

Not that Ed Hall is confining his plans for Propeller, founded 12 years ago, to Shakespeare alone.

"We have other irons in the fire," he says, "including more touring partnership options."

Dream and Merchant, set for a UK and overseas tour, is in association with the Everyman/Playhouse.

"We opened Twelfth Night at the Old Vic and Taming Of The Shrew at the Watermill in Newbury.

"This year, the double opening is on a grand scale in Liverpool.

"It's a great place to launch a show. The audience is very good.

"I think the regional touring scene in this country is in a very good state."

So, one presumes, does Ed's famous father.

Sir Peter Hall is directing English Touring Theatre in Georges Feydeau's farce, Where There's A Will (starring ex-Everyman actor Nicholas Le Provost) at the Playhouse in March.

Propeller, Liverpool Playhouse January 2 2-31.


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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 16, 2009
Previous Article:Hunt is on for girls on film; Arts.

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