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Interview | Melissa Johns Talks Tackling Two Shakespeare Plays in One

Interview | Melissa Johns Talks Tackling Two Shakespeare Plays in One

Manchester is in for a real treat when the premiere of the striking, condensed staging of two of Shakespeare’s most brutal and poetic plays are brought to the stage at HOME later this month. OthelloMacbeth explore the similarities of narratives and storylines that are apparent in both plays, using a female heavy ensemble company.

I spoke to actress Melissa Johns (Emilia) who is isn’t letting the fact that she is the youngest member of the company silence her voice or her disability keep her from engaging with some of the intense themes of the show.

“It’s one of the best rehearsal processes I’ve gone through, so it’s been busy but very very rewarding,” she told me. “It’s Shakespeare, so the language is there, the story is there, so as far as script work goes, it’s there. However, because we’ve got two Shakespeare shows in one, there is this kind of element of devising the kind of through lines, and the freedom to kind of put your spin on it. It’s a real mix between the kind of the comfort of an actor going “I have this script” but also the freedom to shine a very different light on it.”

After appearing in Coronation Street as Imogen Pascoe, Melissa is delighted to be returning to a Shakespeare since training at drama school.

It’s amazing to be able to take on the role of Emilia, she’s one of my favourite Shakespeare characters.  She has a real hardness about her but she has the biggest heart.

Emilia and Iago’s extreme and toxic relationship has been played over the years and the situations that they go through as still apparent in the present day.

“I’ve seen friends who are in these toxic relationships, where they keep arguing with each other. They cover it up as banter, but then there’s the moment when it’s awkward for everyone else around them.”

“It’s a very violent and toxic relationship where they through these horrible things and insults at each other. But underlining that, there is that absolute love there between them, but they just don’t know how to manage it.”

“As the show is only 60 minutes long, we need to have our backstory already worked out. We’ve created a backstory for our characters, which makes it easier to get straight into the scene and action.”

The show condenses both plays into 60 minutes each, and Salford-based director Jude Christian wants the audience to think about the themes in the plays and how they might still be relevant in today’s society.

“These are characters who with the knowledge of what’s happened in the world of Othello, are witnessing and moving with the world of Macbeth and by combining the two stories it lets them think differently about how those plays end and what they might mean to us today.”

OthelloMacbeth is playing at HOME Manchester from Friday, 14th September – Saturday, 29th September, and you can book tickets here.

The production will then go onto play at London’s Lyric Hammersmith from 5th October ‐ 3rd November 2018.

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