Preview: The Taming Of The Shrew/Twelfth Night, The Old Vic, London

Propeller's Bard boys are back in town
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The director Edward Hall and his actors so enjoyed working together on a production of Henry V at Newbury's Watermill Theatre, in 1997 that they decided to form an all-male Shakespeare collective. In Propeller Theatre Company, the actors all have a hand in creating the production, share the roles equally and are paid the same wage.

Hall and company have since performed The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night, Rose Rage (a two-play version of Henry VI), A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Winter's Tale. Now they are staging two comedies, The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, at the Old Vic before starting a world tour.

The actor Tony Bell is one of two actors who have remained with the company since its inception. In The Taming of the Shrew, he plays Tranio, the cheeky manservant to Lucentio; in Twelfth Night, he is the jester Feste.

As a Propeller regular - his favourite part was Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2003 - what is it about the company's working methods that continues to attract him?

"We have creative input in the production as a whole, particularly because we play and develop the music ourselves," Bell says. "We are involved in costume design and choreography, and we're always on stage except for when we have to run off for a quick costume-change in the wings. We even share the dressing rooms. It is very much a team effort."

What qualities does a potential Propeller member need? "It's like creative anarchy because there are no rules. You need to be able to step forward with your own ideas and also to step back when necessary, because the director is not going to rule with an iron rod," he says.

"As a small-scale company, it can afford to make up its own rules as it goes along. We can change things on the hoof, which we do all the time. We are our own makers of the work."

17 January - 17 February (08700 606 628; www.oldvictheatre.com). For tour information, go to www.propeller.org.uk

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