Is this an actor I see before me? Shakespeare goes undercover

Nick Clark sees shoppers caught off guard by 'pop-up' performances

Those venturing to Covent Garden this week may be in for a theatrical surprise. Visitors shopping in the market or enjoying a coffee could receive their own "pop-up" performances of Shakespeare from actors hidden in the crowds.

Characters including Puck, Hamlet, Cleopatra and Juliet started accosting startled passers-by yesterday, reciting some of Shakespeare's best-loved lines. The event has been masterminded by award-winning actor Mark Rylance, and there is even a suggestion that he could make a cameo appearance himself during the week-long run.

The idea for Surprises: What You Will: Pop-Up Shakespeare was devised with the help of writer, director and actor Jonathan Moore to celebrate the Paralympic Games. It kicked off yesterday when a skinhead in a baseball cap silenced the hubbub as he yelled off a bar balcony to a friend down below asking about the football results.

What came next was rather unexpected. Far from being a hooligan, the counter tenor began to sing a passage from The Tempest, which was met by his friend's bass. This prompted 50 members of the crowd below to put on wigs and perform a medley of songs. "The opera singers drew the audience very nicely," Rylance said.

As the flashmob ended, they removed the wigs and vanished back into the crowd. The Shakespeare "spectacular" was just the start, as the actors dispersed to all corners of the square to perform for passers-by.

Rylance said he had hoped to "confound expectations. All of his plays are structured on the audience expecting one thing and getting another." The actor, who dazzled in Jerusalem, said he wanted to create "a random act of senseless beauty and an artistic ambush" with the performances.

Moore said that the taking of Shakespeare into the street was about the "democritisation" of the Bard's work. "It has become too much about white middle class Oxbridge types speaking in posh voices. That idea is quite a recent one. There were lots of different flavours and sounds and tones to the way Shakespeare was performed in the day."

The company is made up of professional and amateur actors, some of whom are deaf or disabled, between the ages of 17 and 70. Rylance and Moore both hailed one actor, Tommy, with down syndrome who is performing "To be, or not to be" from Hamlet.

Rylance said: "Because of his syndrome, it takes an enormous amount of concentration for him to speak the words. It appears that he's digging it from so deep to deliver it to you." The Independent was, to quote events director "Shakespeared" by Timothy Block, an actor who had appeared with Rylance in a production of Hamlet in 2000. He recited the passage "What a piece of work is a man" from the play before disappearing without a trace. One of the two women who also heard the performance said: "It was just fantastic, what a great idea."

Yesterday's event is part of the Mayor of London commissioned series of cultural "surprises". The performances are set to continue in five locations around London, which will be revealed on the website, until Sunday.

Rylance hopes those who are ambushed will get an "unusual experience that is memorable – [it will] sound like a real person is speaking with them."

Boris Johnson said it was a way to "break down" the self-imposed barriers of living in London. "As we go about our daily business, we are absorbed in where we need to be or too self-conscious to interact with people."

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action