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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy