CORYN RHYS-JONES (William Shaksper)
What did you know of Shakespeare prior to the play?
I suppose I know as much as any working actor. I learned about Shakespeare at university. I think that any actor who has not got any interest in Shakespeare might want to look twice at their chosen career.
How did your previous acting experience inform how you approach your role?
To a large extent, I had to leave my preconceptions about Shakespeare the man at home, beyond our choice to make him a Midlander. I've been drawing on my experience in physical comedy, which is something I haven't done for a while but seems a bit like riding a bike - the instincts have come back pleasingly quickly.
How will you look at Shakespeare after doing this play?
I think the next time I read one of Shakespeare's plays, I'll think more about the historical context. I used to be resistant to that because the plays could stand on their own and they can but there is also a value in having a better understanding of where the author was coming from.
Patrick James (Lord Stanley)
Who was Lord Stanley?
Lord Stanley was the 6th Earl of Derby and people think he was a bit of a collaborator in the plays of William Shakespeare. There was a French spy who stayed at Stanley's house and reported that he was constantly in his study scribbling plays for the common people. I found this doing research on Wikipedia.
He was a father of five and an impassioned patron of the arts. He was at the Court of Navarre, which features in "Love's Labour's Lost" and alot of people think because he knew Shakespeare, he might have written part of or inspired the play.
What do you know of the Elizabethan era and how has it influenced the development of your character?
Basically, I think the Elizabethan period saw a great growth in the language and it was an exciting and vibrant time. [In the play] Stanley is not a fool and sees that this is a very special time and grabs it with both hands. He's a real admirer of it all.
What have you learned so far from working on this play?
I've learned you've got to give everything and and bear everything in theatre. Working with the writer was a new experience for me and that so much can be invented and coloured in to what was already written. The creative process, pulling things out of the script was very interesting. It was interesting that without the writer knowing it we could take his words in a completely new direction and invent things within the text and relationships between the characters.
FILIP KRENUS (Edward de Vere)
Who was Edward de Vere?
According to some sources, he is the person who wrote the Shakespeare plays, as could be Bacon or Marlowe. In this play, he is the person who comes up with the plot of the plays, and Kit Marlowe would create the characters. It was like writing modern TV shows, it was a collaboration - not one author but many. He as an Elizabethan courtier and it was not respectable to write for theatre or be an actor, so that's why [in this play] they used Shakespeare as a front.
He was well-educated, the 17th Earl of Oxford but by that time his funds were depleted, he was broke and he relied on his connections to get by, including Lord Stanley. I think of him as having the taste of a marquis and the income of a vicar.
Do you think what happens in this play is close to the truth?
It could be an exagerrated version of the truth. I think there is a hint of truth there, but I think the play is playing around with conspiracy theories and I look on it as an amusing Shakespearean whodunit.
What research, if any, have you done for this play?
I think that classical research is not so important here. I did research and used it as and when necessary. I just needed to know the basics of the history and how much they informed the play and how we could play around with it. It's a farce, so appeals to a general audience and people who know more about the man will enjoy the subtle hints. [As an actor], it's important not to impose your knowledge of the historical character on the play. It may inform your actions but you should always stick to the text.
LINDSEY BOURNE (Mary Sydney)
How were you cast in the play?
I was cast through Casting Call Pro website, and I did two auditions with Andy and Kim at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. I did my own audition piece, and then they gave me an extract from the play and they worked on that.
In the play, who is Mary Sydney?
Mary Sydney is a countess and she is the money behind Shakespeare Incorporated. She lives in Wilton House, where they meet together to write and research the plays. She is a literary woman so her resources in terms of publishing are limited so she does her publishing through the men.
From what you know, do you think a woman could have written or contributed to the writing of the plays of Shakespeare and in what ways?
Yes, absolutely, particularly from what I know of Mary Sydney. She was well educated and well travelled, which could explain the references to and deep knowledge of Italian culture and geography that appear in the plays.
Throughout Shakespeare's plays there are a lot of strong female characters, compared with a lot of unsavoury men. A lot of the women in Shakespeare's plays were educated and Shakespeare's daughters were not.
ANTHONY KERNAN (Christopher Marlowe)
How are you finding rehearsals?
I'm finding them going very well. I haven't had a lot of time to get into it but we're working in an efficient manner and going through it quickly. There's a lot going on outside of rehearsals, doing research and exploring the characters in a two and a half week rehearsal span. It's a short time and we have to work in a concise way.
What research have you done into your role?
I looked on the Internet to find out about Marlowe but there's not a lot that can be verified as true which is great from my perspective as it means I'm not weighed down by historical facts. It means I can choose the things that are thought to be true in the character in the play. He's a heavy drinker, almost self-destructive and he's the kind of modern equivalent of the "Live Hard, Die Young" generation. He's almost like a popstar of his day.
He starts off as the 'great Christopher Marlowe, poet and playwright' but then he's sought by other characters in the play for help so he evolves from being the sole author to being one of several authors in several different people's works.
In what ways, if any, do you think the play will change people's opinion of Shakespeare?
It's difficult because I think people won't necessarily see it as being very factual - it's a farce and I think people will see it as that. On the other hand, if we do it right, we could make people actually think about the authorship question although others might have their own ideas on this and the play might conflict with these.
KARL DOBBY (Francis Bacon)
Give us some background into your character?
[He's] this wily, horrible guy who doesn't know how to deal with people. The way he deals with people is to grasp at power and get himself in a more powerful and respected position. Throughout the play, he believes himself to be better than everyone else. He's an evil peacock - he struts around pecking at people trying to show off his feathers.
In what ways does the play, in your opinion, reflect what might have happened?
I don't know because I'm a strong believer that Shakespeare wrote the plays and although it might be a romanticised idea that he did it all himself, I quite like the idea it was just this one person that created such a world-changing set of plays and poems.
But with the play, I like the concept. There's this whole new way of all that history being written.
What is the biggest challenge you face in this play?
The biggest challenge I face in any play is getting I find in any play is getting into the head of the character and working out what they're scripted to do. I think with this one, because you put part of yourself into every character you do, it's accepting there's a slimy horrible part of my personality that I'm going to have to use for this character.
TYLER COOMBES (Ben Jonson)
What, if anything, did you know about Ben Jonson before doing this play?
I knew that he was a famous playwright, that he was of Shakespeare's competitors with a reputation as strong as Shakespeare's at the time. I knew about his play "Volpone", one of my favourite plays, and that he was the gritty one - not a classical scholar but one from a working class background who made his own name. I knew what he looked like from a picture at the National Portrait Gallery.
In what ways do you think the script accurately (or inaccurately) depicts Jonson?
I think the specific references to the plays, his back life, his time as a bricklayer and in the army, in particular his time in jail. I think the script reflects that he was different from the other writers, in the sense that his way of becoming a writer - the other writers are larger than life and flamboyant [whereas] Jonson is the sturdy, level-headed one.
In your opinion, from what you know, was Jonson a superior or inferior artist to Shakespeare?
I think it depends on what period of the play you're looking at - from the very beginning Jonson has nothing to do with this writing faction yet, whereas Shakespeare is with the right people. I think Jonson admired Shakespeare and the work that was being produced - there was something Shakespeare managed to communicate which Jonson could never do. My opinion is that some of Jonson's plays were better than some of Shakespeare's, particularly "Volpone" and "The Alchemist" but Jonson's best was nowhere near Shakespeare's best.
MAGGIE TURNER (Queen Elizabeth/Barmaid)
What is Queen Elizabeth doing in play about William Shakespeare?
She and Shakespeare were the most well-known historical figures from that time. In the play, there's a good scene where Elizabeth is with members of the court that she's familiar with like Francis Bacon and Mary Sydney where she asks to meet William Shakespeare for the first time and Will serenades her with one of his poems that he's written especially for the occasion and maybe she's not as impressed as she thought she was going to be.
From what you know, how different was the monarchy then to how it is now?
I think Elizabeth I definitely could have coined the phrase 'anno horribilus' instead of Elizabeth II. Her reign also had its ups and downs like the Armada and the problems with Mary, Queen of Scots.
Lizzie had a long reign like our current Queen and although everybody's heard the phrase "the Virgin Queen" and has a strong impression of the fabulist portraits of her, not everyone will know and indeed they will be surprised to learn that at her coronation she insisted on shaking hands with ordinary people.
How were things different for women back in Elizabethan times?
Women were not allowed to inherit property, there were restrictions on how titles passed from generation to generation but the period was surprisingly rich with women who were educated and accomplished in in the arts and sciences. The difference was that they had to be wealthy in order to acquire that education.
Could Elizabeth have been aware of the identity of William Shakespeare given the controversy surround his authorship?
Elizabeth died in 1605 but William went on writing for another 12 years so it's unlikely in historical terms that she would have been aware of any controversy. But in the play, it looks as if she realises that something's going on.