Beginning tonight with a unique adaptation of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, UEA’s third year drama students present The Arcadian Project. A combination of Arcadia and As You Like It playing on alternate nights until this Saturday. Venue caught up with members of the cast and crew Ali Dunk, Poppy Pedder, Michael Clarke, and Jemima Richichi to see what the project was all about.
Photo: The Arcadian Project
At first it doesn’t seem like an obvious choice to feature these two pastoral plays alongside one another, yet as Ali Dunk explains: “Arcadia is believed by academic Tony Gash to be one of the most unknown, as well as one of the strongest, influences on Shakespeare’s As You Like It.” It is hoped that opening with Arcadia will shed some new light on one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies.
So what are the plays about? “Upon arriving to the utopian shores of Arcadia, two young princes, Pyrocles and Musidorus, disguise themselves as an Amazon and a shepherd to gain access to the Arcadian Princesses, who have been imprisoned by their father to avoid the dangers foretold by a mysterious oracle.”
“In As You Like It, having been banished from the oppressive court, Rosalind and Orlando are forced to flee into the wild depths of the forest of Arden. Within this strange and wild realm, the story of their love unfolds as their newfound freedom begins to blossom. The Arcadian Project uses a large ensemble cast to explore original live music and Elizabethan dance.”
Adapting Arcadia from book to stage brought some unique challenges in itself; “We had to look at the book Arcadia  and adapt it, so that came with its obstacles. We’ve had to work on many different versions of the script, we’ve had a lot of action to put to paper and then bring to the stage, so cutting it down and editing it until we were happy was a long process.”
The fact that these plays are so heavily steeped in Elizabethan culture has presented a challenge for the drama students to overcome, particularly when it came to the set design: “We’ve transformed the whole studio in to a genuine replica of an Elizabethan theatre, with the audience on three sides, so watching a fight scene – or any intense scene – from all sides is going to feel really immersive and it genuinely feels like you’re part of the action.”
Sword fighting, or fighting of any kind can sometime look tame or even clumsy in theatre, in a search for realism professional fight instructors have been used: “It’s taken a lot of time to choreograph, but we’ve had a professional fight director come in and it looks really good. We’ve had a fight director in for both plays, so in As You Like It for the wrestling scene there was professional input and it really shows.”
This project is, for many of the cast and crew, the final and most important part of their three year degree. To put on such a challenging performance at this stage has been made possible by the work of the previous two years, as Michael Clarke explains. “It’s nice to really apply all the stuff we’ve learned over these three years in to one big final production. Not just with the acting, everyone has had their own individual production role. Everyone has been working really hard on the set and the costumes, we have proper Elizabethan costumes which is lovely.”
It’s clear from talking to the cast and crew members that everyone is committed whole-heartedly to the project, and that they feel comfortable taking on these challenging Elizabethan works. With performances full of “sex, embroidery and sword fighting” Venue can’t wait to see the finished result! Get yourself down to the Drama studios tonight!