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  • Shakespeare Republic: #AllTheWebsAStage (The Lockdown Chronicles)
  • John Garganourakis
Shakespeare Republic: #AllTheWebsAStage (The Lockdown Chronicles)
Presented by Incognita Enterprises. Streamed digitally at Series started 7 August 2020. Adapted and directed by Sally McLean. Color grading and online edit by Thanassi Panagiotaras. Sound design and editing by Tim McCormick. Original music by Sass & The Bazaar. With Miguel Perez (The Chorus), Phoebe Ann Taylor (Launce), Mark Dickinson (Clarence), Laura Gardner (Constance), Frank Collision (Prospero), Christopher Kirby (Richard II), Sally McLean (Newsreader/Macbeth), and others.

When the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic in March 2020, many theater companies were forced to adapt to a world where mass public gatherings were prohibited. Some high-profile institutions associated with Shakespeare’s work, such as Shakespeare’s Globe in London and Canada’s Stratford Festival, provided free access to their filmed productions on streaming services while others staged readings of Shakespeare’s plays on social media and other platforms. This worldwide shift from stage to screen coincided with a number of articles that sought to draw parallels between Shakespeare’s experience in the early modern period with the plague and the contemporary pandemic. Drawing on James Shapiro’s book The Year of Lear, for instance, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner wrote an article in The Atlantic whose title proclaimed that “Shakespeare Wrote His Best Works During a Plague.” Whether it was through experiencing the works themselves or using them to think through and respond to the issues of the day, there was a sense that Shakespeare had something to say about living during a pandemic.

The most recent season of Shakespeare Republic, aptly dubbed The Lockdown Chronicles, responds to both of these approaches and uses Shakespeare’s works as a way to meditate on the experience of living during the 2020 pandemic. The anthology series, based in Melbourne, Australia, takes soliloquies and monologues from Shakespeare’s plays and adapts them into contemporary settings. On a formal level, director Sally McLean makes a virtue out of necessity by adapting to the logistical problems associated [End Page 275] with quarantine. Because all of the season’s twenty-four episodes were filmed and directed via Zoom, the result is a truly international production befitting a global pandemic; in addition to episodes shot in Melbourne, there are also contributions from actors based in London, Los Angeles, New York, and Glasgow. McLean has selected passages from fifteen of Shakespeare’s plays, from more canonical works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to more obscure plays like King John. The episodes alternate between all of Shakespeare’s genres, although perhaps owing to the magnitude of the moment, the history plays are slightly favored throughout. The series is shot in stark black and white, establishing a somber mood that pervades even selections from the comedies.

Each episode begins with a voice-over from a newscaster (also played by McLean) reporting on the state of the pandemic. In addition to providing context and introducing the themes taken up in each episode, these newscasts provide a running chronology for the series as a whole, beginning in May and running through October. The first episode takes place in Los Angeles. Listening to the narration, which warns that the “plague that has beset the globe has grown in its proportions,” I couldn’t help but think of those early weeks of uncertainty when curfews began to be the norm for major urban centers. The Chorus’s celebrated prologue to Henry V begins immediately after the newscast, and this abrupt transition from contemporaneous world events to Shakespeare’s poetry encourages the viewer to see these lines as living documents that speak to the present. As it makes reference to the “unworthy scaffold” (Prologue 10) of the Globe itself and asks that the audience draw on their “imaginary forces” (Prologue 18) to help realize the action of the play, this speech about the conventions of early modern stagecraft becomes a fitting way to introduce the series as a whole. Actor Miguel Perez delivers his earnest appeal in a haunting close-up that accentuates his expressive eyes. The clash between the aspirational message of the speech and his melancholic performance establishes a...