March 16, 2016

Unity Field Trip: Table Top Shakespeare

Unity is a creative agency made up of around 30 members of staff who use culture to shape how they see the world around them. We are set monthly Field Trip missions to ensure we stay informed and culturally current.

This month we went to the Barbican for the Shakespeare Play On Weekender. Here’s what Grace Nuttall thought of one of the productions:

Forced Entertainment’s Complete Works

By Grace Nuttall

With 2016 marking the 400th anniversary of the nation’s greatest literary figure, the whole country has become a stage for celebrations of his work.

The Barbican has been no exception, this month presenting the public with some stellar programming including Forced Entertainment’s Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare – a reimagining of his plays in table top form.

What made these productions so different? Instead of using actors, sets or props, Shakespeare’s stories were condensed and told through everyday household objects. Over the course of 36 performances of 45-60 minutes, a salt and pepper pot became king and queen, a ruler became a prince, and lighter fluid became an innkeeper; their tales told by one narrator.

Through this, the company explored the power of narrative and the effects of conjuring images and scenes through language and symbolism alone. The simple summaries of the comedies, tragedies, and histories could easily have been too condensed to convey any emotion or meaning – yet through the narrators’ nuanced performances, each scene held power and were often-times incredibly moving.

Scenes in Richard III, for example, showing the isolation of women and their children were particularly poignant – despite being conveyed purely through the way in which the narrator looked at the objects. Much Ado About Nothing’s love scenes had a similar impact, with audience members left surprised at being moved so strongly by the interactions and sparring between a beer can and sun-cream bottle.


Stripping Shakespeare of his language – one of the main reasons for his works’ fame – is risky. Its success lies in seeing how a different (but just as vivid) language makes presentation and interpretation the topic of conversation.

Primarily, this makes some of the Bard’s more obscure works more accessible. But even more than that, it is through simple storytelling – rich with emotion – that people become engaged with timeless writing, regardless of their age. Leaving Forced Encounters’ Richard II, for example, many wanted to go and read the full play, which is seen as one of the less relatable histories.

Furthermore, it is the very act of reinterpreting and playing with Shakespeare’s work that we can understand it better and create new art. Engaging with the classics in our own way makes them more memorable and accessible.

This is something brands can learn from. The public knows popular stories, and needs a reason to care about them in a new way. Finding ways of reinterpreting and presenting them makes us more engaged, more willing to interact with what we’re being shown.


To find out more about Forced Entertainment and Table Top Shakespeare, head to their website

Unity’s Field Trip programme sees all staff (from interns to our co-founders) embarking on a challenging journey into the heart of London’s arts and culture scene. If you’re interested in knowing more, then please email our Culture Editor on