Any conference with Barrie Rutter on the guest speaker list is certain to prove controversial - and hugely enjoyable.
The wonderfully abrasive artistic director of the Northern Broadsides Company lit the blue touchpaper on the first day of a Teaching Shakespeare conference at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. He roused an audience of 70 teachers and lecturers with his stress on honesty, on using your own voice, being true to yourself. "Go for the text" is his war cry; there is nothing more than the text.
Jude Kelly, the Playhouse supremo, was a good deal more circumspect. She directed a short scene from The Tempest and spoke about the motivation and psychology of characters. Prunella Scales followed with the actor's approach, a session on speech, how and where to stress.
The conference coincided with the showing of Neil Bartlett's provocative Romeo and Juliet at the Playhouse and Bartlett was scheduled to speak, but alas he was stuck on a train. Had he appeared his reception would have been a little heated as almost all the delegates loathed his production, but some teachers did admit that their own students had been excited by it.
On day two delegates were taken into workshop groups by educationalists and asked to apply what they had picked up from the theatre professionals to their own teaching situations. Groups had to consider the "et tu Brute?" scene from Julius Caesar. I spent some time with an enthusiastic bunch who were stepping out the rhythm of the text, skipping to it and chanting the words at varying speeds.
All groups were then given the same text printed in Krio, an Afro-Caribbean patois, and asked to perform it. A daunting example of how inaccessible a Shakespearean text can seem but people had lost their inhibitions and they had nothing to fall back on. They picked up the rhythm of the lines and soon homed in on the meaning. But interestingly enough one adventurous trio performed the text as firstly A Lovers Tiff, and then a gloriously funny "Where have you been 'til now?" domestic quarrel. Rutter would have loved it.
Another Teaching Shakespeare conference is being planned for September, timed to coincide with another Shakespeare production at the Playhouse.
Neil Bartlett's Romeo and Juliet has its last night tomorrow. Tickets : 0113 244 2111.