Speaking Daggers: opening doors on love, deceit and betrayal

A film about revenge and betrayal –  with echoes of online shaming and bullying – told by some of our best actors, including Nadine Garner. It’s based on the work of the author of the greatest dramatic blockbusters of all time, who focuses on the big themes – murder, deceit, love and lust, teenage angst, ambition, and dirty deeds done in high places.

Welcome to Speaking Daggers a highlight of the Arts Learning Festival. It’s a film about love, revenge, deceit and betrayal, told in a series of conversations in an outdoor café – a modern setting for old tales, first told by William Shakespeare 400 years ago.

It’s directed and produced by Sally McLean, Creative Director of Incognita Enterprises and creator of Shakespeare Republic, a collection of actors dedicated to celebrating Shakespeare, his works and his enduring legacy.

Nadine Garner

Nadine Garner leads the Speaking Daggers cast.

They do this by interpreting his words in 21st century settings. Their acclaimed web series, Shakespeare Republic, has reinvigorated Shakespeare’s universal observations through the lens of current events and social issues.

Speaking Daggers, suitable for students in years 8 -12, teachers and the community, was  screened during a panel discussion with some of the cast, creator/director Sally McLean and producer Bill Smedley, on Wednesday 3 May at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Federation Square.

The cast also includes Christopher Kirby, Faran Martin, Scott Major, Jaron Natoli and McLean herself.

The film is a series of vignettes of conversations, monologue and song performed by eight actors and taken from five Shakespeare plays – Much Ado About Nothing, Henry IV: Part 1, Othello, Twelfth Night and Measure For Measure.

‘It explores the 16th Century equivalent of online shaming and bullying in general, domestic violence, feminism, the corruption that power can bring and the basic human need for love and acceptance,’ Ms McLean says.

‘The over-arching theme is the observation that as human beings, we may have all this technology and see ourselves as enlightened, but in our basic human natures and desires we really are not that different from when these plays were written 400 years ago.’

The film gives students an accessible way into Shakespeare.

Sally McLean: Shakespeare can be a lot of fun.

‘I know from my own experience at school that Shakespeare often felt dusty, irrelevant and difficult to understand,’ Ms McLean says.

‘By giving students a chance to “taste test” Shakespeare via these snippets of his plays, I hope we open a door for students to want to explore his texts more, or at least not be so anxious about attempting Shakespeare in the classroom.

‘I’m a firm believer that Shakespeare should be experienced in performance before being read.

‘Hopefully it will be a useful tool for teachers to use in the classroom as an accessible introduction to Elizabethan theatre.  Ultimately, I hope students come away from viewing the film thinking that maybe Shakespeare isn’t just an interesting thing to study, but also his works can be a lot of fun.

‘We are delighted to be able to work with Independent Schools Victoria to bring this unique film to audiences at the Arts Learning Festival.  All the cast and crew are excited to be undertaking the challenge.’

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