Illyria has a deservedly unparalleled reputation for the clarity and authenticity of its Shakespearean style.
Illyria performs each play in the open-air on an Elizabethan-inspired stage. We achieve the seemingly impossible by performing the plays with five actors, the number we believe Shakespeare’s own company used when touring the provinces, for his plays subtly reveal how this is to be achieved. This combination of artistic integrity, uncompromising refusal to patronise our audience with edited Shakespeare scripts, and financial efficiency has set a standard practised, so far as we know, by no other theatre company.
Illyria's productions are slick, physical and imaginative in execution. They are played with characteristic briskness - Shakespeare was, after all, unequivocal about how long his plays take to perform. Each is inspired by performance techniques of Elizabethan touring troupes such as live music and song, an inclusion of the audience in the proceedings, contemporary references and a robustness of style.
lllyria leaves all-male casting back in the 16th century where it belongs. As a 21st century company, and a proudly inclusive one, Illyria uses both male, female and non-binary actors. In any case, contrary to popular assumption, there was never a law prohibiting women from the stage. Court Productions in the 16th and 17th centuries used female as well as male actors (Anne Boleyn herself performed). Shakespeare's company did use an all-male cast, but only because this was all the talent available for public performances. In the 21st century the available talent obviously includes women. Besides, it is unnecessary to ignore half the available talent just to put men in dresses - though we're not averse to putting men in dresses!
Illyria uses only the power of the human voice to perform the plays – we don't use artificial amplification because the calibre of professional actor we use does not necessitate it. Among the UK open-air touring theatre companies only Illyria's artistic director has published articles on Shakespearean verse-speaking.
The design of Illyria’s staging has been taken directly from sixteenth century engravings of touring troupes. In the words of Elizabethan scholar the late Dr Reaveley Gair:
“Illyria’s five actors are the direct heirs of Shakespeare’s wandering players.” Dr Reavley Gair, University of New Brunswick
Illyria's Theatre for families has one principal aim: great storytelling. Brightly costumed and accompanied by live music, the shows address their target audience in an intelligent, unpatronising and entertaining way.
Illyria does not espouse the view that Theatre for Children should be cleansed of cruelty, peril, or even death. We know that children are a demanding audience, and can sniff out such dishonesty. Our shows often deal with these topics in a sensitive, direct - and sometimes even humorous - manner. Perhaps that is why they are so popular.
For a significant number of young people in every audience, we appreciate that Illyria will be their first exposure to live theatre. We take this responsibility seriously, and strive to make our shows an experience they will remember for all the right reasons.
Illyria was the first of the UK open-air touring theatre companies to tour Theatre for Children on the same full-season scale as its adult productions. Illyria was also the first of the UK open-air touring theatre companies to be granted permission to perform the works of Roald Dahl.
Founder/artistic director Oliver Gray has a genuine passion for Children's Theatre, inspired by his experience as an actor in the West End production of The BFG directed by the leading writer/director for children in the country, David Wood.
Illyria prides itself on the faithfulness of its adaptations of English - and occasionally French - classics. Each is prepared meticulously from the original work, close regard is paid to characterisation and story, and dialogue is invariably (often entirely) the author's own.
This laying bare of the author's intentions often explodes impressions fostered by generations of bland TV costume dramas and dull teachers. Everyone at Illyria HQ rejoices when, for example, yet another email is received saying "I never realised Jane Austen was funny," or, "I loved the comedy you added to Sherlock Holmes," or even "I didn't know that The Three Musketeers was that dark" - even though we perform vast swathes of the novel verbatim.
The productions are performed with a reduced cast, each of whom plays more than one role (the maximum to date is 17!). Inspired by Illyria's Shakespeare productions the shows are performed in the open-air and are slick, physical and imaginative in execution.
Gilbert & Sullivan
In 2011 Illyria raised the bar for the major UK open-air touring theatre companies by becoming the first and only one to add Opera to its regular season. The ticket sales, acclaim and feedback from last season's "HMS Pinafore" all vouch for its enormous success.
The subject matter of Gilbert & Sullivan's original works is often romantic and frivolous, the music jolly, and the approach iconoclastic, satirical and extremely tongue-in-cheek. In other words, the perfect material for Illyria!
Although Gilbert & Sullivan wrote the Savoy Operas with seven or eight principals, a large chorus and a moderate orchestra in mind, for the sake of affordability Illyria tours with a cast of six actor-singers and high quality recorded music. Despite the reduction in scale not a single word from WS Gilbert's libretto is cut, nor a single note or harmony from Sir Arthur Sullivan's score unsung. The works are performed faithfully, in their entirety - and given the full Illyria treatment!
These shows boast a creative pedigree unmatched by any other major UK open-air touring theatre company, featuring:
Musical direction and arrangement by Richard Healey (Performing in Fame, New Jersey Nights and Songs To Make You Smile and composing music for Beauty and the Beast, Wuthering Heights, Alice in Wonderland and A Christmas Carol).
Direction by Oliver Gray (Artistic director/Founder of Illyria and director of two Best of Fringe award-winning shows in Vancouver and Orlando Fringe festivals)