This band of brothers breathes new life into Shakespeare's classic plays
The Theatre Royal in Plymouth is lucky enough to be one of the regular stopping-off points for Propeller – a company which has an international reputation for breathing fresh life into Shakespeare's plays.
As it would have been in Tudor times, this is an all-male company, but there is nothing stuffy or dated about their approach.
Last year their double bill of Henry V and The Winter's Tale was one of the hits of the year for me. Henry V was the first play this, to quote a line from it, "band of brothers" performed as a company and their revival showed why the concept of only male actors worked. It was energetic, visceral and engaging – a great contrast with the whimsical The Winter's Tale with the popular stage direction "exit, pursued by a bear."
Vince Leigh – who appeared in both these plays – is on tour with the company this year, playing Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew.
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Vince (Trial and Retribution, Family Affairs, Waking the Dead) says the biggest reward in working with Propeller is turning young audiences on to the delights of Shakespeare.
"We had a group of 150 kids in last night and you can tell they don't want to be there. We do it in a way that appeals and they are won over in minutes. They are so enthusiastic."
This year Propeller have toured to New Zealand, Australia, China and America – performances which have funded the British tours.
"It's the camaraderie that makes it when you're travelling," says Vince. "We all get on well. It's an ensemble and we all contribute... and we all argue about the way it should be done," he laughs.
The two shows will be very different, says Vince, who joined Propeller for the first show in 1994 and has been back on and off ever since.
"The Taming of the Shrew is a harsh production. A lot of people won't like it. It's all about the subjugation of women. It's all about ownership. It's very difficult to remember that's how life was. We have two men playing women and that's what makes the brutality come out. Today everything is equal and open.
"And Twelfth Night is not a comedy – it's very melancholic and bitter."
Vince has always wanted to be an actor. He grew up in Dorset, performed as a chorister and his first brush with fame was on the front page of his local paper at the age of seven in drag.
"There's no acting in my background at all," says Vince. "I didn't know what to do. I wanted to do drama at school, but they considered it a remedial subject and I was not allowed to do it. But we managed to get that changed and I did A-levels and went to drama school."
An integral part of the Propeller productions is the music and audiences get the chance to spend the interval being entertained by the company, performances which raise cash for charity – this year it's Target Ovarian Cancer.
"With the interval songs, 50% of the work is done by the audience. It makes them feel really included."
Propeller perform Twelfth Night and The Taming of the Shrew at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, between February 12 and 16.