Image by Rosie Powell

Galatea: A progressive take on power dynamics and love at Brighton Festival

Written by Kim Peci

“The world of our Galatea is very much the world we live in”.

Embark on a journey into the fascinating world of literary history this May. Prepare to be swept away by the forgotten works of John Lyly. He is a contemporary of William Shakespeare, whose brilliance has been hidden far too long. But fear not, theatre historian Andy Kesson, along with Emma Frankland, have joined forces to breathe new life into Lyly’s best-selling yet neglected play, Galatea.

This visually stunning masterpiece promises to be a feast for the senses. It is captivating and enchanting audiences from all walks of life. The cast is set to deliver performances that will leave you breathless. They pull out all the stops to deliver their a-game on stage. Under the direction and design of Mydd Pharo, of the Cornish landscape theatre company Wildworks, this innovative production will be presented by Marlborough Productions on the South Coast this Spring. You wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity to delve into the past and rediscover the genius of John Lyly. 

Image by Rosie Powell

Galatea takes you to a place where gods walk among mortals and love knows no boundaries.

A riveting play written in the 1580s, is a beautifully unapologetic tale of love, joy and acceptance. Now, this timeless story is being reintroduced to a whole new generation of audiences as a resonant story for modern times. Follow the journey of various characters who find themselves lost in the wood. Among them, two young trans people who are fighting to escape oppression find themselves falling deeply in love. As they navigate this new love, a shipwrecked migrant searches for his family. Goddesses clash, parents fret, an alchemist brews magic and a teenage Cupid sets hearts ablaze – causing chaos and near disaster. This play will take you on an emotional rollercoaster as you witness the beauty of two people loving each other regardless of societal normal. 

Get ready to be left in awe by a ground-breaking production that’s set to take the Brighton Festival by storm. This year’s festival features an ambitious outdoor performance of Galatea, which promises to be unlike anything you’ve seen before. Featuring a vibrant and diverse cast of LGBTQIA+ and Deaf performers, this a creation that celebrates diversity, inclusion and the power of community-led creativity.

Members of the local community will also be invited to participate in the show through a process led by Wildworks.

Wildworks are giving everyone a chance to become part of this unforgettable theatrical experience. This new interpretation of Galatea challenges traditional ideas about performance and early modern plays. The research team behind the project is exploring how these plays can be performed in non-traditional spaces, such as outdoor locations and community settings. With a large and diverse cast of performers, this promises to be a truly unique and empowering experience. 

Thanks to the innovative academic research project, Diverse Alarums, early modern plays are making a long-awaited comeback to the stage. This project is breaking down barriers and opening new creative and engagement opportunities for marginalised performers, practitioners and audiences alike. Discover how this project is changing the face of theatre by adapting and performing early modern plays in ways that engage a wider range of audiences, including those typically excluded from theatre spaces.

Meet the talented director and live performance artist, Emma Frankland.

Image by Rosie Powell

Frankland is a true visionary who believes in honesty, action and a DIY aesthetic. This current project is not just any Elizabethan play. It’s a classic queer and trans play that’s both feminist and heart-warming. Central are two young people who fall in love, confront their parents, and ultimately get their love endorsed by their families. 

But why hasn’t Galatea received the same recognition as other Elizabethan plays? Frankland dives into the inspiration behind the play, discussing the harmful notions we are taught today. There is a need to retell this story through a transgender lens. With her strong visual imagery and passion for storytelling, Frankland wants to show the world that even 500 years ago, England was more tolerant of gender non-conforming people than we often give credit for. 

Frankland has teamed up with Black, trans, genderqueer spoken word performer and activist Subira Joy. She also joins forces with Deaf advocate Duffy for BSL translations, to adapt the play.

However, this isn’t just any adaption. Frankland’s company is intersectional, and they’re determined to make sure that the needs and identities of their actors are fully accommodated. Half of the actors are deaf or BSL speaking. The play has been designed to shift itself to meet their needs, rather than expecting the actors to adjust themselves. For Emma and her team, inclusivity and accessibility are key. All performances will be in English and BSL, ensuring that everyone can fully engage with the play. And as she says: “neither of those languages is more important than the other”. For her, the well-being of the people she’s working with is the top priority. 

Her approach to working with the actors on the production is all about creating a safe and welcoming space where everyone’s voices can be heard. For Frankland, it’s not about expecting actors to “come and bring all of their lived identities to the project”. Instead, she believes that everyone involved in the production has a voice, and their experiences are represented in a meaningful way. With her guidance, the actors are free to explore their roles in a way that feels authentic and true to themselves. There are no expectations or pressures – just a supportive environment where creativity can thrive.

A closer look at the play Galatea

As a transgender artist, Frankland is passionate about exploring and subverting traditional gender roles in her productions. And with Galatea, she has a chance to bring a new perspective to this classic play. Galatea explores the complex themes of love, gender and identity in an early modern context. Frankland is determined to make sure that these themes are explored in a way that is personal, powerful and thought-provoking. By casting more trans people throughout the play, the team has broadened the scope of the themes. They invite the audience to see more than just two trans people on stage at once.

Through their work on Galatea, Emma and her team are asking a crucial question. How much love do we hold for outsiders and those who are different from ourselves? It is a question that is more relevant today than ever before. A question that’s sure to leave a lasting impact on anyone who sees this production.

With Neptune the God of the Sea, as the patriarch of the play, the audience is taken on a journey that challenges traditional gender roles and questions the ways in which power is wielded in society. This exploration of power dynamic and control adds an extra layer of complexity to an already intriguing story. According to Frankland, Neptune spends the whole play being frustrated that people aren’t doing what he wants. He threatens to punish everybody who doesn’t comply with his wishes. But unlike in a more traditional play, where the patriarch would assert their power and everything would go back to how it was at the start. Galatea takes a different approach. 

As the play unfolds, the audience is treated to a refreshing perspective on power and control, with a “cis, male patriarch listening, giving up on power […] and then resolving a situation in a really positive way”, as Frankland explains. It is a powerful message that challenges the status quo. It offers a glimmer of hope for a more equitable and just society. 

Image by Rosie Powell

Galatea is more than just a professional project for the talented director, it is also a deeply personal undertaking that is close to her heart.

As a local queer artist, Frankland feels a deep connection to the values of the city. She is thrilled to be part of the Brighton festival, bringing this important project to life. She felt “amazing as a local theatre maker and artist to bring this project that is so important” and it was huge for her as a queer artist. This is a rare opportunity to see a production that’s not only incredibly well-crafted, but also deeply meaningful and personal to the artists involved. 

So, prepare to be part of something truly special. Join the cast of Galatea as they take to the stage in Shoreham-by-Sea for a performance that’s sure to leave you breathless. This thought-provoking and immersive experience will showcase the power of theatre in creating conversations around important social issues. It is a reminder that theatre has always been a place that has held gender non-conformity, togetherness and queerness. It will continue to do so for years to come.

This is an event that simply cannot be missed – celebration of creativity, artistry and the sheer power of storytelling. Don’t miss your chance to experience Galatea– a play that challenges our assumptions and celebrates love in all its forms. Join Emma Frankland on this journey of discovery and transformation, as she brings this timeless tale to life in a way that’s personal, inspiring and truly unforgettable. Book your tickets today and prepare to be transported to a world of beauty, magic and wonder.

The World Premiere of Emma Frankland’s Galatea comes to Adur Recreation Ground in Shoreham-By-Sea on Fri 5 – Sun 21 May (Weds–Sun), as part of Brighton Festival.

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