20 September 2023 / News

Society for Theatre Research celebrates the 40th Poel Workshop at The National Theatre

2023 marks the 40th year of the wonderful association of The National Theatre and the free Poel Shakespeare Workshop.

Sponsored by The Society for Theatre Research, the workshop is a day-long series of participatory workshop sessions for young professional actors led by directors and actors active in the profession.

In the past these have included Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellan, Paapa Essiedu, Blanche McIntyre, and Erica Whyman.

The workshop is free and takes place at The National Theatre on the Olivier Stage. Just twelve actors are selected through audition for this invigorating day-long event.

The unusual name comes as a tribute to William Poel, a forgotten hero of English theatre. Poel founded The Elizabethan Stage Society which discarded the extravagance of Victorian theatre. In the 1890s he developed the guiding principles which still influence Shakespeare on stage: attention to – and clear delivery of – the text; swift uncluttered action; minimal settings, and avoidance of over poetic and over-romanticised production.

This year’s workshop is on 10th October 2023 on the stage of the Olivier Theatre. It will be led by Head of Voice at the National Theatre, Cathleen McCarran. The other sessions will be led by Ben Crystal, author of Shakespeare on Toast. Ben will be looking at the physicality of Shakespeare and the directions Shakespeare gives to actors. Leaders also include David Thacker, celebrated RSC and TV director, who will be investigating character and motive, actor Ishia Bennison (RSC and television including Happy Valley), who will consider how to rehearse Shakespeare, and Peter Knapp who will be teaching how to improve breathing and concentration.

The audition process

The Poel Workshop requires all participants to have been working professionally for at least 2 years and no more than 10. The event is FREE and is funded by the Society for Theatre Research. 12 places are on offer each year to help actors continue their professional training. STR prides itself on promoting the value and importance of classical training and the continuing development of Shakespearean theatre.

Initial application for participants is through self-taped verbal CV and 2 minute Shakespeare monologue either from memory or reading the text. Please submit by 6pm on 27 September.

Register interest in participation by emailing and