“All the world’s a stage”, as Shakespeare wrote, and following last weeks production of one of the Bard’s most famous, and funniest plays, The Castle Players proved yet again that not only is the world a stage, so is a garden, a tree and a muddy patch of lawn. This year it’s “As You Like It”, a very funny story of cross & double cross, hidden identities, requited and unrequited love all written with ‘Old Will’s’ humorous quill in hand.
Despite the horrendous weather we have suffered over the past 6 weeks, this few, this happy few, (this band of brothers?) have toiled to ensure that they would not be outdone by rain, wind and mud and thus the annual summer production could go ahead. Rehearsing in temporary accommodation was one thing, but when the dress rehearsals and stage setting had to be done under the threat of torrential downpours even the most stoic of supporters must have cast a disbelieving eye towards the opening night. But what is a bit of mud & rain when the thrill of performing awaits (and a hot shower and warming toddy afterwards).
The stage was set within the grounds of the iconic Bowes Museum on the rear lawn with the canopy of a huge tree providing the lighting rig and centre piece, the castle gardens and walls playing as the backdrop and two grandstand terraces forming the auditorium.
The production of this show was truly amazing; the costumes, the sets, the inclusion of live sheep (who at times had perfect timing for interrupting the best intended dramatic pauses), the minstrels – everything was perfect and made even more so by being staged outside. We were very, very lucky to have picked the one fair & fine evening in a month to attend this oasis of culture in a bleak & dreary week so one can only imagine how testing it was for the cast & crew to have battled through on Tuesday & Wednesday when the heavens fell, the ground rose and even the sheep would have looked a little perplexed.
I don’t like using the phrase ‘Amateur’ – it suggests of pitiful attempts at ‘doing their best’, appreciated only by cast family members and the director who has ideas of grandeur. This was as far away from an ‘amateur’ production as you could ever see. The actors were all immensely dedicated in delivering a performance worthy of the bard’s name with very clever casting and obvious enjoyment being had by everyone concerned. The direction was tight, intuitive and completely at one with ensuring the pace of delivery still allowed time for the audience to unravel the multitude of layers so often present in Shakespeare’s comedies.
The use of live minstrel music added an authenticity which created an additional layer, especially as the evening waned and the natural light dimmed. In fact the setting outside gave an etheral quality which would have been impossible in a traditional theatre.
The lead characters were immediately recognisable, which came from exquisite opening introductions; all too often Shakespearean directors rush headlong into the guts of the play (feeling that they need to seek out the well known phrases to keep the audience on board) and they leave the audience playing catch up. Simon Pell and Mary Stastny, the directors, ensured that each main character was allowed sufficient time onstage so the audience could easily identify with them. This made for a much smoother movement through the first act and heightened the second act’s humorous subplots, especially as the love interests strengthened and partners wooed and ‘shooed’ in equal measure.
- Whilst the whole cast were wonderful in their performances, special mention goes out to a few who really caught the eye; Andy Moorhouse as Jaques was a brilliant tortured soul who reminded me of James Garnon playing James 1st in Anne Boleyn; Laura Pennell who played Celia had such a mischievous glint in her eye throughout the whole play and of course, Peter Cockerill as Silvius the shepherd, who spent the first 2 hours of the evening searching the extensive grounds of Bowes Museum for his ‘love’ Phoebe.
When you look at the cast list, production team and additional support you can appreciate just how professional (in all but name) this production is -lest we not forget that all these people give of their time, effort, skills, hard work and dedication in the true love of performance - more than a little humbling.
It is clear to see why the Castle Players have been invited to attend and perform for the RSC in Stratford this weekend; there can be few other productions in the country who capture the real essence of The Bard’s work with infectious enthusiasm and downright enjoyment. Congratulations to everyone concerned, you do our region proud.
Next year’s summer show has already been announced – A Midsummer Nights Tale - a perfect story to be set outside in this magical setting. I for one will be making sure I have tickets well in advance – www.castleplayers.co.uk