I say biased because my boys were in it. Having said that, if I’d gone as a pure ‘punter’ I would have loved it. This year marked the 25th Anniversary and the final night marked the 100th performance for The Abbey Shakespeare Players presenting a Shakespeare play at St. Dogmaels Abbey, Cardigan.
There’s something unparalleled about outdoor Shakespeare. In this case, the Abbey itself presents a set that you just couldn’t hope to recreate within the boundaries of an indoor theatrical stage. The terraced rake of the old cloisters, the openness, the natural bounce-back acoustic reverberation, the weather and elements, the natural fade of light – these were all things exploited to add to the brilliance of this entertainment. Mind you – the weather did perhaps upstage everyone for a while during a terrific downpour on the last night. Poor Tom. The guy running the sound desk told me of a cue that he skipped: “fade up | gentle rain sound”. Clearly no need for that as it was raining stair rods at the time.
Until last year, as mentioned in this post, I didn’t really get what the love of Shakespeare was all about. The language archaic, the context abstract, the format, not on a sofa. You have to concentrate like billy-oh. I now see the above as the appeal. In contrast to other forms of entertainment, there is an effort involved in watching Shakespeare and as a result the rewards are superior to a lot of other formats on offer.
My (5 year old girl) Sophie also watched it with relish. Three times. Couldn’t drag her away. She had her favourite bits – particularly the violent battle scene and removal of eyes scene. The appeal to her was admittedly, initially largly due to the appearance of her older brothers, as well as the rest of the cast who had befriended her, but also due to the repetition. Young kids like repetition. It’s why DVD’s get watched over and over, it’s why bedtime routines exist. Seeing the play three and a bit times was a real treat for all of us. Seeing it subtly develop from one performance to the next; seeing the direction change here and there; seeing the actors perfect their scenes whilst getting an opportunity to re-run some of the slightly harder-to-grasp first time round bits (there is no pause, rewind – just Play).
King Lear himself, was in my mind, the star of the show. Richard Carwardine – an arresting actor of the highest calibre and with a not unimpressive off-stage career. He’s a founder of the company and passionate artist. Carwardine far from carried the others though – some star performances all round. The sons Edgar (played by Ed Long) and Edmund (Andrew Cleaver) proved to be excellently cast. Cleaver’s ducking-and-diving, slightly downtrodden wide boy stage manner suited the part to a tee whilst complementing the marvellously changing facets of Ed’s part. Richard Mitchley’s charismatic Fool had us warmly chuckling whilst Joe Kao’s Cornwall had us clinging to the edge of our camping sofa. The three daughters provided a portrayal of contrasts – the pure beauty of Mary Glynn’s Cordellia was in stark contrast to the visceral spit and spite of Heledd Hart’s Gonerill and Georgina Ferry’s Regan.
Hanging out with the crew – a lovely family of players, or rather several families, some of whom have been involved since they were kids – was special. The very hard work, especially in the week prior to the opening night, was offset with play, mainly in the format of enjoying the majestic local beauty spots and ales. Rarely off stage re-enactments, but snippets from some of the Shakespearian comedy-genius verbiage was voiced. Flibberty Gibbet. Untimely death. Serviceable villain. Handy Dandy. Poor Tom. Poooor Turlygod. Pooooooor Tom. Ahh, Mrs Hugget? (oh no, hang on.. sorry in joke)
I’m already really looking forward to next year.
A new initiative by the Royal Shakespeare Company called Open Stages 2011 / 2012 recognises the void between the amateur and professional Shakespeare productions and is all about bridging the gap. This year’s production was flying the flag for this new vehicle – I’d say it could well be in with a shout at the flagship.