Photo taken by, and published with kind permission of Stephen Whitehead
Pictured above – my boys (front, centre) in the final scene of this years Abbey Shakespeare Players production of “As You Like It” directed by Henry Morris. @ St. Dogmaels Abbey, 1st – 4th August, 2012
Having immensely enjoyed last years Abbey Shakespeare production of King Lear
, and The Winters Take and Cleopatra prior, I’d wondered if this year would be ‘as good’. It had so much to live up to. Previous productions had given me light-bulb moments of realisation, epiphanies of access, an ‘I get
what all the fuss is about’ comprehension. I’d thought I’d seen all of what Shakespeare could offer, I couldn’t imagine it was possible to use the same resources with such a dramatic difference. The fact is, I’d not really seen the funny side of Shakespeare before. I didn’t appreciate that Shakespeare did funny. I do now.
I think the funny
started out at last years aftershow party when good friend and long serving player to the company Henry Morris floated the idea that he’d like to direct this years play. One of the common reactions, including my own, was one of an assumption that he was joking. He wasn’t. I had no idea how he’d get on. I guess a guy that can run 113 miles over one weekend on a grueling off road route that included 19000+ feet of accent
could approach any challenge – with gusto. A further bit of back-ground on Henry – he is a very funny guy. He’s the life and soul of the party. Bags of charisma and a natural comedian, who’s confident and passionate about the things he does. He’s never just a spectator, always a participant and now I come to think about it, a natural born leader and according the the 2006 Mark Ellis Top Trumps of Harrogate, he’s got a higher constitution rating that anyone else in Harrogate (beating me by a full 2%). A pretty good Modus Operandi to be a Director of such a thing, complimented by the fact he’s been immersed in the play since he was a whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face.
The rather brave move to style it in the modern day could have so easily looked like people weren’t in costume at all – or made it look like a non dress rehearsal – but on the contrary, the art direction and attention to detail in costume and prop was a master stroke. The theme of modernity was interpreted brilliantly with such things as the messenger device (often a child with a scroll running on stage; “message for you Sir!”) was replaced with the ubiquitous modern day equivalent – the mobile phone. Text message and telephone calls played an integral part in the plot with timely sound effects, at one point prompting the entire cast to pat their pockets and look round to check if it was their phone – a doff of the cap the often erstwhile audience member who causes such a stir.
The music within the play was way beyond a good ‘bit part’. It was stand out material. Poetry / Sonnet’s or stanza (
is that what you call ’em, “stanzas
”?) were often written into songs by Richard Morris (Henry’s dad) and the performance often lead by The Birdman Rallies
main man Dan Webster resulting in genuinly toe tappingly brilliant catchy numbers. Most of show week, one would hear at least one of the songs being whistled or hummed around the village during the day.
This year, as well as my sons, I was lucky enough to have a small part in the play. The stage has a myriad of entrances and exits and I was to sneak into a position, dressed with a lions head, right towards the final scene. Waiting in the wings, was a fascinating experience. Close quarters with some of the main actors, a flurry of people assisted with a quick change, then a silent intensity where stars were observed and characters and lines were poised. A few brief moments of calm before the big push over the top – around 7 of us entered stage right at the same time – me crouching behind so as not to cause a shadow of my own, gave me chance to see another perspective on the play. Initially, I was terrified of getting in someone’s way, but soon discovered, that like a lot of the rest of the week in so many ways, everything ran in near clockwork perfect repetition and I soon learned when everyone moved and I slotted in accordingly. The atmosphere at that point was something else. A tension, a readiness, a true advent. The best part of this experience was seeing the audience from the stage. The smiling happy crowd that they were throwing love in armfuls at us. I did feel a bit of an imposter at that point but also felt proud to be privileged enough to be part of it all. A brilliant experience, a brilliant play, looking forward to next year already.
More info : http://www.abbeyshakespeare.co.uk/
More photos from Stephen : http://www.flickr.com/photos/spw82/sets/72157630885296712/