Petersfield Shakespeare Festival
Outdoor theatre space, Bedales School, Steep
Hey ho, the wind and the rain. The fifth Shakespeare festival braved the open-air space at Bedales just as the backlash after the heatwave struck – but gales and lashing rain were a trifling matter for the hard-working cast.
The main event, As You Like It, directed by Jake Smith and Chris Cuming, and starring a number of local performers, was a very agreeable torrent of colour, music, comedy and general bonkersness.
The costumes, from the slick blacks and greys, leather and tailoring of the court attire to the hippy/90s grunge-glam multi-coloured flamboyance of the forest-fest crowd, were excellent – well done Nicole Small for design and Eve Oakley as wardrobe mistress.
The production rolled along a fair old pace, interspersed with lively musical numbers, and it was good to see people taking a number of roles, including some scene-stealing sheep! The shearing was an inspired touch, adding extra laughs to a scene between Audrey (Katie Solly) and William the countryman who is pursuing her (Freddie Wride).
Several cast members were also proficient musicians – jumping onto the drums or grabbing a guitar when not required onstage.
It feels unkind to single out actors as everyone was so good, but Twyla Doone as Rosalind gave a very strong performance, engaging and expressive, as did Laura Peterson as Celia.
The night I watched it was Sam Hollis playing Orlando – and he did very well as the young lover, as did young Crispin Glancy as Silvius, mooning after Phoebe, played by Freya Sollis, the youngest cast member. It was easy to forget just how young many of the cast are.
William Bedford-Russell played Touchstone as a rangy, bewhiskered hedonist, rude and rough. He reminded me of a film character but the name escapes me.
Albert de Jongh as Jaques had great stage presence and the PYT gang of Adam Young, Fred Hughes-Stanton, Tom O’Kelly and Susie Coutts brought out much of the comedy, as well as pitching in with the singing and dancing.
Meanwhile, representing both the more mature section of the cast, and Petersfield’s Lion and Unicorn theatre group, were Simon Mackarness as Adam and Norman Stewart as Corin the old shepherd, providing some calm in the midst of the feverish goings-on.
Ed Taylor-Goodby added his solid professionalism as both boo-worthy Oliver and the drunk priest, with David Podger as the Duke bringing it all together, and Nada Sharp as Duke Frederick (not sure why the part was played by a woman but it didn’t make a jot of difference to the story).
Dannie Pye as Hymen the god of marriage, as a silver-clad drag act, leading the singing at the end, pushed the whole thing completely over the top as everyone crowded onto the little circular stage in a melee of sound and colour and movement.
The wind threatened to drown out the voices, and whisk away the sheet which protected the stage, and the rain lashed down on the poor cast, but they battled on regardless. I hope they each got to have a hot bath after the show! Well done all – great fun.
Shakespeare’s Lost Women is a new play by Greg Mosse with onstage music by John Gleadall. It is a one-woman, one-act show about an actress, Deirdre Compton, who has made a career playing the milkmaids, victims, fools and clowns – Shakespeare’s bit-parts – while her mother mourns a fading career playing the leads. Harriet Benson swept us along with her as she told us the tale of these female characters, which she fleshes out with empathy and good humour. She moved adeptly from character to character, bringing the women to life, with songs revealing their ‘back stories’. A clever, inventive and interesting play.
The Buried Moon, written by talented young playwright Laura Turner, brings the relationship of Caliban and Miranda from The Tempest, up to date. Set in a Lincolnshire marsh, where teen tearaway Caliban’s tent is pitched as he fishes for eels, and miranda seeks solace after the death of her mother, the play looks at issues of friendship, sex and love, parenting, loss, and being an outsider.
I found the two performers, Georgina Hellier and Michael Kinsey, absolutely mesmerising. The play takes twists and turns, getting ever darker and more difficult, but the pair carry it on their young shoulders, inhabiting these characters completely. These were subtle, mature performances in a thought-provoking, beautifully scripted play.