THE MAGIC BEGINS AS SOON AS YOU ENTER THE GATE. Theatregoer 2011
12 years ago, I was the bonny young age of 8 being dragged along with the family to another one of those Shakesp-blah things. The sort of evenings where people dressed all funny, saying things I thought was nigh on another language and where children drift swiftly into far more exciting dreams of their own. So, heel-dragging my way into Rendlesham Forest with crazy looking characters prancing around me, I was becoming ever more thrilled I’d brought my crayons with me. I must say, I wasn’t best pleased when I was told to sit on the floor either. Nose in the air I settled myself down to be bored out of my fledgling wits.. How wrong one may be. I’ve been every year ever since.
“I know what the story is!.. Maybe not the big words. But it’s really funny! And cool!” Alice, 9 years old (2011)
On a beautiful July evening I rock up to Theatre in the Forest 12 years on. At once I excitedly point out two colourful characters wafting around at the front of the car queue taking tickets from bemused, delighted and enchanted soon-to-be members of the audience. A cheeky faced youth pokes his purple and red hat-laden head through our window for tickets, “Ah! More victims here to see the show. I do hope you enjoy it!” The wonderfully cheeky banter, mixed with genuine excitement and a splash of politeness already has everyone in the best of moods.
Even as you unassumingly trundle into the main space you’re accosted by more vibrant actors. It’s incredible; they stay in character for a whole hour and a half before the performance even begins, waltzing around teasing the young and charming the old. As one very happy goer said, “It’s more than just a 2 hour play. It’s an afternoon in another world.”
You couldn’t find a more diverse audience if you tried. Mothers hanging onto their children whilst they try to chase a big man in black, sporting a ridiculous feather upon his noggin, I hasten to add (Malvolio). Young adults ‘chilling’ on the grass, quaffing, chomping and being generally merry before the big performance. Older couples tottering into the arena, sandwiches and fold-up chairs in hand. Teenagers lurking around, itching to talk to “that really cute guy”, who also, may I say, had a really rather silly purple hat on and pranced around as though he owned the place (Duke Orsino). A loud ‘pop!’ erupts as champagne is opened, followed by laughter from a family in the corner, tucking into their picnic hampers. Every face, new to the Forest or old hands like us, spelled the letters ‘YAY’.
The play begins. And there is quiet.
Until shrill shrieks fill the stage as actors become birds with brilliantly designed and made puppets by Jimmy Grimes. They swoop down upon the audience as main protagonist Viola (Left), played by the beautifully talented Lauren St Paul, falls onto the stage. Her sweet grace as Viola, coupled with a hysterical interpretation of Cesario, both captivates the audience and sends us into absolute fits of giggles. I didn’t realise one woman’s face could contort itself into so many facets of humanity!
More spritely, comical, mistaken, sexy and frankly alarming characters quenched the stage of its thirst for talent. The blindingly gifted Christopher Ashman had clearly nabbed two of the most quirkily marvellous entities in the play; the flamboyant Duke Orsino and highly misunderstood Sir Andrew Aguecheek. One of the most memorable parts of the show was Sir Andrew and Cesario/Viola’s ‘battle’, that could only be described as… that embarrassing moment when two people clearly terrified of anything sharper than a spoon have to fight with swords.
A favourite of mine from last year’s ‘Midsummer’ performance, Edward Day, joins the troupe again as a disturbing (in the most amusing sense of the word) Malvolio. I honestly don’t think I have ever laughed so raucously than to Edward’s rendition of ‘Mellow Yellow’. You know that awkward moment when you’re giggling so much you think you may have wee’d a little? Yeah, that. His superb transformation from a stalking great buffoon into the young Sebastian is divine. Definitely one to watch out for.
The play’s director and producer succeed themselves in their performances this year. Not only does Jo Carrick fantastically direct this wonderful display of utter Shakespearean genius, she graces it with her hilarious portrayal of Maria. Then David Newborn blindly stumbles across the stage as a drunken Sir Toby, equally entertaining the expectant audience.
Another surprise was Owen Morgan’s musically gifted Feste, who provides a consistent thread that seems to drive the play forward. Having watched Owen since his debut role as Benvolio (Romeo & Juliet 2009) he has truly surpassed all of his performances, making the Jester his very own. Fleur Keith’s Olivia then seduces all those watching with her raunchy red pantaloons. Throwing herself at a petrified ‘Cesario’, she plays the aloof yet broody widow exceptionally well, achieving even more mirth from the crowd.
It is enormously special that this magical evening has kept the personal and intimate feel it has had from the very beginning, despite its rapid growth. I think that I can honestly speak for everyone when I say, this novel and creative depiction of a traditional play has changed the immediate judgement you can place upon Shakespeare. It’s not all serious men in tights. It’s mostly silly men in tights. Yellow and black tights to be exact.
Book tickets for the show at: http://www.theatreintheforest.com
If you want to book that in advance please let us know!
Rendlesham Forest Centre parking – £3.
Show is suitable for all ages and to make it even better under 4’s go free! Get them involved!
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