See below a transcript from the Under The Floorboards Theatre blog from 2013 -
Now in its 64th year Pendley Shakespeare Festival has been a flagship event since its beginnings in 1949. Artistically steered by Sarah Branston, and now produced by Will Edwards, the Festival is attracting a plethora of artistic talent from some of the country’s top drama schools and courses. Meeting with both Sarah and Will last week, I was keen to find out how this development within the casts and creative teams would shape the future of the festival going forward.
These open air performances of Shakespeare’s well-loved plays at Pendley Manor are held dear by its loyal audiences who have been returning each summer for over six decades now. Capturing the magic of Shakespeare with striking outdoor sets and costumes, and remarkably memorable performances; familiar faces both on-stage and off ensure that the festival remains true to its traditions and that its legacy is passed on to the next generation. With two full-length plays being rehearsed and performed over the course of three weeks, the production of the Festival is a huge undertaking for any individual, and 23 year old Will Edwards is the latest producer to take up that challenge. A former student of Sarah Branston’s (Director of Drama at Reigate Grammar School, and the Festival’s Artistic Director), Will is one of many emerging theatre talents who have been given the opportunity to cut their Shakespearian teeth within the Pendley Shakespeare Festival Company.
Described by Sarah as, “a theatrical internship with a steep learning curve”, actors, directors and stage managers are given the opportunity to hone their craft in a safe environment within an amateur festival renowned for its professionalism. Intent on authenticity and accuracy, when presenting some of the Bard’s greatest works, actors receive on-the-job training in verse-speaking from the festival’s Dramaturges and Literary Advisers each year. With this in mind both Sarah and Will were keen to express the paramount importance of respect for the text, throughout all the interpretations we have and will see at Pendley Shakespeare Festival.
For the young actors and practitioners the chance to work with festival veterans offers the space and time to develop their skills; whilst the older actors revel in the opportunity to tackle new acting techniques and processes which the drama school graduates come armed with. This dichotomy of old and new is what keeps the festival regenerating – and the recent influx of trained jobbing actors has encouraged Will and Sarah to consider the potential for the Pendley Shakespeare Company to become more like the repertory companies of old. Dubbed as this year’s “most exciting change” by Will, the company will for the first time be formed of actors who will perform in both plays. This has allowed for the rehearsal processes to run simultaneously, and affords audiences the privilege of watching the same players perform in two very different plays, back to back.
Taking a slight side-step away from tradition – which previously dictated that the Festival produce one comedy and one tragedy each year – this year presents two comedies, As You Like It and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Describing the pairing as “a delightful combination” both plays give the women a chance to get a one up on the men, and the unconventional ending in Love’s Labour’s Lost casts a sense of impending reality on proceedings which contrasts nicely with the more typically happy-endings-for-all conclusion to As You Like It. Shaking off the period costumes which many previous productions have donned, Sarah’s artistic vision for this year’s shows unlocks two very different but strikingly relevant backdrops for these two verbally playful productions.
As You Like It (directed by Gemma Colclough) is well-known for its elegant and humorous debates about love, and sexual politics are at the heart of this play. Boasting one of the best female roles in Shakespeare – that of Rosalind, who cross-dresses as a young shepherd boy for much of the play – this production promises to be a celebration of androgyny. Stacking a free love 60’s-inspired Forest of Arden against a Jackie Kennedy-esque court, the production aims to be at once a romantic comedy and political satire, with a few iconic fashion homage’s thrown into the mix for sport.
Love’s Labour’s Lost, in the second week, transports us to a much more dapper setting, reminiscent of Downton Abbey, with its characters on the cusp of the onset of the First World War. A polite and sparkling comedy famed for its linguistic sophistication, Peter Broad directs a production which presents us with cricket whites and schoolmasters, within an Oxford University setting, in this lesser-known comedy with an unconventional ending.
Whilst many shy away from “modern” interpretations of Shakespeare – and whilst they can be a risky undertaking for their creative teams – I would heartily encourage you to take a chance on Pendley Shakespeare Festival if considering attending for the first time. Run by a team who are passionate about Shakespeare’s legacy, the productions are full of promise, delight, whimsy and wit – and the playful and dedicated spirit of the festival make it perfect for audiences who are new to Shakespeare, and for those who have already acquired a taste for his works.
As You Like It runs from 6th – 10th August, with Love’s Labour’s Lost following on 13th – 17th August. Visit the festival website, www.pendleyshakespearefestival.co.uk, for further details and make sure to book a seat for this charming outdoor festival brimming with artistic talent.
Box office: 01442 820 060 (Grounds open at 6pm, Performances start at 8pm)