High five for Guildford Shakespeare Company

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Shakespeare

As they celebrate their 15th birthday, Guildford Shakespeare Company are preparing to bring She Stoops To Conquer to life in the gardens of Guildford Castle. Rick Murphy & Lisa Dvorjetz review their recent live-streamed performance of Henry V…

Live theatre is one of the countless scarcities of the Covid-19 era, and during an exhausting lockdown, as the nation craves a return to art and culture, the Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC) staged a virtual production of Henry V. Maybe the play’s timely theme, which reveres British power over Europe, reminds us that, for the last 800 years, history has been set to repeat. In a mere 75 minutes, the cast and crew transported us from the alehouses of England to the battlefields of France. But, can our modern video technology really compete with the grandeur of a theatre performance?

Watching Henry V on a tablet felt like receiving a Zoom call from the 1300s. The fifth wall was creatively protected by a five-actor cast who meticulously changed clothes, props, scenes, accents, stage positions, from the comfort of their own homes, while presumably entertaining hordes of neighbours too. This was a fascinating and novel experience because, as well as being transported into the homes of the actors, we were also “Zoomed” into the homes of other audience members. Performing a show online has the potential for losing a theatre ambiance; however, this production created a slight voyeuristic effect which allowed you to track viewers’ reactions and feel part of a shared experience.

Don’t worry, you could switch your camera off!

Historical plays are sombre, and they yearn for a strong fit between each element of the performance. Watching each actor on “speaker view” made the characters seem intimate and the drama immersive. In one night-time scene, Henry, played by Gavin Fowler, was considering his claim to the French crown. It was choreographed in such a way that the background images were dimmed, home lights were turned off, and phone torches were used to create a fluttering sense of firelight. Sitting inside a theatre means each poignant whisper must carry to those unfortunate souls in the back row, but in the ease of a virtual play one is invited into a dialogue with each character personally. This made for a stirring entry into their fictional world.

Gavin embodied the energy and focus that one could imagine the young Henry V to have possessed. Chris Porter, Emily Tucker, Paula James and Matt Pinches managed to transition between the diverse country folk and nobles by use of their colourful costumes and wide array of accents. Some moments were unintentionally slapstick, particularly where the storyline hurried along too quickly, where background images were cartoonishly bright, with one actor showing clear signs of dial-up internet; but experiencing the victory of the battlefield from the comfort of home, patriotically munching on popcorn from our own front row, made this modern-take on Henry V a welcome and entertaining experience.

Rick Murphy & Lisa Dvorjetz

To book your seats for the next outdoor highlights, She Stoops To Conquer & AS You Like It, visit guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk


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Shakespeare & St George’s Day

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Shakespeare

“Cry God for Harry, England and St George..!” Pit your wits against our Which William quiz in honour of Shakespeare & St George’s Day

We’re wishing you a happy St George’s Day & happy birthday to William Shakespeare with a Bard quiz from Guildford Shakespeare Company (GSC) who still have tickets for their live-streamed performance of Henry V this weekend.

Book in for HENRY V: live online, written by William Shakespeare & adapted & directed by Caroline Devlin from today until Sunday at various times. The cast brings together a collection of the company’s best-known actors including Paula James, Chris Porter, Emily Tucker, GCS founder Matt Pinches and Gavin Fowler. Matt tells us: “We are thrilled to have such a fabulous cast for this special retelling of Henry V, and Caroline’s inspiring 2014 production. This production, with the play’s own homage to theatre, will be a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of our industry, as well as a celebration of all that we love about the theatrical experience. The play also carries a unique message of hope that the impossible is possible, a sentiment that has never felt more poignant than in our recent times.”

Tickets are £20 – book at www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk/Henry-5-online

As they celebrate their 15th birthday, the Guildford Shakespeare Company also kick off their return to the stage with the irresistible comedy She Stoops To Conquer, in the gardens of Guildford Castle, 17th June to 3rd July.

We have teamed up with GSC founder Matt to offer you the following Which William? quiz to test your knowledge against!

Which William?

Willy Wonka, Will.I.Am or William Shakespeare..? You might find it harder than you expected to establish which famous William said the following lines…

1 Every man dies, but not every man truly lives

2 There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so

3 The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together

4 When our memories outweigh our dreams, we’ve grown old

5 Better three hours too soon than a minute late.

6 Only the good die young

7 Can you practice what you preach
Or would you turn the other cheek

8 Love sought, is good; but given unsought, is better

9 We know what we are, but know not what we may be

10 There’s no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden

Beer-fuelled Bard

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Shakespeare

Peter Anderson catches up with Stacey & Saul of Sh*tfaced Shakespeare which lands at Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre on Tuesday, 12th November

A smash-hit, internationally acclaimed, award-winning, multi sell-out fringe phenomenon comes to Swindon this month presenting Shakespeare in a way none of us remember it from our schooldays. We all know about pre-show drinks, but what if it is a random member of the cast who spends the four hours before a show having the pre-show drinks? Welcome to Sh*t-faced Shakespeare and their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With a gin in one hand, a cup of wine in the other and a flagon of ale in the other… What could possibly go wrong?

I catch up with Stacey & Saul from the group to find out this combination of beer and the Bard, came about. “We had one of those sessions where we all put our heads together and came up with ideas on how we can make the improv different. This was the suggestion that someone came up with. I don’t remember whether we said yes or no to it at the time, but it was a little while later that in a radio interview someone mentioned that this was something, we had thought of doing. From then on, we had to it, and it seems to have been well received as we are still filling theatres after some years.”

Is there a chance the plot could change? “Oh yes, when you are one of the sober cast you have to be ready for just about anything, from Juliet deciding she is not going to commit suicide to characters appearing in the wrong play which adds to the spice and fun – for both us and the audience especially. There are rules that we use in improvisation and these can usually keep the play flowing. The important thing is that we are providing something enjoyable for the audience, there is no question of deliberately making one of the cast look stupid.”

You are quite a close-knit group of actors to be able to do improv, especially with the additional jeopardy of alcohol, but if you could have a famous actor join you for a show, who would you love? “Now, there’s a thought! I think the one actress who always seems good fun in the things she does is Helena Bonham-Carter, I am sure she would be up for it and extremely good fun whether she was drunk or sober.”

The Evening Standard said of this show “There is no doubt this is a hoot to watch”. To get your chance to see what could be subtitled for one actor A Midsummer Morning’s Hangover the show is on Tuesday 12th November at the Wyvern Theatre

Want to go?

Get your tickets here

Blenheim Palace Shakespeare

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Shakespeare

Enjoy a Bard classic at Blenheim Palace pop-up theatre

The sumptuous surroundings of Blenheim Palace are playing host to Europe’s first-ever pop-up Shakespearean theatre over the summer. 

Four of The Bard’s most well-known plays will be performed in the 13-sided traditional Elizabethan Rose Theatre which features three tiers of covered seating for 560 and an open courtyard for 340 standing ‘groundlings’. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, Richard III and Romeo and Juliet transport allow audiences to an intimate atmosphere full of breath taking, spine-tingling and heart-stopping moments courtesy of two companies of actors over a nine-week season which runs until 7th September. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s funniest comedies. Four friends, all in love with the wrong person, set out into the woods and come across the fairy king and queen arguing. When the king, Oberon, decides to fix things using the juice of a magic flower, things start to go very wrong for everyone. 

In contrast, Macbeth mixes blood, tension, witches, ghosts and a kingdom in crisis in the tale of a toxic marriage, crushing ambition and murder. 

Richard III tells of a villain who murders his way to the crown. He woos the woman whose husband and father-in-law he has killed, has his two young nephews murdered in the Tower of London and is finally crowned Richard III, but along the way he makes some serious enemies. 

Warring families is also very much the theme of the most famous love story ever told – Romeo and Juliet. The son and daughter of two respective feuding noble families fall in love but know their love is forbidden and must marry in secret with fatal consequences. 

Pop-up theatre

The performances are daily at 2pm and 7.30pm. For details of which play is being performed when and to book tickets, visit

Much ado outdoors

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Shakespeare

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a spot of open-air Shakespeare, and Progress Theatre is bringing Much Ado About Nothing to Reading’s medieval Abbey Ruins.

Written right at the end of the 16th century, Much Ado About Nothing is, of course, a comedy, albeit one with a hint of darkness. It also explores the meanings of loyalty, chivalry and true love.

In this al fresco production Progress Theatre shifts the time and place of the story from Italy’s Messina to an English country house at the end of World War II.

Director Trevor Dale, a veteran of many local Shakespeare productions, says: “One of the key elements of this play is the speed with which the romance emerges – these aren’t people who can afford the luxury of a long courtship. The war in Europe is over, but people would have been mindful of the continuing conflict in the Far East.

“Historically, there was a lot of social change at this time than after World War I, and so much of the humour and conflict comes from the difference in the social positions of men and women. So I wanted to highlight the strength of women in relation to men.

He continues: “Being outside really adds to the show – Shakespeare’s plays would originally have been performed in an open-air theatre. On top of that, the Abbey makes for an amazing backdrop and that alone is a reason to see it.”

Much Ado About Nothing is at Reading Abbey Ruins, from Wednesday, 11th July until Saturday, 21st July.

To book a ticket, visit www.progresstheatre.co.uk

Cross Country

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Shakespeare

A Shakespearean comedy for Candlemas cycles into Capron House in Midhurst this month, as the lads from the Handlebards present Twelfth Night.

The Handlebards, comprised of Paul Moss, Callum Cheatle, Tom Dixon and Callum Brodie, have an eco-friendly ethos as well as a love of the Bard!

They have been touring the country, and further afield presenting plays by Shakespeare while pedalling hard between venues carrying all the costumes, scenery and camping gear on their four bikes. They are joined in their cross-country capers by the girls, who when they return from Asia will be touring the country with tales of star-crossed lovers.

Twelfth Night tells of Duke Orsino who is in love with lady Olivia, but she won’t have anything to do with suitors. Viola is shipwrecked and believes her twin brother Sebastian to be dead. She pretends to be a boy and becomes a servant to Orsino. Olivia falls in love with Viola, believing her to be a boy, whilst Viola falls in love with Orsino. Then Viola’s twin turns up…

Meanwhile, Sir Toby Belch (Olivia’s uncle), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (his friend), Maria (a maid) and Feste (a jester) plot to make a fool out of the pompous Malvolio (Olivia’s head steward).

Book your tickets for Twelfth Night on May 30th at 6.30pm for tickets for this evening of riotous amounts of energy, a fair old whack of chaos. They’ll also perform at Guildford’s Electric Theatre on 27th. Visit www.handlebards.com