Why midsummer Shakespeare’s a dream

Our CEO discovers the beauty of the Bard outdoors

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow! Till you have drench’d our steeples.

That could be an apt description of the skies over Manchester at times this summer. But actually these are the words of King Lear who will appear in a production in the city shortly. Whether the weather is hot. Or whether the weather is not.

Hamlet Cream-Faced Loons

Following their success with Hamlet, King Lear is being mounted by Cream-Faced Loons who, some might think, would have to be mad to stage a play in one of the remaining green spaces within the urban sprawl, with the rumble of Metrolink and the more than occasional siren their constant accompaniment. And then they must contend with the curious; the upwardly mobile resident on his mobile staring down from his flat balcony and the hungry geese and homeless man pacing, watching, wondering why a troupe (and why are a group of actors always known as a troupe by the way?) of talented thesps should choose the soaking outdoors as their Shakespearean stage.

Ah, but there is something peculiarly British about outdoor theatre I hear you say. An audience feigning fortitude in the rain. The tartan blanket pulled tight, a brolly the canopy above your head and that plaid flask sunk sodden into the grass. Why, it is as quintessential as… well, the word quintessential.

There is more to it than that, of course. Shakespeare al fresco remains popular because it was designed for the outdoors. That is why the original Globe Theatre and its new facsimile are open to the elements.

And what a tapestry the outdoors makes!

Pete Gibson as Touchstone

My experience of open-air Shakespeare came while playing Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in front of the Plas Coch country house in Anglesey, where the weather turns on a sixpence. A year later I was Touchstone the jester in As You Like It, whose schizophrenic moods swung as quickly as rain turns to sunshine and North Wales day melts into night.

I should remember the first, with its fairy world and delightful woodland sprites as dreamlike – but actually both conjure up that quality of trancelike beauty. The very essence of Shakespeare – where the beauty of nature melds perfectly with the Bard’s drama and unsurpassable poetry.

Back in Manchester, Hamlet had that same effect. The noise and the clatter of the less natural world augmenting the whispered torturing voices in our eponymous hero’s mind. For a moment, I confuse director Abey Bradbury’s zombies (who collectively and deliciously play the part of Hamlet’s Father’s Ghost) for real rough sleepers. And the grassy earthwork knolls prove a useful device for the grave of Ophelia and (thanks to the cunningly creative choreography and direction of Hadesa Sonné) a lake in which she can drown.

So while I wish for the audience sake that the skies are clear when Lear is mounted in August, I hope too for a little wind and storm to perfectly illustrate his descent into madness. He was damned clever that Shakespeare fellow; and he meant for his work to have the full range of the tempest outdoors to play with. Largely I guess, because he felt your imagination should have no boundaries, either.

“The actors are at hand”: Hamlet starred John Tueart, Antonia Whitehead, Bethany Gregson, Harry Burke, Diana Atkins, Laura England, Ed Barr-Sim and Matthew Gordon.

King Lear is staged at the Roman Fort, Castlefield, Manchester. For ticket details go to:  http://www.creamfacedloons.co.uk/