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Shakespeare at Blenheim 2019

Some of Shakespeare's most popular comedies and tragedies, set against the stunning backdrop of Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxford OX20 1PS, Mon 8th July - Sat 7th September 2019

July 19, 2019
A traditional performance that resurrected the humour from a Shakespearian tragedy.

Richard III, Thu 18th July 2019

Everyone loves to hate a bad guy. And it’s a special kind of wickedness, one thinks, which would lead a king to murder his own young nephews in order to stay on the throne. But that’s exactly what we get in Richard III, a Shakespearian tragedy based on the real-life Plantagenet king and his alleged real-life nefarious activities, brought to life this evening at the delightful pop-up Rose Theatre.

The term ‘Machiavellian’ is often used to describe Richard III. But while Machiavelli in his work The Prince prescribes a calculated approach, advocating sparing cruelty as a tool for an aspiring politician, Shakespeare’s would-be king is truly gratuitous with his savagery. William Mannering’s Richard, villainously velvet-caped and kyphotic, limps through the corridors of power, using a heady mix of brash charm, dissemblance, capricious childishness, and unrestrained brutality to reach its highest echelons. Mannering skilfully brought out the humour from Shakespeare’s prose, but without the Machiavellian coolness that might have lent more gravitas to the character’s more sinister moments.

I particularly enjoyed the performances from Damien Matthews (Buckingham) and Grace Cookey-Gam (Duchess of York), as well as the fine young local actors Alfie Arnold and Dylan Wallington, who played the princes in the tower, mastering a poignant style blending princely, proud, and guileless.

The costumes and textiles were notably beautiful. The stage was large, open, and woody, which made for great scenes when it was full of characters. In particular, the battle scenes towards the end were bold and energetic, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of the performance would have been like if it had similarly pushed the boundaries of metaphor and imagery a bit more instead of staying somewhat safe and traditional.

The idea of a local Shakespearian pop-up theatre, surrounded by its own 'village' with places to eat, drink and be merry, is special and exciting. It means you don’t have to travel all the way to The Globe in London—and with Blenheim Palace gardens as a backdrop, why would you? All in all, a difficult play rendered well in unique surroundings.

July 16, 2019
The perfect potion for an unforgettable evening

Macbeth, Mon 15th July 2019

Shakespeare's Rose Theatre is an award-winning pop up theatre, constructed using state of the art scaffolding technology. This summer, it is set in the idyllic grounds of Blenheim Palace. The company lives up to its motto “Be Truly Welcome” in that it provides several layers of accessibility: economic, with ticket prices beginning at £15; educational, in their endeavour to enable schools to view the plays; and physically, in the inclusive design of the building itself, which creates space for all access needs. Of further welcoming note were the friendliness of the staff in the free-to-enter Shakespeare Village, and the promptness of food and beverage services.

The physical layout of theatre allows for the audience to be, as Director Damien Cruden describes, “the final piece in the jigsaw that is Macbeth.” The stalls (standing space) allow one to stand with elbows rested on the stage. These committed viewers were treated to interactive touches like direct eye contact from many characters, Macbeth’s bloodstained hands up close, being used as camouflage for the warriors in the final ambush scene, and almost being blessed with some blood spray from Macduff’s fatal blow to the main character.

This production has certainly attained its goal of being immersive and intimate, whilst also reflecting the theme of uncertain reality within the play. Breaking the fourth wall creates a liminal space in which it is easy to lose track of time of day, place in history, and the distinction between actors and spectators. Being outdoors enables unscripted highlights such as the illuminated wings of a moth during Malcolm (Adam Kane)’s inspiring victory speech.

The stage is built echoing the London Rose Playhouse built in 1587. It boasts three stage trapdoors, eight onstage entrances and two more to the side of the stalls, allowing for plenty of nooks and crannies for The Hooded Figures to loom and unexpected, dynamic entrances for other characters.

This production is largely true to the original writing of Macbeth. Uniquely, it features minimalist music, providing percussion highly attuned to exact words in emotional scenes and during overtures. The zeitgeist costume design is another distinctive aspect, thanks to Sara Perks (costumes and scenic design).

This arresting spectacle does not shy away from gore, providing a fluid-like quality to the excellently-choreographed fight scenes. It also allows space for stoic and nuanced expressions of emotion. Paul Hawkyard as Macduff particularly shines in a scene where he grieves for the death of his family before climaxing in an epic call to arms. Acting talent is also showcased in the eerily similar, but distinctly intoxicating descents into madness of Lady Macbeth (Suzy Cooper) and Macbeth (Alex Avery). A special mention goes out to Claire Cordier who played the perfect frenemy - capturing the essence of how small actions can lead to ultimate chaos.

This cauldron of familiar yet new environment and writing, fused with novel costume, choreography, acting prowess a little bit of blood creates the perfect potion for an unforgettable evening… especially if you stand in the stalls!!

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