Productions (28)

Over 25 years of outdoor theatre

2018: Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is generally considered to be Shakespeare’s most perfect comedy, being an incomparable blend of exquisite poetry, boisterous laughter and bittersweet emotion; all this and music too. We set our production in the fashionable seaside resort of Illyria in an England benefiting from the sustained prosperity of the Roaring Twenties. It was an era of social, artistic and cultural dynamism with jazz music blossoming – the so-called Golden Age. Romantic love, and the pain it can cause, are a major focus of the play. Shakespeare’s other romantic comedies – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It - have stories where the young succeed in romance by defeating the wishes of their elders. Illyria,…

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2017: Pericles

Pericles, Prince of Tyre is a swashbuckling adventure story, complete with kings and queens, handsome princes and beautiful princesses, marauding pirates, wicked stepmothers, sleazy lowlife and mysterious wizards; it offers shipwreck, plague, kidnap, murder, hope and despair, love and loss. The fast-moving narrative whisked us around the Mediterranean Sea, to Tyre, Tarsus, Antioch, Ephesus, Mytilene and Pentapolis, exotic locations rich with romantic connotations. We visited ships, palaces, seashores, and a brothel. It is a tale such as old sailors traditionally told, one that would not be out of place alongside those of Sinbad, Aladdin and Ali Baba in the Arabian Nights. Which is why we set it in the magical world of Middle Eastern storytelling, where the content hovered in…

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2016: A Midsummer Night's Dream

The fantastical world of A Midsummer Night's Dream invited us to let our imaginations run riot. 2016's spectacular production of one of Shakespeare's best-loved comedies did just that, taking us to the grounds of Theseus' estate, where the mortal and immortal worlds collide. By day a disciplined domain, bound by convention and the established order, when mortal backs were turned the immortals made free – and how! Fascinated by the mortals and their antics, there was always at least one fairy keeping an eye on what was going on, for this was their place, and they were there first. Exotic, colourful, funny and moving, this magical production was inspired by Shakespeare's changeling child ─ "A lovely boy, stolen from an…

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2015: Richard III

As a dramatist, Shakespeare knew that the interest of an audience is more aroused by a villain than a virtuous 'hero' - so in Richard III he created a witty, intriguing character who right from the start of the play engages his audience by laying out his agenda to achieve his ambition of wearing the crown. All the long dynastic speeches, so essential for a Tudor audience to understand the complexities of the Wars of the Roses, were cut so that our play moved swiftly with the unravelling of Richard's plots until his inevitable nemesis at Bosworth Field. It received some of our warmest accolades: "This particular play depends so much on having the right lead - we couldn't take…

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2014: Falstaff

Jonathan Vickers, the Artistic Director, moulded scenes from Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and The Merry Wives of Windsor into this single story about the man who was arguably Shakespeare’s greatest comic creation, whilst depicting the real-world backdrop of political turbulence. We had a live early music band, BroKen Konsort, on stage throughout the show. At the October 2014 Rose Bowl Awards, Dominic Valentine won the Metcalfes Solicitors Award for Best Actor (Drama) for his portrayal of Falstaff.

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2013: Measure for Measure

Regarded by some as too serious for a comedy but too comic for a tragedy, Measure for Measure has been dubbed a "problem play". But the comedy doesn't take over completely, because it is essentially black comedy; and the serious themes don't swamp us, because they are live moral dilemmas to which we can relate personally. With judicious cutting, an ambitious set, and a good balance between the comic and the serious themes, the audience were treated to an entertaining and thought-provoking evening in the sunshine! At the October 2013 Rose Bowl Awards this production won the Joan Hawkins Award for the Best Shakespeare production in the South West of England.

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2012: The Comedy of Errors

By setting the play in Ephesus (which was known to the Elizabethans by their familiarity with the letters of St Paul) Shakespeare capitalised on that knowledge by taking some of the Apostle's teachings ― slaves being obedient to their masters, wives being faithful and obedient to husbands and, supremely, the avoidance of 'concupiscence' and fornication ― and turns them on their heads. Slaves are obedient ― but to which master? Wives are faithful ― but to which husband? An erring husband discovers that fornication has financial consequences. Two sets of twins - two masters and their two slaves - cause chaos and create a tangled skein of confusions involving orders, counter-orders, mistaken identities and lust-filled liaisons. Action, reaction, come thick…

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2011: Macbeth

As our first tragedy, Sue Baxter directed the bloody tale of Macbeth against the backdrop of Hatherop Castle. In this, one of the greatest tragedies in the English language, Shakespeare explores the underbelly of power. In the play we see high passion, vaulting ambition, promises made and broken. The stakes are always high and the ground is always shifting. As Macbeth becomes more resolute Lady Macbeth - a driving force at the beginning of the story - declines into insanity. Macbeth starts as a man with a conscience and that is part of the reason why we are able to engage with him. As events move on he is trapped by them, driving them on and yet consumed by them,…

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2010: Cymbeline

Cymbeline defies classification. It is a love story. It’s also a history play. And it contains strong elements of comedy and tragedy. Here we find Shakespeare’s wickedest female character, his most evil villain, his most delightful heroine, his most sardonic jailer, one of his funniest braggarts, and two of his most finely drawn faithful servants. We see love and loss, fidelity and attempted seduction, defiance and appeasement, violence and peace, honour and dishonesty, wrongdoing and forgiveness, guilt and redemption. Set in 1st century Britain, rattling along between the British court, Rome and the Welsh hills, the action takes place against the backdrop of a Britain resentful of the influence of imperial Rome. It tells of king Cymbeline (whom the Romans…

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2009: The Taming of the Shrew

A play within a play … Christopher Sly, a drunken tinker, is found asleep by a lord returning from the hunt. When a group of players arrives, the lord decides to deceive Sly into thinking he is a lord and a play is to be performed before him. The players perform The Taming of The Shrew. The merchant Baptista arrives in Padua with his daughters, the violent Katherina and the demure Bianca. By decree, Katherina must be married off before Bianca is available for marriage. Petruchio arrives - he is seeking a wife with a substantial dowry. He disguises himself as a tutor to Bianca to press suit to Katherina. Petruchio encounters the feisty Katherina but determines to subdue her and…

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2008: The Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale defies the standard categorisation: it is not an account of factual history, nor is it a tragedy heavy with deep messages; and it certainly isn't just another insubstantial comedy. As the title says, it is a tale ― which, like all good tales, has a moral. So we cast around for a context in which a tale might be told in winter, eventually settling on the idea of a gypsy encampment. Gypsy people traditionally stay in one place over the winter, and they often spend the long evenings singing, playing music, dancing or telling stories. So The Winter's Tale began with gypsies returning to their encampment at the end of a working day, settling down for a…

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2007: Much Ado About Nothing

Charles I amended the title in his copy of the Second Folio to 'Benedik and Betrice', and this is where the play's popularity lies – the unfolding of the love story between Beatrice ('she who blesses') and Benedict ('the blessed one'). Add to that plot misunderstandings, false rumour, eavesdropping, coincidence stretched to its limits, a vengeful villain, and that usual Shakespearean ploy - the ignorant peasantry forming the Town Watch - and you have a play which intrigues, amuses, occasionally infuriates, but gave an evening of delight. Central to the play is the battle of wits between the estranged lovers Beatrice and Benedict, until they both come to a realisation of their true love, a state brought about by stratagem…

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2006: The Merchant of Venice

This was our second production of this perennially popular play, which we first presented in 1998. The play is classified as a Comedy but it has a dark centre. It is set in a society characterised by sharply divided social, political and religious beliefs, attitudes and morals. The Christian establishment in Venice at that time is portrayed as decadent and self-indulgent. The Jewish community is ghettoised, discriminated against and despised, which fuels resentment, bitterness and an almost fundamentalist antagonism towards established society. This antagonism is personified in the relationship between Shylock and Antonio – Shylock's reasonable resentment over the treatment of his race and person having warped into something dark and corrosive – we sought to bring out the bright…

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2005: A Midsummer Night's Dream

When the Artistic Director presented to the Group his idea of a semi-promenade production of A Midsummer Night's Dream - moving the audience from Athens, represented by the north faҫade of Hatherop Castle, to the forest amongst the trees in the grounds - most of the membership were enthusiastic, whilst some were doubtful about logistics. In the event the audiences, led by a medieval bagpiper, enthusiastically embraced the concept, uprooting themselves willingly from the comfort of the covered stands to return to Athens led by flaming torches. Mercifully, it never rained! Puck enchanted his audiences not least because of his tremendous energy and acrobatic cavorting. Green painted 'fairies', dishevelled lovers and all came right in the end - even when…

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2004: King Lear

The Comedies are the customary fare for amateur Shakespearean productions and the Arcadians had presented them all at least once. Antony and Cleopatra was the exception and, although it had been a great success, the proposal that we should 'go for broke' and stage King Lear was seen as the ultimate challenge remaining to us. But it is a great play, and after some debate we took the 'brave' (some might have thought the 'foolish'!) decision to go ahead. It proved to be an outstanding choice. It was challenging and fulfilling for everyone involved in the production both on stage and off. Although it was not our biggest Box Office success – some of our regulars may have felt it…

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2003: The Tempest

The Tempest was probably written in 1611, when it was first performed. It is a play demonstrating the full maturity of the playwright's craft both in terms of the beauty and complexity of the text and of the ambiguities of the characters and plot. It is unique in the canon in as much as all of the action is controlled by the leading character, Prospero. Twelve years before the play opens Prospero was overthrown as Duke of Milan and set adrift with his baby daughter, Miranda, in a leaky hulk. Eventually they were cast ashore on an enchanted island where they have since lived. Prospero is a magician and, by his magic art, has established himself as ruler of the…

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2002: Love's Labour's Lost

The 1598 edition of Love's Labour's Lost is the first printed play text to carry Shakespeare's name, but was probably written earlier in 1593 or 1594. The plot is one of the few Shakespeare invented himself, though including several contemporary references. Even if Catholic, Henry of Navarre, (a kingdom straddling the border between France and Spain), was a popular hero in Elizabethan England. The three lords - Berowne, Dumaine and Longueville - who join the King of Navarre in a vow to devote three years to austere study, avoiding the company of all women, are named after leading figures in 16th century France. The sub-plot is peopled with characters taken from commedia dell'arte who reflect facets of the lords' personalities:…

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2001: Antony and Cleopatra

Since 1991, the Quenington Old Rectory River Garden productions of the Cotswold Arcadians had been set in many different époques — Shakespeare's own period, the 1930s, the 1950s and the late 1980s — but never, until then, had a play been set in BC 42-30 when, of course, the events portrayed in Antony and Cleopatra did, in reality, take place. Antony and Cleopatra is perhaps the most quoted of all Shakespeare's plays, and contains a richness and sophistication in text that is not really matched in any of his other works. The characters portrayed in the play are giants of our common classical heritage. Whilst Antony and Cleopatra themselves have become bywords for doomed victims of impossible love (providing a…

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2000: As You Like It

A wrestling match takes place near Duke Frederick's Court. After hearing of the prowess of the wrestlers, Duke Frederick sends his Court Wrestler, Charles, to take on the three proponents. Charles overcomes them easily and issues a general challenge to the men of the area. This challenge is taken up by Orlando, the younger brother of Oliver de Boys. Orlando is tired of the treatment meted out to him by his cruel brother and, after overcoming Charles, he takes his brother's old retainer, Adam, and flees to the Forest of Arden - but not before we took the opportunity for one of the protagonists to be bodily heaved off the side of the stage and into the icy waters of…

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1999: Measure for Measure

What? A satellite dish in a Shakespeare play? The narrative and dialogue were, of course, written by Shakespeare; but the Cotswold Arcadians' spectacular was set amongst the perpetually warring tribes of the Hindu Kush ― where members of a TV satellite news-gathering team found themselves hopelessly ensnared by a change in the local balance of power amongst the fundamentalist Mujahideen. There were machine guns, a significant amount of incoming mortar and shell fire, a lot of smoke, and a broken elbow suffered by (it had to be, hadn't it?) the character El Bhow ― but he nobly played out the run. With one of the Arcadians' highest budgets and a production team of about 150 people, this production involved the…

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1998: The Merchant of Venice

Liz Comstock-Smith's production of The Merchant of Venice, set in Italy's early Mussolini period, was both a triumph and an amazing spectacle. Portia came and went in a real open touring motorcar of the period. Venice came to the Cotswolds, bringing a real gondola and real Venetians working real sandalos (miniature versions of the gondola and steered in the same way) gliding down the mill leat between the frontage of the Quenington Old Rectory and the audience grandstand. A stage was built across the 40ft-wide leat from the Old Rectory side so that the sandalos could bring their passengers gently from fifty yards up the leat and into the lights. It required excellent timing (and the use of a walkie-talkie…

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1997: Romeo and Juliet

1997 was The Year of The Young; and it was to Director Oliver Clauson that fell the unenviable task of assembling and manipulating large numbers of Teens-and-Twenties into Capulet and Montague gangs for a Shakespearian period Romeo and Juliet. James Harpham produced another original musical score; and frighteningly realistic sword fights, with real stage swords, were created under the direction of Paul Benzing from the National. The secret to such realism is, of course, expert tuition followed by lots of practice, and no one was actually wounded by a sword; but we did have one casualty - Tybalt had to play the last three nights with a badly sprained ankle. The universal opinion was, however, that The Young really did…

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1996: The Taming of the Shrew

The summer of 1996 was possibly even hotter than that of the previous year, and Beryl Rees' Jane Austin period production of The Taming of The Shrew also played at both Quenington and Sandringham; this time in front of the house itself, without real fruit (as in the previous year's Twelfth Night) but with amazingly simulated victuals for Petruchio's servants to throw around the stage. At least one lovingly and meticulously constructed chicken was lost to the waters at Quenington on the only night it rained (during the interval only – not before and not after). The staging of this play involved two walk-way bridges running onto a River Stage constructed only part way across the river, so the potential…

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1995: Twelfth Night

The summer of 1995, like the one which was to follow, was a scorcher. It saw Oliver Clauson's in-period production of Twelfth Night , again with an original musical score - this time by James Harpham - and featured a lesson learned by Orsino the hard way. In striving for realism, Orsino had augmented the artificial fruit (with which he customarily toyed whilst requesting music if it were "the food of love") with a bunch of real grapes - a fact which had not passed unnoticed by a local colony of wasps. The resultant raid called for a significant exercise in self-control in the face of eight wasp stings before the completion of the first speech in the play. Mercifully,…

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1994: Much Ado About Nothing

One of the reasons why the 1994 play Much Ado about Nothing - another David Gaylor in-period production - occasioned an innovation in presentation was the construction of the first of our Bridge Stages which allowed the action of the play to flow not only from one river bank to the other but also to take place over the very water itself. In addition, it was the first Cotswold Arcadians show to employ a musical score specially composed for that particular event by Richard Cleghorn-Brown. It also saw the most monumental collaboration between man and nature: when, in the Tomb scene, a smoke generator went berserk at precisely the moment when Jove decided to bless the Cotswolds with what was…

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1993: The Comedy of Errors

Having repaid its start-up loans, and even made a little money in hand from A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Cotswold Arcadians could afford a larger audience capacity (and seats, at last) for Jean Steel's 1993 production of The Comedy of Errors set, this time, in a 1950s epoch. The fun to be had from mistaken identity is considerable; that of scouring the Cotswolds for two sets of identical male twins who can act, rather less. Solution: one man to play both Masters and one to play both Slaves and - hey presto! But wait! Overworked twins united to declare the impossibility of running right round the periphery of Old Rectory to enter, suitably disguised, from the far side of the…

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1992: A Midsummer Night's Dream

For our second season, A Midsummer Night's Dream was set in period, lovely to look at, full of magical conceits and performed in idyllic weather. The audiences were enchanted by Titania floating down the river with her fairies, standing on a silently-moving boat, the stage mist gently curling round them; and, having delivered a large slice of her mind to Oberon, disappearing, still erect and serene, behind a curtain of weeping willow. The audience stand was thronged with semi horizontal patrons (not at all the worse for their picnics - in those days we could not yet run to seats) for this most beloved of English pastoral plays.

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1991: The Merry Wives of Windsor

The Cotswold Arcadians' inaugural production, in June 1991, was The Merry Wives of Windsor. It was set in period and directed by David Gaylor for what, today, seems an unbelievably small amount of money - of the order of £600. While exposing the follies of Middle England circa 1590 in a spirited way, we were able to throw Falstaff into a real river. Now, you didn't get that at the National Theatre! Here at the Quenington Old Rectory, life had begun for the Cotswold Arcadians.

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