Stroud Shakespeare Festival – Good On Paper – May issue 2019
When Kate Raw starts speaking about Shakespeare her eyes flash and dance with wicked humour and passion. Pithy and pertinent quotes tumble out of her mouth with all the clarity, gaiety and force of a mountain stream in full flow. As our conversation progresses and I learn about Kate’s background as a self-confessed “Shakespeare nerd”, independent researcher at The Globe and Royal Shakespeare Company, creative director of open-air theatre company, designer and musician; I find myself thinking there can be no-one better equipped to bring Shakespeare out from behind dusty pages and into the park in an accessible and exciting way.
This is exactly what Kate and her team have set out to do with this year’s Stroud Shakespeare Festival. The intention behind the festival is to change people’s experience of Shakespeare from something alienating or difficult, to truly accessible and engaging entertainment. Of the 13 productions on the programme, under half will be in the original Shakespearean language. The rest will bring Shakespeare’s magnificent storytelling into the modern voice – and even multiple languages. The companies who make up this year’s programme will seek to retell the timeless tales of The Bard through a spectrum of unexpected – and at times hilarious – performances.
The festival was successfully established last year by Five Valleys Productions – the student production company from SGS College who are now known as Space Productions – under the leadership of Alan Mandel Butler. Kate performed songs from Shakespeare at the festival last year with her musical trio ‘Sounds and Sweet Airs’ and approached Alan to be part of organising the festival in the future, whereupon he encouraged Kate to take over the leadership role for 2019.
This year’s event will be held in the stunning surrounds of the Museum in the Park. As well as the ticketed performances (which will be priced at no more than £10) there will be a cornucopia of free events and Shakespeare-themed creative activities for everyone to enjoy – kids very much included! The event takes place during half term and will offer crafts and theatrical workshops for children, face painting, flower crowns, a children’s trail through the museum and a costume cupboard!
Kate will be directing the Stroud Shakespeare Festival Company in a production of The Tempest, in which the cast will perform as a group of fishermen – complete with sea shanties and Ariel playing accordion. There will be a 1940s rewrite of the famous ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ from StormCloud Arts (think land girls and much laughter), as well as scenes from Twelfth Night by the International Actors’ Ensemble, who will be performing in multiple languages at once!
Thornbury-based Downpour Theatre company bring one of the bard’s lesser known plays – the Comedy of Errors, a farcical comedy with 2 sets of twins and lots of mistaken identity!and of course the Impromptu Shakespeare company will be offering their uniquely off-the-cuff approach to performance, improvising a live production for your entertainment. Last year’s organisers Space Productions will be bringing a production of Macbeth to the festival this year, as well as supporting as volunteers with some of the running of the festival. Finally, do keep an eye out for special guest Queen Elizabeth I – a great supporter of Shakespeare who is rumoured to be making an appearance at the festival this year!
In between workshops, films, and theatre productions you will be treated to performances from local musicians and have the chance to enjoy coffee and a cake from Grouch Coffee and The Canteen and or grab a meal on the go from culinary pop-ups dotted around the venue. Musical highlights include the Shakespeare Heptet – a trio who perform the sonnets in a variety of styles, including folk, blues, punk, jazz, and more!- and Nailsworth’s own Sotelo Singers who will perform operatic numbers from Shakespeare-inspired musicals such as Kiss Me Kate. To top off the local line-up, established local artists such as Dennis Gould and Phillip Kingsbury will have Shakespeare themed work for sale during the festival.
If you are still on the fence about coming to the Stroud Shakespeare Festival and think perhaps that Shakespeare is not your thing, Kate has the following invitation for you:
“At the end of the day, Shakespeare was an entertainer, and his plays were meant to entertain. Sometimes the language feels like a barrier, but one of the best things about him is that he was a genius storyteller. So whether they’re told though the original language, or retold in contemporary English, as quite a few of this year’s productions are, just come and experience the storytelling! Shakespeare was writing for the masses, for everyone. That’s what we want to bring out with the festival – Shakespeare is for everyone.”
Kate tells me that what she is really most excited about is the chance for people to experience Shakespeare in a new and joyous way. In the words of the man himself, Kate invites the people of Stroud to: “Frame your mind to mirth and merriment”- so come along to the festival, experience something new and above all have a jolly good time!
Stroud Shakespeare Festival takes place at The Museum in the Park between May 30th and June 2nd. Applications to perform at the festival are now closed and the full line-up has been confirmed. Tickets for the festival performances are available now through the website www.stroudshakespearefestival.com and don’t forget there will be plenty of free events throughout the weekend – so just turn up and enjoy!