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The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival: enjoy a midsummer night at the theatre in the college gardens


By Alex Spencer


Drinking a glass of fizz, relaxing in the beautiful surroundings of one of the university’s college gardens and watching a Shakespeare performance by professional actors is one of the highlights of any Cambridge summer.

Shakespeare festival, Hamlet in King's College gardens. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13566262)
Shakespeare festival, Hamlet in King's College gardens. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13566262)

For more than 30 years the Cambridge Shakespeare festival has brought its famous open air productions to the city.This year the festival runs from July 8 to August 24 with a chance to see eight different plays.

The festival’s artistic director, David Crilly, says: “The gardens are stunning so it's a lovely place to be in the evening. The location is so closely linked to the play we choose. When I think about the spaces we have available, we have to decide whereabouts in the gardens will we perform. If it's A Midsummer Night's Dream you want a woodland feel because half the play happens in the forest, whereas Much Ado About Nothing is better suited to Robinson College which has a more formal amphitheatre.

Cambridge Shakespeare Festival rehearsals in King's College Fellow's Garden, Much Ado About Nothing, Artistic Director David Crilly. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13527896)
Cambridge Shakespeare Festival rehearsals in King's College Fellow's Garden, Much Ado About Nothing, Artistic Director David Crilly. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13527896)

“One of the things many people think is a disadvantage is that we don't have all the amenities of a modern theatre, so we don't have lighting rigs, trap doors, or smoke and mirrors of the West End but neither did Shakespeare.

“All these plays were performed in the Globe, which is open air, so it brings the play back to where it should be. It is a communication between the audience and the actor

“It is a very immediate and intimate experience, very different to sitting in a darkened theatre where all the action is taking place at the end of the room.”

Shakespeare festival, Hamlet in King's College gardens. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13566256)
Shakespeare festival, Hamlet in King's College gardens. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13566256)

This year the company will be performing Hamlet at King’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at St John’s, The Winter’s Tale at Downing and Henry IV Part One at Robsinson from July 8-27. Then, from July 29 to August 17, The Tempest is at Trinity and Much Ado About Nothing is at St John's. From July 29 to August 24, Henry IV Part Two is at Robinson and As You Like It is at King's.

There are 200 chairs available but it’s wise to bring a blanket or your own chairs. Picnics and wine are allowed too.

All of the shows are deliberately family friendly, even some of the more ‘difficult’ works.

Shakespeare festival, Hamlet in King's College gardens. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13566252)
Shakespeare festival, Hamlet in King's College gardens. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13566252)

David Crilly said: “It is a very festive atmosphere - we are no po-faced about Shakespeare. We don't think it is something to be studied as an academic thing, it is something to be witnessed, experienced, felt and seen and that’s why one of the things I’m particularly proud of about the festival it is that we have so many children at the event.

People bring their children along six and seven year olds come along to really quite difficult plays, but no one has told them that it is hard yet so they accept it. The meaning of something isn't just conveyed by the words but by the way things are said, by the physicality of the gestures that accompany language. Even the tragedies become a family orientated experience - it’s very inclusive.”

Shakespeare festival, Hamlet in King's College gardens. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13716051)
Shakespeare festival, Hamlet in King's College gardens. Picture: Keith Heppell. (13716051)

The ultimate summer experience is watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream surrounded by trees in the gardens. David says, “If we didn’t put on that play every year i think there would be a riot.”

All the shows are in full period costume with live Elizabethan music. David says: “You don't need to embellish Shakespeare - it's good to begin with. So, this is an opportunity to present his work not to change it and tinker about with it for novelty effects.”

Cambridge Shakespeare Festival (13716093)
Cambridge Shakespeare Festival (13716093)

The shows starts 7.30pm every evening except Sundays.

Cambridgeshakespeare.com.



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