Following on from the success of the pop-up Shakespeare immersive theatre event staged last year in York, which won awards for Best Attraction and Best Cultural Experience in 2018. Blenheim Palace home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough is now proud to play host as the second pop up theatre venue for 2019.
With Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford just a few miles away the fabulous grounds of this stately home are an ideal choice of location. The rolling landscapes and breathtaking views across Oxfordshire’s incredible countryside are an idyllic backdrop for this unique event.
Shakespeare plays were written to be an audience experience where actors and spectators shared an intimate performance. The modern versions regardless of quality which is predominantly staged today in dark silent theatres where audiences watch from a distance are a far cry from its origins.
Lunchbox Theatrical Productions’ chief executive introduced the four plays to be staged at York and Blenheim Palace this season by stating that he chose these ones as “they are my four favourite plays“. The four plays in question are to be Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A mixture of genres to appeal to all tastes.
Dominic Hare CEO of Blenheim Palace has become aware that many visitors to Blenheim only come to see the palace and do not bring any business to the local area. By hosting the theatre event the aim is to bring visitors from far and wide who will stay over and enrich the local businesses too.
He visited York last year to see the play in action “I was absolutely blown away… by the extraordinary experience of seeing Shakespeare in such an intimate setting,” Hare said, and “… immediately thought it would be an ideal summer event for Blenheim Palace…” now with only weeks left until construction begins it will soon become a reality.
As with many events of this nature, ticket prices can be high. Hare is offering local schools around the first 10 days of opening the theatre free tickets – to encourage children to come and experience the beauty of immersive theatre.
The ethos behind this production of immersive theatre is to make it become accessible to everyone. Attempting to remove the ‘high art’ status surrounding works like Shakespeare and introducing it to the next generation of theatregoers. I felt this ethos extended into the morning’s presentation as the directors, actors, artistic director, and fight director were all available to discuss anything about the production that they were involved with. One to one conversations with many of those who are normally hidden behind the scenes gave a good insight into the vision everybody involved with this had about how it will be put together.
Raymond Gubbay Ltd will be co-presenting this season as they bring with them a wealth of experience in these outside events from Christmas at Blenheim Palace to Worldwide Concerts.
As the launch day began we watched a short film explaining how the pop-up theatre is built, how long it takes etc… Not only will the pop up site boast the 13 sided pop up theatre, but there is also going to be an outside village constructed.
This will comprise of stalls, food stands hopefully overseen by the television chef Brian Turner, a village pond, tables, benches and farm wagons where scheduled entertainment of sonnets, punchy plays, and medieval music will be performed. Access to the village will be free of charge.
We were taken to the large area marked out for the construction of where this theatre is to be built. As you enter Blenheim from the main entrance the impressive 13 sided theatre and village will be laid out to the left-hand side close to where the small visitor train runs alongside. From seeing the plans laid out in the presentation literature it will be an impressive site/sight.
Fight director Jonathan Holby staged a mock battle with Macduff performed by Paul Hawkyard in the marked area of the soon to be a stage. Holby showed us how scenes had been choreographed to look authentic. It was incredible to be shown close up the skill and exact timing used to create the battle scenes. Explaining that a warrior of this time would have worn his sword as we nowadays carry our keys and phones.
His prime concern during the choreography of the fights is health and safety, concentrating on using his skills to suit the flexibility, fitness and costumes of each of the actors he works with.
Juliet Forster, who is directing Romeo and Juliet at the Rose Theatre this summer, spoke about the challenges associated with a venue open to the elements. Actors have to cope with torrential rain and wind as well as high temperatures during sunny days. Heavy fighting costumes have been designed to accommodate ice packs sewn to keep the actors cool. The lighting design has to accommodate brilliant sunshine, dull overcast days and evening
The quick rotation of productions also challenges the set design. The set remains much the same for all four productions. Judicious use of props, trap doors circus rings and ropes allows the audience to be transported to a street in Verona, a forest with flying fairies, the court of King Richard and a Scottish castle.
Hawkyard appeared during two stops during our tour of the grounds. Firstly as Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and secondly as the blood-stained and powerful Macduff. His performance in both roles was incredible and due to his phenomenal costumes and portrayal of each character, you would not have thought it was the same actor.
To book online
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre
Oxfordshire, OX20 1UL