70th anniversary summer for Polesden Lacey Shakespeare

Polesden Lacey Shakespeare are delighted to be performing once again this year on the open-air stage for a very special occasion – their 70th anniversary.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 10:05 am
Gary Andrews by Noelle Vaughn photography
Gary Andrews by Noelle Vaughn photography

Last year, to preserve the continuity of all those years of unbroken Shakespeare they put out an online audio version of Romeo & Juliet.

But now they are back live again, back on the stage with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Horley-based Gary Andrews, the company’s artistic director since 2013, will be directing – his fifth Dream for various companies in the past 23 years or so.

Gary’s latest version will be set in the Regency period (think Jane Austen/Bridgerton) and comes complete with beautiful music and costumes… but the fairies are far, far more ancient and part of the land itself. Gary is also promising a fun twist on The Mechanicals.

The magic begins at 2.30pm on June 26 and June 27 and then again the following weekend July 3 and July 4.

“Last year we were all cast and ready to start rehearsals when lockdown happened. In the event, we ended up putting out an audio version. Everyone recorded themselves at home and we put it together and put it out. Because we put it out for free, it was hard to know what the take-up was, but the people that I know that listened to it loved it.

“We just didn’t want to break the run. We had had at that point 68 unbroken years of Shakespeare and it felt important to do something.”

Now they are back for real with a play which many people will say is their favourite.

“It is difficult, isn’t it, to say what is the best. You put The Dream alongside King Lear and they are very different things, of course. But the great thing about The Dream is that it is Shakespeare for everybody. It’s a great play for the kids. It is full of lots of fun things and is very funny. The language is not overly complicated, and you have also got the wonderfully silly storyline line of Bottom and of the lovers and the magic potion. And of course, it is a glorious one to do outdoors.

“For me, this is my fifth Dream in the last 23 years for various different companies.”

As Gary says, the best approach is a mix of wiping the slate clean and also remembering things that worked well and building on past successes.

“Each time I do it I have a different setting and a different period and obviously you have a different cast as well so it is a completely new thing, but occasionally you remember the odd gag that went really well and you think, well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! So I do think that you can build on past ideas.”

It helps that the cast are chomping at the bit.

“You can imagine that for the past year and a half they have not been able to meet up and now to be back in rehearsals, you can just imagine that the energy is extraordinary. The creativity that is coming out of rehearsals is just remarkable. They are all absolutely giving it their all. You can see there is just so much pent-up enthusiasm.

“We are all taking the flow tests to make sure that everybody is OK and we are observing all the rules. We are rehearsing outside, and we are keeping within the numbers. With all the cast and the crew together, we go over the limit of 30 people outdoors so we have to have times where we say ‘Hey, you guys, you can’t be part of this bit right now.’”

The other complication is putting together a complete costumed run of the play… before darkness falls. They just can’t do it. The upshot is that the first performance will be the first complete costumed run-through, and as far as Gary is concerned, that just all adds to the excitement of the adventure.

Theatre lawn open from 1pm for picnics. Bring your own chairs and rugs. Free parking with ticket: www.polesdenlaceyshakespeare.co.uk or call 01306 88 881717. Tickets £12, under-16s free. Discounts for group bookings.