The West Sussex town of Arundel comes to life each year for its hugely popular festival and among the highlights for 2011 are Shakespearean performances at the magnificent Castle.
There the acclaimed GB Theatre Company performs two classic plays open-air, amid a vibrant mix of music and drama including a Donizetti opera, and toe-tapping classics perfect for a balmy evening in the stunning, oak-lined Barons’ Hall.
Romeo and Juliet is the most famous love story in the world and it will be partnered with The Bard’s ever popular Twelfth Night as a host of TV stars make their way to Arundel, including Gabriel Thomson (from BBC1's My Family), joined by up-and-coming young talent such as Lucy Wray who is tipped to go far.
“When you rehearse at Arundel Castle, it feels like this could have been the venue Shakespeare had in mind,” says David Davies, the inspired actor-manager of the theatre company which is looking forward to returning to the Castle after great acclaim in 2010.
David is the energetic mastermind behind the programme which comes to Sussex on 25-27 August as part of the Arundel Festival. As well as managing the theatre company, David will don his actor’s robes to play Friar Laurence, the cleric whose unwitting actions are so tragically damning in Romeo & Juliet, and Sir Toby Belch, considered to be one of Shakespeare’s finest comic characters, in Twelfth Night.
Romeo & Juliet is directed by the award-winning director Neil Sheppeck, with the brilliantly creative Michael Woodward taking over the reins in Twelfth Night. Among the performers to join the Company this summer are Gabriel Thomson, who plays Romeo and Sebastian/Curio, and is well known to television audiences for his long-standing role as Michael Harper in the successful sitcom My Family, and newcomer Lucy Wray, who graduated from the Oxford School of Drama in 2010, and will lead the company in the roles of Juliet and Viola.
David, who lives in London, is very familiar with the setting of Arundel Castle which he says provides one of the most magnificent backdrops any actor could dream of. His love of the venue was seen in full last year when GB Theatre Company received rapturous applause from Castle audiences for its productions of As You Like It and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Likewise, this year, GB Theatre Company will expound Shakespeare’s unlimited ability to create the greatest theatrical excitement with scenes of both madcap humour, driven by mistaken identities and unintended circumstance, as well as tragic hatred, love and violence, the intensity of which has rarely been surpassed in literature.
“Shakespeare’s plays go so perfectly in the grounds at the Castle,” David said. “Sometimes, when you rehearse at Arundel Castle, it feels like this could have been the venue Shakespeare had in mind.”
David’s enthusiasm for the 11th century Castle as a venue is unlimited and he continued: “It is very atmospheric, very beautiful. You have the fabulous Oberon’s Palace in the Collector Earl’s Garden behind you, which is quite amazing, and the great acoustics, which are very, very strong. And the night sky has rarely let us down.”
As well as working as a company manager, David has vast experience as a hands-on actor. He was a member of the British Shakespeare Company for many years and played one of the Bard’s most tragic heroes when he portrayed Hamlet for the Hole in the Wall Theatre Company.
With all his vast experience David relishes the prospect of performing again in front of Festival audiences at Arundel this summer.
On a recent visit to the Castle, he commented: “We are extremely lucky here because our audiences have got a real ear for Shakespeare; they appreciate the language and they are very, very giving audiences - it’s as if they almost become another character in the play.”
David explained that the setting of the Castle’s Collector Earl’s Garden gave the Company the opportunity to turn the area into a piazza of Verona for Romeo & Juliet, where ominous danger simmered among the innocence of pure love. “Romeo & Juliet is a very exciting play – a love thriller with lots of sword fights!” David said.
On the other hand, Twelfth Night offered high jinks, humour and wonderfully madcap characters and promised to be a ball for audiences, he added.
It is fitting that the Castle plays a key role in Arundel’s annual arts Festival, perched as it is overlooking the West Sussex town and commanding the landscape, enjoying magnificent views across the South Downs and the River Arun. Built at the end of the 11th Century it has been the family home of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for more than 900 years.
The first highlight this year is on Monday 22 August; it sees the gothic Barons’ Hall transformed into a theatrical setting for a night of Music for a Summer Evening. Soprano Joanne Appleby and the renowned Welsh tenor Andrew Rees will perform classics from opera, well-known songs from the Shows, as well as music from Puccini, Cole Porter, Mozart, Kurt Weil, and Rogers & Hammerstein. The following night (Tuesday 23 August) it’s the turn of opera in the shape of Donizetti’s comic tale Don Pasquale, sung in English. The fully costumed performance by The Candlelight Opera and Orchestra is specially staged for the concert platform.
Full details from the box office on 01903 882173 or online at www.arundelfestival.co.uk