Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Barney Life No. 1 (posted 08/07/2010)

An occasional series about life in Barnard Castle.
My Church and house stand at the corner of the grounds of the Bowes Museum.  This week, in the grounds of the Museum, the Castle Players are performing their annual Shakespearian play; this year the play is "All's well that ends well".  The Players are all amateurs; they spend the first half of the year preparing for this summer spectacular, and the second half of the year arranging a winter production.  There is a junior group called The Turrets, several of whom take part in the summer production as well as doing their own plays for the public during the year.
The Summer Play is staged in the park of the Museum.  The arena is under a great tree: there is no stage, apart from a large open space, but there are three banks of seats, and in all five separate entrances for the cast to come to the stage area.

These photos, I hope, give some idea of the setting for this outdoor theatre. By tradition, the play begins on the dot at half-past-seven, but beforehand there is an opportunity for families and theatre-goers to have a picnic in the surrounding area; the interval is a long one, normally about 45 minutes, again so that members of the audience can finish their picnics.The whole play normally ends at about 11 o'clock.  The play is on for four nights, from Wednesday to Saturday.  The play is performed whatever the weather - one year recently the rain came down in bucketfulls, the audience was wrapped in waterproofs, but the players carried on in their dresses and costumes as if the sun was shining brightly.
As is usual with the Castle Players, the play is adapted to more modern times.  This play opens with the funeral procession of Count Rossillion, absolutely reminiscent of that funeral in one of the James Bond movies in New Orleans which changes from ultra solemn to happy-clappy in a fraction of time.  The cast is superb.  It is also very large - you have to have eyes not only for the main characters but also to things which are happening at the sides of the stage or at the back of the stage.  For instance, the silent and unexpected appearance, at the back of the arena, of the ugly daughter of the King's advisor (looking like Benny Hill in drag) who was to be foisted upon the leading hero caused ripples of amusement among the audience and diverted attention from what the main characters were saying.  The story-line, as with many of these Shakespearian comedies, is pure Whitehall Farce, and the slapstick is inventive and well done.
I attended the Wednesday performance of the play. On Thursday I went back to the Gala Party for the Friends of the Castle Players, I am also a Fortress 100 Member - a glass, or two, (three actually) of wine and plenty of canapes.  The party was in the tent in the first photo. Speeches by the Chair(woman) of the Castle Players and by the visiting national chairman of the National Amateur Dramatic Association (something like that). I had a long chat with the Leader of the Town Council who was the guest of honour on Thursday evening.
Altogether a grand occasion, and the play and the ambience  - the actors wandering about before the start, chatting up the customers; everybody so friendly, and so well organised - has surely added greatly to the already outstanding reputation of the Castle Players.

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