It’s become a summer tradition that for a few nights of the year we have family outings to Tolethorpe Hall, the home of Stamford Shakespeare Company who perform most nights of the summer in an open air theatre. We don’t go to the same play on these nights, although my mother tends to go to each one twice; once with my father, Mr BB and I, and another time with her childhood friend. There are three plays performed over the course of the summer and we try and plan out trips out of London to visit the family to coincide with different plays. This summer we saw Alice in Wonderland & Alice Through the Looking Glass, As you Like it and The Taming of the Shrew.
The first manor house on the site of Tolethorpe Hall was built in the early 11th century by a Norman family who settled in the area after the 1066 Norman Conquest. Today an Elizabethan manor with beautiful grounds stands there, and in these grounds you will find Rutland Open Air Theatre; a 600 seater auditorium set in a woodland glade which creates the perfect backdrop for the plays!
The gardens are incredibly picturesque, so whenever we attend it is customary for a picnic to be packed! This year we were lucky enough to eat all of them outside, however there have been a few occasions when we’ve munch our way through it in the comfort of our car as raindrops pummel the windscreen. Come rain or shine, the show goes on.
I thoroughly enjoyed all of this season’s plays. Alice in Wonderland & Alice Through the Looking Glass holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of my favourite Disney films and I have illustrated books of both stories which I still to this day enjoy reading. The set was intelligently designed and modular, and the acting committed. My mother had attended a couple of weeks previous and the show had not run quite as smoothly, but by our visit any initial creases seemed to be ironed out. My one criticism would be in a couple of places the delivery of lines could have been clearer, there were a couple of points where I could not make out the words. But all in all, the performance was well presented. The characters were all well portrayed and costumes were instantly recognisable from the childhood tale.
The other two plays were brilliant, both Shakespeare and yet very differently presented to one another. Whilst As you Like it was a more traditional production in terms of set and costume, Taming of the Shrew was set in 20th century Italy and featured a motorbike riding Petruchio, and an aggressive punchbag-attacking shrew, Katherine. I naughtily took a photo at the start of Alice in Wonderland however photography is forbidden (in my defence I was unaware of this at the time), so below you will find the poster artwork for Taming of the Shrew and a scene from As you Like it.
If you are a theatre fan, I recommend you check out this company! It’s about a two hour drive from London (could be less depending on how fast you drive!) and if you’re looking to make a weekend of it, there are some fabulous hotels in the surrounding area. Stamford is the nearest town, and there are some excellent eateries, pubs and country walks to fill the time with, as well as some interesting boutiques!
For more information visit stamfordshakespeare.co.uk