Norwich Cathedral all set for spellbinding Shakespeare Festival
PUBLISHED: 09:55 11 July 2018 | UPDATED: 10:51 11 July 2018
James Beedham Photography
The words of the Bard are set to echo around the beautiful surrounds of Norwich Cathedral’s cloisters once more as the Shakespeare Festival returns for another year. Arts correspondent Emma Knights finds out more.
Shakespeare’s spellbinding tale of shipwreck and enchantment is set to wash ashore at Norwich Cathedral this week for the historic venue’s annual celebration of the great playwright.
The Tempest is the latest show by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a modern-day incarnation of the Bard’s original troupe of players who will be returning to the city landmark this Friday and Saturday for the 2018 Shakespeare Festival.
The cathedral’s cloisters will provide the backdrop for the company’s latest open air production of one of Shakespeare’s final plays which sees audiences transported to a mystical island and shines a spotlight on themes of true love, vengeance and what it takes to forgive.
Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda are castaways on this distant place, and Prospero’s magic reigns supreme, with the island’s only inhabitants - the sprite Ariel and brutish Caliban - answering his every command.
And when a ship carrying Prospero’s enemies is blown off course he raises a tempestuous storm that shipwrecks them and scatters them across the island as he contemplates revenge.
The Tempest is the fifth show that The Lord Chamberlain’s Men has brought to the cathedral in recent years and the third since Peter Stickney took over as TLCM’s artistic director in 2016.
“In 2016 we did a romantic comedy with Much Ado About Nothing, in 2017 we did a farcical comedy with The Comedy of Errors, and this year I wanted to go for something a little bit more magical to continue to stretch what the company does,” said Peter, adding that The Tempest had the perfect mix of romance, comedy and magic.
“There’s obviously a love story between Miranda and Ferdinand, there’s the love of father to son, father to a daughter. It’s also got a great comedy subplot with Stefano and Trinculo and it also has the opportunity for spectacle and magic with Ariel, Caliban and Prospero.”
He said he and the designer had had great fun with the designs for the show, especially the famous masque scene in the second half, and that in terms of set and costumes it was the company’s biggest production to date.
“In the set designs we were looking for somewhere between a ship and the repurposed ramshackle house that Prospero has,” he said.
“There was a boat in 1609 called the Sea Venture which ended up wrecked in Bermuda and that was believed to be part of the inspiration for Shakespeare writing The Tempest, so that’s gone into our set design.”
The beautiful venues that the company tours to also play a key part in the show’s setting.
Since the Lord Chambelain’s Men’s tour began at Brighton Festival in May the company has performed everywhere from Raglan Castle to Cardiff Castle, but for 37-year-old Peter - a former Long Stratton High and Hewett School pupil who originally hails from Saxlingham Nethergate - Norwich Cathedral is extra special.
“Personally for me it’s like a homecoming. I grew up in Norwich so it’s the one where a lot of my friends and family come,” said Peter, who honed his theatre skills at Norwich Theatre Royal Arts Courses from 1997 to 2000 before heading to Oxford School of Drama and then joining The Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 2007.
“Norwich Cathedral is also quite unique in our tour in that it feels almost like an indoor show because of the way you are sheltered by the beautiful cloisters, and the way they hug the space.
“It’s fantastic. There’s a real sense of scale because of the size of the audiences that you tend to get at the cathedral but there is also a real sense of intimacy created with the cloisters.
“Another great thing is that you are in the centre of the city but then you also get that sense as you walk into the cathedral of delving 1,000 years into the past, into the cathedral, and you are able to drift off in your mind to times past.”
That sense of history is an important aspect of all The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s productions which are always performed with an all-male cast and Elizabethan costume, music and dance, just as they would have been in Shakespeare’s day.
“The cornerstone of our work is that we set it in the year it was written, with The Tempest it is between 1610-11,” said Peter.
“People [from other companies] set Shakespeare’s plays in all sorts of different time settings, different political settings, to shed light in various different ways.
“But as much as possible I want us to get out of the way of the production, we really let the play speak for itself...The idea is to present Shakespeare as he intended people to see it in as unadulerated a way as possible.”
• The Tempest will be performed at Norwich Cathedral on Friday and Saturday at 7pm. Tickets £20 (£18 for concessions). For more information and to book tickets, visit www.cathedral.org.uk/shakespeare-festival or call the Norwich Theatre Royal box office on 01603 630000.
• The show will also be visiting Oxburgh Hall, in Oxborough, on July 19 and Holkham Hall, in north Norfolk, on August 29. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s website at www.tlcm.co.uk