Bard in the city:
Shakespeare in Norwich Cathedral
The magical world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be enchanting audiences at Norwich Cathedral this July as the famous comedy takes centre stage for the annual open-air Shakespeare Festival.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (TLCM) – a modern-day incarnation of Shakespeare’s travelling troupe of players – will be bringing the show to our fine city on July 11 and 12 and using the cathedral’s centuries-old cloisters as a stunning backdrop.
It is the sixth year TLCM has taken part in the Shakespeare Festival, having last year wowed audiences with an outdoor production of The Tempest and in previous years entertained with
The Comedy of Errors, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night and
Romeo and Juliet.
This latest show is set to be extra special as it is celebrating both the 15th anniversary of the modern day TLCM and an incredible 425 years since Shakespeare’s original players first performed in 1594.
“To present one of the best, funniest, most beautiful, most well-known comedies seemed to be absolutely the right fit for this celebratory year. It’s going to be really quite magical,” said TLCM’s artistic director Peter Stickney.
“We are interweaving the music and the text much more than we ever have before and the consequence of that is something really very beautiful and very special. It balances quite nicely with the humour that is very naturally in the show.”
He added: “Fundamentally the show is about love. There are lovers that flee the city for the solace of a forest which then turns out to be an enchanted forest where the fairy king and queen are at odds.
“Meanwhile the mechanicals are trying to do a play to celebrate the duke’s wedding and everybody gets caught in the crossfire of the fall-out between the fairy king and queen – and from there all chaos ensues!”
As with all TLCM shows, A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be performed just as it would have been in Shakespeare’s day, with an all-male cast, Elizabethan costumes and music.
“Going back to the roots of how it was originally performed actually, ironically perhaps, gives a really fresh perspective on the show, it really cracks it open,” Peter said.
“We are not about adding lots of extra elements to the play, we are much more about exploring – excavating almost – the text of the production.”
But Peter is keen to stress that staying true to the show’s Elizabethan roots certainly does not mean that it will be difficult for 21st century audiences to follow.
“The show isn’t a musty, old museum piece, it’s very alive, it is very modern… but we absolutely, in terms of our presentation, feel that link to Shakespeare very acutely.”
TLCM is taking the show on tour to venues across the country, but for 38-year-old Peter, the Norwich Cathedral dates are always a special highlight because he grew up nearby in Saxlingham Nethergate. A former Saxlingham Nethergate Primary, Long Stratton High and Hewett School pupil, Peter first developed a love of theatre while acting in high school pantomimes.
He also performed with the Long Stratton-based Spotlight Players and was involved in youth theatre at Norwich Playhouse and Norwich Theatre Royal before heading off to study at Oxford School of Drama.
“Coming back to the cathedral really does feel like coming to do a play at home because often a lot of my family and friends come along. It’s always a really special show,” said Peter, who now lives in London with his wife Arhondia and their two-year-old daughter Nefeli.
Among those who will be watching TLCM’s shows at Norwich Cathedral will be some of the members of Saxlingham Cricket Club.
“That’s where I started playing cricket when I was eight or nine and my dad still plays on the gents team. Some of the members almost always come to the show at Norwich Cathedral to support me. There’s a real family feel to
“The show isn’t a musty, old museum piece, it’s very alive, it is very modern… but we absolutely, in terms of our presentation, feel that link to Shakespeare very acutely”
the club and to the village, and it holds a special place in my heart for sure,” said Peter, adding that this year TLCM is sponsoring Saxlingham Cricket Club’s youth team, set up by Craig Neave, one of Peter’s friends from primary school.
Peter described Norwich Cathedral as an “absolutely spectacular” setting that was also unique.
“A lot of our shows are either in front of or behind a large house or in an open space, whereas in Norwich Cathedral’s cloisters you are much more hugged in by those walls. It is almost a theatre really, the way that it works acoustically, and the way that it works in terms of its feeling and there’s just something about sitting alongside a building that has existed for twice as long as the play that really ties you into the history.
“You can forget everything around you and just be drawn back in time.”
Peter has been part of TLCM since 2007 when he joined the cast of Romeo and Juliet, and he took over the company as artistic director and chief executive in 2016.
He said it was “an extraordinary privilege” to be at the helm of a touring company that shares its history with Shakespeare and he joked his career path was perhaps written in the stars.
“My work with Shakespeare is fairly fated to be, I suppose; Shakespeare’s birthday is on April 23 and my birthday is on April 24!”
When asked what he enjoys most about taking Shakespeare’s shows out on the road and into outdoor settings, he said it was the special connection between the actors and the audiences.
“It’s a real shared experience, we are all sitting under the sun together, we are all sitting under the stars together,” he said, adding that the outdoor settings were particularly apt for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“In this play, a lot of it is about the natural world, with it being set in the forest. There are countless mentions of the moon, countless mentions of other natural phenomena and actually being able to see the moon, being able to see the stars, really heightens the piece and lends itself to a really magical evening.”
At Norwich Cathedral, being outdoors can also sometimes result in some surprise guest performers flying overhead.
“Depending on how many of the peregrine falcons come to visit us, we can get an extra cast member or two! That always adds a little bit of something to the mix!” Peter said.
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at Norwich Cathedral on Thursday July 11 and Friday July 12 at 7pm. Tickets £20. Concessions (over 60s, NUS and under 16s) £18. To book, visit cathedral.org. uk/shakespeare or call 01603 630000.
Much Ado About Nothing at Norwich Cathedral
BELOW: The Lord Chamberlain’s Men performing The Tempest at Norwich Cathedral
ABOVE: Peter Stickney