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Guildford Shakespeare Company head indoors for the first time

PUBLISHED: 15:38 13 February 2011 | UPDATED: 11:44 28 February 2013

Guildford Shakespeare Company head indoors for the first time

Guildford Shakespeare Company head indoors for the first time

Summer in Surrey's county town wouldn't be the same without the magic that the latest Guildford Shakespeare Company outdoor production inevitably casts. Now, they are heading indoors for the first time

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2010

Summer in Surreys county town wouldnt be the same without the magic that the latest Guildford Shakespeare Company outdoor production inevitably casts. Now, they are heading indoors for the first time

Renowned for producing Shakespeares finest works out in the fresh air, the thought of Guildford Shakespeare Company performing in February may have caused regular audience members to reach for their thermals and hot water bottles in panic.

Never fear, though, for the groups upcoming run of Romeo and Juliet sees them heading indoors for the first time to Surreys largest Georgian church, Holy Trinity in Guildford. For what began as an outdoor theatre company, this constitutes a marked change of direction. So was it the weather that prompted the move inside?

Well, actually, thats the beauty of performing outdoors because every show is slightly different, says Matt Pinches, who founded the open air Shakespeare group with his partner, both on and off stage, Sarah Gobran in 2006. So, for instance, weve had plays end with, The rain it raineth every day, while its pouring down on cast and audience! But, surprisingly, no, the weather hasnt influenced this particular decision!

Our audience keep telling us to stop making them wait every year, explains co-conspirator Sarah, picking up the story as we chat over coffee at Guildfords Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. Weve wanted to do it for a long time, but its been a case of waiting for the right moment and the right venue. We were very lucky to find somewhere as beautiful as Holy Trinity.

Both from acting backgrounds themselves, the pair wondered at the lack of an open air Shakespeare company in Guildford and decided to pool their collective talents to correct this. Originally looking to put on just one run of Much Ado About Nothing, the stunningly hot summer of 2006 saw all the shows sell out.

Its success meant that the following year we expanded and did a show in the castle grounds followed by another at the University of Surrey lake, which is just beautiful. And then it rained every day! says Sarah.

In some ways, though, going from one extreme to the other was the best thing that could have happened because it grounded us. It was the biggest learning experience we could have gone through. Its continued to grow from there and last year we had over 3,200 people come and see the show.

Anything can happen at GSC

At a Guildford Shakespeare Company production, instead of regimented seating and the usual stage etiquette, you get actors exiting scenes via boats across lakes a recipe for disaster you might think, but only the stage manager came close to getting wet last time round (ending up hiding in the bottom of the boat with the actors).

Its these elements of the real world that strip away the confines of more traditional theatre, and often see audiences getting far more engaged than they usually might.

It can certainly break down some of the boundaries and preconceptions that people have of theatre, says Matt. Some people find it more relaxing. We encourage picnics, champagne and such, and that creates that special one time only experience. Hopefully, it helps to nurture new audiences for theatre, which is something were both very passionate about.

With site specific works, youre in the world the play is in. The venues become the other character in the performance. We dont believe in building incongruous sets in front of these amazing backdrops. The vista at the lake is just beautiful and everyone falls in love with the venue as much as they enjoy the show its the same with the castle grounds. So we try to embrace and complement the areas with the staging we do use. There is a certain magic to having actors appearing from in front of you, to the side, from behind all around you.

There is always a little band of ducks wanting to get involved, too, adds Sarah with a laugh.

Heading indoors for the first time

All the same, the requests for an additional winter production kept on coming, and in the summer of 2008 the audience finally got their wish, as Matt and Sarah went on the hunt for an indoor venue.

We walked in to Holy Trinity and it just screamed out to us that it would be a great place to do theatre, says Matt. We were looking to take everything that our plays had become known for outdoors, inside. When you walk into any church, there is already an element of the theatrical to the buildings. They have a story of their own.

With the cobbled streets and lovely setting opposite the stunning Abbots Hospital, there is certainly a very special atmosphere at Holy Trinity. The main bulk of the church is 18th century, and with a palette of golds, reds and blues, the shows designers will be aiming to pick out that Georgian feel with the costumes.

Audiences have been asking when well be tackling something from this period, as the previous productions have been set in the past century, says Matt. The thing is, there are constraints to open air theatre that have kept us away until now. For one, big flowing dresses and mud arent a particularly good mix. The laundry bills hit the roof!

So, keen to make the most of their new indoor setting, the plays director Guildford born and bred Charlotte Conquest, who has worked with the likes of the Globe, the National and at the RSC has chosen the late 17th century to set Februarys shows.

Follow your heart

It was a time of revolution in France and America, when romantics began expressing themselves freely and young hopefuls would head off on grand tours of Europe. It was also a time, therefore, when following your heart became pivotal so a theme well-matched then with that of Romeo and Juliet.

Its all about that constant battle between young and old, continues Matt. The elders are straining at the leash to keep these young people from bubbling over and, yet, the family feuds bubble over out into the streets.

As well as the fights, of course, you have the wonderful outbursts of emotion and poetry from these young people. And, at the end of the play, when the adults have realised the folly of their ways, they understand that if they had just let the pair follow their hearts, all these peoples lives would have been spared.

So, while it may still be a little chilly on the cobbled streets outside, the heat of battle and a romantic flame is sure to warm anyone lucky enough to be in the Holy Trinity audience for Guildford Shakespeare Companys latest production.

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