With Steve Wrigley’s arrangements of Cole Porter and a Riviera setting we had a fabulous show but our luck was about to run out.
The Shakespeare in Queen’s Park had become a huge undertaking to organise and with no support from the Regional Arts Board or the local council I was having to fund the event out of my own pocket. Instead of enjoying the creative process I was wandering around from bank to bank, cap in hand and each week was a struggle to find money.
In the autumn of 1992 I arranged a meeting with Gavin Henderson, then the artistic director of the Brighton International Festival. With such a successful homegrown event contributing so much to the festival surely he would be in a position to help us out.
As I walked into his office Gavin quickly covered up what he had been reading- but not so quick that I didn”t see that it was a brochure for the internationally renowned company Footsbarn and their production of "Romeo and Juliet"
The Festival had decided that it was time to cash in on the success of the open air Shakespeare and they were going to make sure they kept control. I walked out of the meeting empty handed.
Still we had good news. Driven by idealism rather than experience I turned the company into a workers cooperative. Some of the more dedicated members of the team volunteered to stomp up some money and a surprise loan from my flatmate meant we could go ahead.
We moved into a 2500 square foot space in what is now the Phoenix art gallery. For the first time we had a permanent base from which to operate. With Festival Radio camped out in the basement we were right at the heart of the local festival scene.
But nothing could stop the rain. It rained and rained and rained. On one of the nights our show was called off I went to see Footsbarn perform Romeo and Juliet in their warm and dry tent. It was small consulation that their show was inspiringly brilliant. Without those much needed gate receipts to fill the coffers we were out on the street and back to square one.
The Bard slipped up badly with the title of Much Ado About Nothing. Can you imagine what the critics made of it? Still, I can’t think of a better way to spend a warm summer evening that with Re:action Theatre and the swallows in the keep of Lewes Castle. They’ve given the play, really a panto in posh clothes, a touch of the flapper-era French Riviera with a set that”s a miracle of tinfoil and toilet rolls and even tuxedoed big band. Well, small band. Just Six. The quaintly daffy Hero (Georgie Kane), Giles Morgan as a leering Cuban mobster of a Don John and Brian Mitchel and Sue Long as the Benedick and Beatrice stood out.
The Punter May 1993
Time once again to spread your blanket on the ground, unpack your picnic (I strongly suggest you include a hip flask of something medicinal) and enjoy a bit of Bill The Bard, al fresco. I managed to catch last year’s production of "The Tempest" within the confines of Lewes Castle and I could hardly have been more impressed: the cast were great, the setting was ideal and perhaps equally importantly the weather was fine. There’s nothing quite like sitting on someone else’s cushion, sipping wine out of a leaky plastic cup and chewing on a French Stick only a few feet from the performers’ tireless efforts. Somehow it’s all so much less formal- almost like being in on a well attended rehearsal- and one feels so much more a part of what”s going on. Anyway, this year Re:action have swapped one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays for one of his frothy comedies. From what I gather it’s all to be set in the 1930’s and I gather all involved are having a wail of a time. Given that Re:action’s track record (they’ve also done Chekhov, Satre and Ian McEwan outside their summer spectaculars) is pretty good and that half the fun is in the taking part (and praying for the sunshine) and that all Shakespeare”s comedies have suspiciously neat and happy endings, it can’t really fail. What Festival time”s all about.
As if it hasn’t acheived the aim already, Brighton based Re:action Theatre is intent on jazzing up Shakespeare’s image with the general public. For the Festival the company returns to the hugely popular Queen”s Park and Lewes Castle venues for an outdoor production of Shakespeare”s wittiest piece of love-play, Much Ado About Nothing.
Queen’s park may lack the glamour of Kenneth Branagh’s Tuscan setting for his film version of Much Ado but the cast hopes to conjure up a sophisticated Riviera world of the Thirties; a period twist that should set off nicely the spiky banter of quarrelling lovers Beatrice and Benedick, set amidst the close-knit world of the idle rich. And to help add sparkle to the enterprise, a five-piece jazz combo playing Cole Porter tunes provides the musical backing.
Beatrice and Benedick are the archetypal quarelling lovers always scoring points off each other in public and boiling away private because their own pride will not let them admit how much they are in love. However their lives are interrupted by a potentially tragic scandal, concocted to destroy the love match of another couple, Claudio and Hero. How will Benedick and Beatrice save the day and their own love?
These open-air productions are fast becoming one of the highlights of the Festival, and Re:action hope to build on the success of last year’s much acclaimed production of the Tempest.
A new rep centre?
Re:action has managed to establish a permanent base in town, complete with office and rehearsal space in Waterloo Place. Could this be the beginnings of something approaching a people’s repertory company in Brighton? Artistic director Robin Manuell said:" We want this place to become a space where people can come and work on new ideas, rehease plays, build sets, design posters, keep in touch with what’s happening around Brighton. "If you’re a trained actor and have skills that you can pass on to other people then come and run a workshop. If you want to put on a particular play come along to a play reading and see whether there”s anyone else into the idea."
The aim, as evidenced in Re:action”s name, is to provoke an active response to the performing arts within the community. Robin added: "After The Tempest people realised that there was a lot of potential that simply wasn’t being exploited. In the past we”ve always had a lot of people coming and going. involved in particular projects. For the first time we can plan things well in advance and know that we”re still going to be here in six month”s time.
|18th – 22nd May||Lewes Castle||500|
|25th – 31st May||Royal Spa, Queen’s Park, Brighton||1,500|
|July||Peacehaven Festival||15 and a dog.|
|Cast and Crew|
|Darren Price||Giles Morgan||Kris Steffes|
|Brian Mitchel||Nick Quirk||Kathy De Morgan|
|Neil Manuell||Zoe Reason||Jennette Edisford|
|Peta Tailor||Clea Smith||Georgie Kane|
|Sue Long||Robin Manuell||Laura Wright|
|Samantha Bell||Martin Milner||Steve Wrigley|
|Alison Vaas||Fiona Smith||Bryony Jonson|
|Adrian Oxall||Dill Harris||Dave Barnard|
|Charlotte Ramsey||Steve Mitchel|