Progress Theatre present The TempestBy Phil Creighton
July 14, 2011
Planning a visit to Caversham Court Gardens next week? Be warned, all is not what it seems.
This charming riverside park is actually a strange, remote desert island where anything can – and does – happen.
Lurking alongside the picnickers and the herbaceous borders that dominate these beautiful gardens are sea monsters, shipwrecks and a powerful magician on a quest for justice.
And who is behind this transformation, turning the Caversham gardens into a forbidden planet where iambic pentameter is king? It can only be Reading’s very own Progress Theatre, with the return of its summer Shakespeare show.
This year the group is heading back to the open air with a production of The Tempest, its first outdoor experience since Taming of the Shrew was given a Wild West makeover in the Abbey Ruins three years ago.
The Tempest’s director and a Progress Theatre veteran, 64-year-old Chris Bertrand, is excited about the new venue, which is being used after the Abbey Ruins were shut for safety reasons.
“Caversham Court Gardens will be completely different [to the Abbey Ruins],” he says. “It’s a more casual, more relaxed environment.”
And this extends to the setting. With no seating (you’ll need to bring rugs or low-back chairs), there will be a different vibe. Chris adds that the audience can bring a picnic with them to enjoy before the show and and there will be interval drinks too.
“It’s all part of the whole experience," he promises.
“The stage is a platform and there’s nothing else really on site because it’s a public space. They [the audience] are going to be very much part of the play.”
Chris is delighted with the fact that the River Thames forms the backdrop to the open-air theatre space. “It’s set on an island so we’re using the river,” he explains. “We have to make an advantage of out that.
“The gardens have long hebaceous boards that back on to the wall overlooking the banks to the river. The water is behind the actors.
“It’s very simple staging – the focus is on telling the story.”
The cast of around 20 have been busy rehearsing in the outdoors too, no mean feat given the terrible wet weather we’ve been enduring recently.
“It’s all been part of the challenge,” he says. “We’ve been getting attuned to what’s needed.
“We’ve done workshops and breathing exercises,” he says of the preparations the actors have undergone to ensure they’ll be seen and heard during the performance. Chris is confident that all the actor’s voices will be heard by the audience.
“The acoustics [in Caversham Court Gardens] are surprisingly good,” he promises.
And Chris is also confident that audiences will enjoy the show over the course of its week-long run.
“Come along because it will be fun,” he says. “If you’re familiar with Shakespeare you’ll know what to expect – it’s great entertainment.”
Indeed, it promises to be a magical evening.
The Tempest will be performed by the Progress Theatre from Saturday, July 23 to Saturday, July 30.
Performances are at 7.45pm except Sunday and at 2.30pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost £15 or £12.50 for concessions. A child’s ticket for the matinee will cost £10 and a family ticket for two adults and up to three children for the matinee costs £45.
Tickets are available by calling the box office on 0118 960 6060 or logging on to www.readingarts.com
For more details on the show, log on to www.readingopenair.com