Outdoor Shakespeare returns to South Hill ParkBy Caroline Cook
July 19, 2012
A Bracknell arts centre is celebrating the unveiling of its new grounds with an outdoor Shakespeare production next week.
Caroline Cook caught up with the director
A decade ago fairies danced among the trees at South Hill Park as visitors gathered in the open air for the first performance at the centre’s outdoor amphitheatre.
The magic of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was produced by Bart Lee, began a tradition of outdoor Shakespeare at the centre with hundreds of theatre-goers braving the elements over the next 10 years.
“We started the outdoor amphitheatre and over the years it has been restored and developed,” said Bart.
“Outdoor Shakespeare is so special because it is how it is meant to be performed.
“Actors regularly hide in the nooks, crannies, trees and bushes waiting to spring out and delight us all.”
Having been present at the birth of outdoor Shakespeare at South Hill Park Bart cannot wait to return to celebrate its 10th anniversary and he will be stepping into the director’s shoes for All’s Well That Ends Well.
“I wanted to do a comedy and also I wanted to do one that was a little bit of a change,” he said.
“It’s a really lovely experience being out there and performing and it's brilliant to be here again.”
All’s Well That Ends Well tells the story of Helena, an orphan who is hopelessly in love with Count Bertram, but has no hope of attracting him because she is of low birth.
When she manages to save the King’s life Helena is given the hand of any man in the kingdom and chooses Bertram, who is far from happy at the match.
Desperate to win him over, Helena goes to extreme lengths.
With its tale of unrequited love All’s Well That Ends Well has in recent years been thought of as a problem play, rather than belonging with Shakespeare’s comedies where it was originally placed.
“All’s Well seemed to be a good choice as it was different from plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream which I have done before,” said Bart.
“I’ve completely gone for the comedy. It has a serious side but we’re playing with the comedy. It’s sort of like Alan Ayckbourn meets Shakespeare.”
To coincide with the anniversary of the outdoor amphitheatre the centre will be unveiling its newly refurbished grounds to theatre-goers.
More than £4 million has been spent by Bracknell Forest Council and Bracknell Town Council after funding was secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Thousands of new trees have been planted in the grounds and a new entranceway has been installed.
The amphitheatre has also been restored and other work has taken place including de-silting the southern lake, conserving and enhancing the woods, making new paths, and improving information for visitors.
Work at the centre has been going on since 2010 and staff are looking forward to unveiling the finished look next week.
Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, will visit the centre to take a look at the new grounds on Tuesday, July 24.
With its new look the woods and field will provide a stunning backdrop to the play and cast and crew are hoping the sun will be shining for the occasion.
“I think people are ready for the rain, particularly in this country,” said Bart. “But it really is the best thing when you get a lovely sunny evening outside. It’s just fantastic.”
All’s Well That Ends Well will be at South Hill Park until Sunday, July 22.
Tickets are £12, £11 concessions, £5 under 18s and £28 for a family. To book visit www.southhillpark.org.uk or call (01344) 484 123.
People are advised to bring warm clothes and waterproofs. The show will only be stopped if it is unsafe to continue.
Seating is provided but you are advised to bring a cushion.