Blenheim Palace – until 7 September 2019

Reviewed by Catherine Françoise


Being a Reviewer more familiar with dance, opera and musical theatre, it was with much excitement and anticipation I approached Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre latest ‘Pop Up’ venue at Blenheim Palace.    

This follws from the enormously successful Rose Theatre set up previously in York. ‘Pop Up’ is a slight exaggeration since the theatre takes 3 weeks to build having being planned for year and involves 3000 square meters of protective trackway, 30,000 cubic meters of scaffolding tubes, 1400 sq meters of metal cladding and 22,000 screws. Oh and a pre-fabricated roof. The weight of the structure is around 60 tonnes and required 60 45’ articulated lorries to deliver all materials to build. Also 2 cranes, 6 cherry-pickers, 4 fork-lift trucks and 30 people to build. And “countless ice creams and rocky chocolate bars were consumed in the process”.

The setting at the magnificent Blenheim Palace is wonderful ~ a small ‘village’ surrounds the theatre with food, drink and plenty of seating and there is a relaxed atmosphere.

So far I’ve seen 3 of the 4 productions and have been wonderfully entertained and mighty impressed.  

•Damian Cruden is Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre and directs MacBeth; 

•Juliet Foster directs Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; 

•Lucy Pitman-Wallace directs Richard III

•Tom Wright is associate director of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

•A Creative Team of 18 involving costumes, scenic design, fights, movement, choreography & aerial, composers and musicians (Wonderful music!), voice, lighting & sound. 

•A Fabulous actors company of 38 are cast in 2 plays each though not in the same play groupings. 

Wonderful to see Lady Macbeth become Peter Quince overnight! (Suzy Cooper) and  Titania become an Old Man/Priest (Tom Kanji). Every actor has significant role changes! 

I’m not a Shakespeare expert so cannot much compare with other productions but can say that as a relative newbie I was captivated and engrossed through all 3. Even my 90 year old mother who is French and certainly not familiar with Shakespeare, was absolutely engrossed in Midsummer Night’s Dream exclaiming that although she didn’t really understand what was going on she thought it was all wonderful. I noted she did not nod off at all.

For myself I enjoyed Richard III immensely, understanding the history of this time perhaps for the the first time! William Mannering’s portrayal of  a tyrannical, ruthless, unconscionable king was mesmerising and troubling indeed.  This was fast paced and a real insight into ‘the theatre of politics’ . A huge cast of characters were identifiable, helped in part by impressive ‘colour-coded costumes’ and a series of banners proclaiming who is king at any one time. 

Director Lucy Pittman-Wallace says “Our aim is also to strip bare the machinations within the corridors of power and that requires physical as well as textual clarity. The wonderful openness of our Elizabethan-inspired theatre space seems a fitting stage to entice and display the fascinating persons who inhabit the world of Richard the third, some dangerous, some dude, all to be watched closely at all times.”

Fabulous stuff! 

The Atmospheric use of music ~ wind instruments and drums ~ was very powerful and evocative in Macbeth (and indeed in all productions).  Music should always enhance and never intrude and this was perfectly judged by Musical Director Christopher Madin who composed the score also playing Cello and Percussion, with Guy Passey and Ed Beesley also playing.

Alex Avery as Macbeth and Suzy Cooper as Lady Mcbeth were intense and powerful. Wonderful costumes and set design from Sara Perks. The witches fire looked fearsome! 

Damian Cruden notes in the programme than “One of the joys of preparing for Macbeth in this unique setting is that it fits… The play seems to block itself… All seems to be intuitive. Our desire is that the words, live music, great swordplay and performances should carry the weight of this production”.

And so they did. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was tremendously engaging! Juliet Forster chose to double Theseus and Hippolyta with their fairy counterparts … “in which Oberon and Titania are seemingly the night-time personas/dream-selves of the Duke and his Amazonian bride, in turn caught up in the wild dream of the forest…”

The fairies were acrobats and aerialists on ledges and twirling in silks. The workman players final scene was very hilarious. And the mischief and mayhem caused by magic potions amongst the young lovers was wonderfully portrayed by a fabulous cast. 

It’s been an absolute pleasure to visit Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, and I can say that anyone will be guaranteed to see high quality, intelligent, creative theatre.

I very much enjoyed and appreciated the myriad of roles played by the entire company, all very different and authentic ~ Highly commendable indeed.

The Rose Theatre have triumphed with these productions in an authentic Shakespearian setting. A superb opportunity to see Shakespeare in an engaging, creative, exciting light ~ I can’t imagine anyone leaving after seeing any of these productions with anything other than a desire to see more exciting and exhilarating Shakespeare!