Cambridge Shakespeare, Summer 2006

Michael Grosvenor Myer

Grosvenor Myer, Michael. "Review of Cambridge Shakespeare, Summer 2006." Early Modern Literary Studies 12.1 (May, 2006): 18.1-3<URL:

  1. I have lived in this Fenland village of Haddenham, midway between Cambridge and Ely, for nearly 30 years: a particularly active community musically and dramatically - annual original pantomime, annual village concert, amdrams galore, in which I have over the years played my own melo-acting, folksinging, panto-daming part. I mention all this because this year's village concert, called "Bits Of The Bard", was a complete sell-out both nights, which I thought an encouraging phenomenon in these supposedly anti-intellectual, anti-educational times. The occasion was the brainchild of fellow villager John Shippey, former local government officer, more recently a Shakespearean researcher, engaged in an MA with the Shakespearean Institute, who has figured in this space before now as one of the Cambridge Arts Theatre Trust regulars in their annual production of local Shax-thesps: his jobsworth-bureaucrat Abhorson a year or three back was particularly memorable. The evening took the form of extracts from the canon, well directed and performed (one of the funniest Pyramus-&-Thisbes I remember, for instance), with film extracts (Olivier's Agincourt), songs from the plays by local choirs and soloists, dances by pre-teen girls to Mendelssohn and Prokoviev, and, particularly justifying the "Bits" bit of the title, some thematic bombardments from the company: a quickfire series of curses and insults, for instance, which left the head a-reel. A memorable, delightful, and altogether encouraging achievement.

  2. The Swan Theatre Company is a new student group, founded, their director Robert Icke wrote to me, to "escape the tyranny of the university theatre establishment". There was a full house on the Friday night for his production of Much Ado About Nothing at the ADC late in May: a promising sign; reliable word of whether a production is worthwhile generally gets around the undergraduate population. The opening, with busy but well-organised household work going forward in the sunlit balconied courtyard of Leonato's house, set the right atmosphere for the lively, pacy production which followed - if there was a fault, sometimes a bit too pacy: they occasionally fell into the fault of delivering their lines so fast that some of the words were lost. All in all, though, the action was clear and effective, with the laughs coming where they should, and the more poignant moments, like Hero's apparent death, coming across strongly. The setting was a generalised Mediterranean, set in a generalised past - men in white shirts and black, shortish black trousers (except for a sinister, all-black-clad Don John), the women in colourful ballet-length skirts. This hundred-plus year old atmosphere was enhanced by Thanatip Viturawong's tuneful original music played by a full twenty-piece orchestra. Entertainment at the masquerade was a bit later in style - a "Lover and Lass", somehow strayed in from another play, crooned thirties-style to a beguine rhythm. The men's parts came across as most strongly played, with Dave Walton's forceful Benedick the most effective. The women made not quite so much impact in the main, though Lizzie Crarer's Hero came into its own in her big scene at the aborted wedding. No particular new insights into the play were offered, but an enjoyable, energetic production afforded an undoubtedly promising debut for the new group. I look forward to seeing what else Mr Icke and his company will come up with. I understand The Alchemist is planned for next term.

  3. I record here with much grief and regret the sudden and lonely death at the age of 49 of Val Widdowson, Cambridge playwright, actor, eccentric and recluse. He was found, some weeks dead, alone in his home. Born and educated in Cambridge, he was never a member of the University, but became part of the ADC establishment as box office assistant, actor, author of original plays performed in the ADC bar - all this, though, when not in one of the dropout, rough-sleeping phases on which he would disappear for weeks, often when due to appear on stage. When he did get it together, his contributions were memorable: his Leonato in the wedding scene in Much Ado stays in my mind as one of the most poignantly grief-stricken performances I have ever seen and his Bully Bottom as one of the most comic; and reviews of some of his own Shakespeare-themed and derived plays have appeared in these columns of mine over the last five years. (See, for instance, Unreliable for all his gifts, he was nevertheless a conversible companion and good friend when not off on one of his out-of-it jags. He will be much missed by Cambridge Shakespeare people.

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© 2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).