Did any of you clock that ‘Shakespeare Live’ thing at the weekend? I don’t know about you but it reminded me of our ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ we did in 2014 with just a bit more Dr Who, Catherine Tate and Sherlock! I mean, at least least Mike and Clive remembered their lines during the title song, and didn’t keep coming back for more!!!
I do but jest of course. If you were able to glimpse even a few minutes of Saturday’s show, you would hopefully have enjoyed a wonderful selection of celebrities, actors, musicians, dancers and an heir to the throne celebrating the magic of the Bard of Avon in a multitude of fashions.Though it meant I was a little remiss in cataloguing the occasion here I was on the South Bank myself during the afternoon of the 23rd April, after a morning moonlighting as a bargain basement Richard III in a more local celebration of the great man in Bromley Library, and there was a wonderfully iambic pentameter charged buzz about the place reminding me of just what a truly important figure this Shakespeare is.
Much was written about it at the weekend, has been written about it in weekends passed and will be written about it on weekends (and weekdays) to come, but the Matchbox has long shown recognition and appreciation for Will Shakespeare’s wonderful body of work and continues to do so to this day. Of course, the first stop on any reflection of the groups’s long relationship with such works must be the marvellous golden age of the Normanhurst Festival and over a decade and a half of lavish productions of the Comedies. Taking place every other years in John and Pat Williams magical gardens, hundreds of people have sat in the grandstand seating on many a July evening, hot or cold, rain or shine ( usually the latter thankfully) and enjoyed a gala performance of some of Old Bill’s greatest plays. And so they went:
- 1994 ‘A Midsummers Nights Dream’
- 1996 ‘Twelfth Night’
- 1998 ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
- 2000 ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
- 2002 ‘The Comedy of Errors’
- 2004 ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’
- 2006 ‘As You Like It’
- 2008 ‘The Tempest’
- 2010 ‘The Merchant of Venice’
Although the festivals embraced far more – sometimes Dixieland Jazz and the as-regular Gilbert and Sullivan from Kentish Opera – to me these times embodied the very best of what The Matchbox could do: lavishly staged, dazzlingly costumed, convincingly acted and always warmly received (even if the temperature wasn’t quite in accordance). Casts of dozens would be assembled from all corners of the Matchboxverse, some never to be seen again, some only returning for their biennial taste of the Bard, many who would never usually be seen on the stage but making the effort for this one special occasion. These productions were a different brew, and in my (albeit younger) memory there was always a special buzz and excitement about them from the first few days trying to avoid leaving heel-prints in the immaculately tended lawn to the last gasps of glee elicited from the dazzling pyrotechnic displays with which John Williams would often end shows. Bishops Walk would become unified, with residents freely giving up their drives for parking space, audiences arriving hours before the show to picnic or imbibe a livener or two in the champagne tent beforehand (maybe regretting it when caught short in the front row mid act- nothing to do but hold on until the interval!!). One could tell it was special because there were lavish, colourful programmes, actors would provide their bios, parking stickers were furnished, sweatshirts produced. It was more expensive than the average fare but, by gosh, it was special.
Time turns of course and many things change. This was a theme to which Shakespeare’s latter plays would oft warm, and when one looks back, it is with a special warm nostalgia of flaming sunsets, briskly chill evenings and hiss of rain in a brightly lit fairy land, but also a thoughtful slightly rheumy tear in the corner of the eye. Many things change.
But that has long been the case with The Matchbox; changed we have but always with a firm grasp on the foundation stones upon which the group was built many years before I donned an outrageous wig and pioneered The Hortensio Curve ™. The acknowledgement of Shakespeare is among the firmest of such stones. Outside of the Festival we have regularly offered a nod or a theatrical wink here and there – ‘A Merry Regiment of Women’, ‘Harlequinade’, ‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead’, ‘We Happy Few’, our Dazzling Display of Mechanicals and Pat Williams’ very own ‘Fifteen Minute Hamlet’, are but a few of such flourishes. We even have our very own Matchbox Sized Shakepeare Company (although their Shakespearean output has been somewhat limited of late). The two yearly tradition has continued although in a slightly more interpretative form with :
- 2012 ‘The Compleat Works of Shkspeare (abgd.)’
- 2014 ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’
And so to 2016.
It’s time to get back to the Bard. As 2014 saw our celebration of 450 years of Shakespeare’s birth, this year sees 400 since Shakespeare’s death. It also sees the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. And so 2016 will see The Matchbox undertake his classic war play, ‘Troilus and Cressida’.
Directed by Tim Pearce, who helmed the first ever Normanhurst Shakespeare with the ‘Dream’, we move far from the Comedies, bitter sweet as many of them have been, into the drama, spectacle and power of a world turned upside down as the walls of Troy are transposed to 1916 and the fields of the Somme. This is ambitious, bold, challenging and exciting theatre, a departure from much of what has been done before but bound to be as striking as ever. Assuredly there will be reports from the lines in the weeks to come and I hope to relay them to you over the exciting times ahead.
Yes, many things change.
But some things, they thankfully stay the same, and the genuinely pleasurable memories evoked from writing about a wonderful sixteen years in Shirley Hills is one of them. And thus:
‘The wheel has come full circle, I am here’
Edmund, King Lear, V.3, 175.
And now I am gone. At least that is until next time.