“Don't look at them, look at me,” a peacock seemed to be saying as he posed magnificently between the audience and the Shakespearean play being performed by Theatre Set-Up in the open air at Trevarno, Cornwall, effectively upstaging it. “I am really worth looking at!” Fed up with the noise that was disturbing his rest in the tree above the play, his was a deliberate attempt to stop it. Often though, the interference of creatures in the company's performances was accidental…
“It is dreadful thing to see the wig that transforms your character being carted off by a fox!” cried an actress as she watched a fox race off with the red wig she had set in the open-air stage right changing area of Wollaton Hall, Nottingham. Evidently he had rescued the wig from this improvised theatre arena, mistaking it for one of his cubs! This was typical of the chaos that birds, bats, cats, dogs, sheep and horses could make of open-air performances in heritage sites. Add to that the confusion that rain, storms, wind and hot sun could add to the experience and an element of adventure unknown in regular indoor venues prevailed.
This book tells the anecdotes of these adventures in this kind of theatre experienced by the international, professional Theatre Set-Up company (see www.ts-u.co.uk), which survived the vicissitudes of touring mostly open-air performances of Shakespeare in heritage sites from 1976 to 2011, performing throughout the UK from 1979 and in mainland Europe from 1993. Venues and gear of the company were transferred to The Festival Players in 2011. Its tours in 1979, 1980 and 1981 pioneered the genre, a species of theatre which has since then proliferated, providing many actors with paid employment and heritage sites with performances of plays presented conveniently with the minimum of fuss, cost and accoutrements. The companies bravely performing in this kind of theatre all experience the kinds of incidents recorded in this book, which salutes their courage and determination to “Carry on Regardless”!
About the Author: Dr Wendy Jean Macphee was a teacher and lecturer in English, drama and music from 1960 to 2012 and was founder, administrator, artistic director, actor and musician for Theatre Set-Up. She now writes books (see Secret Meanings in Shakespeare Applied to Stage Performance, www.wjm-travelogue.net and www.wjm-pyramid.uk).