The Pendley Shakespeare Festival burst back on to the scene in Tring last night with its 65th offering of energy-fuelled and uproarious productions.
This is a landmark year for the al-fresco extravaganza, as it also marks a century since the birth of the festival’s founder Dorian Williams, as well as what would have been the 450th birthday of the great Bard himself.
The outdoor event in the natural ampitheatre of the Pendley Manor Hotel’s grounds – complete with real peacock sound effects – is an unmissable date in the calendar for many seasoned Festival-goers.
But the two-week occasion is also a must for any Pendley virgins wishing to spend a midsummer’s night soaking up some culture – as well as the occasional downpour, if the opening night was anything to go by.
Storming the organic stage for this year’s first play – Shakespeare’s shortest creation, The Comedy of Errors – was a whirlwind of colour and movement like that you’d expect from a children’s cartoon.
Indeed, director Sarah Perry’s comic strip-style interpretation of this farcical tale about two sets of twins made it seem almost pantomime-like at times, complete with a ‘dame’ in the form of Dromio of Ephesus’ terrifying cross-dressing wife, Nell.
One of the Bard’s favourite conventions , the doppelganger, is played on to the extreme in The Comedy of Errors, as not only do we see confusion reign when two sets of separated twins find themselves on the same island, but they also have the same names.
Indicators such as a cap and glasses are all the audience has to go by to keep up with the farce, and – though I’m bound to secrecy as to how the final showdown between both sets of siblings is dealt with theatrically – you’ll be crying with laughter and sharing a hilarious in-joke with the incredibly talented cast by the final act.
Pendley virgins would have lapped up the visual treat while Festival veterans would only have been disappointed that the brand new seating stands forced some slight alterations in artistic director Sarah Branston’s notoriously funny – and, of course, vital – health and safety announcements.
The Comedy of Errors runs nightly until Sunday, on which day a free pre-show seminar will be held from 3.30pm, featuring the Festival’s literary advisor and visiting academics. On Thursday evening there will also be a free, hour-long post-show discussion with the company. You can also catch the same cast in tragedy Hamlet as the second run of shows starts next Wednesday through to Sunday. To book, visit www.pendleyshakespearefestival.co.uk or call 01442 820060 (Tuesdays-Thursdays, 3pm-6pm).