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Theatre in the Forest brings out the adventurous fun to be found in Shakespeare

PUBLISHED: 10:35 12 August 2019

Red Rose Chain brings the feel of a 1960s seaside postcard to Shakespeare's classic romance Romeo and Juliet as this year's Theatre in the Forest production at Jimmy's Farm Photo: Bill Jackson

Red Rose Chain brings the feel of a 1960s seaside postcard to Shakespeare's classic romance Romeo and Juliet as this year's Theatre in the Forest production at Jimmy's Farm Photo: Bill Jackson

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Red Rose Chain has been exposing audiences to the joy of Shakespeare for the past 20 years as part of their annual Theatre in the Forest events. We take a look at director Jo Carrick's adventurous approach to The Bard

Jimmy Doherty and Red Rose Chains artistic director Joanna Carrick at Jimmy's Farm the location for Theatre In The ForestJimmy Doherty and Red Rose Chains artistic director Joanna Carrick at Jimmy's Farm the location for Theatre In The Forest

Theatre in the Forest is not just an annual date in the performance calendar of Red Rose Chain theatre company but it has become, over the last 20 years, an important part of Suffolk's summer landscape.

It started off as a site specific performance in Rendlesham Forest for the intriguingly titled UFO: The Musical, written by Red Rose Chain's artistic director Jo Carrick.

This proved so successful that the company returned to stage what became a series of open-air Shakespeare productions at Rendlesham which increasingly grabbed the public's imagination. Starting with A Mid-Summer Night's Dream, progressing through Hamlet, Twelfth Night and King Lear Jo Carrick swept away memories of dull English lessons at school, and transformed Shakespeare into something fun and dynamic.

Jo has the ability to find the heart of a Shakespeare story, transport the audience and the play to a new world and just have fun with the result while, at the sametime, respecting the source material. Jo loves and understands Shakespeare, her adaptations never demean the original text and yet she is not afraid to take bold leaps with her storytelling.

The popularity and ambitious scale of Jo's storytelling meant that Theatre in the Forest got a new home in 2013 at Jimmy's Farm when the venue put a natural glade-cum-amphitheatre at Red Rose Chain's disposal. They started off with a dynamic interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew, followed by The Tempest, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing.

The 20th anniversary production is Romeo and Juliet, that tragic-tale of true love, which has been transported to the British seaside in the 1960s, a world of Mods and Rockers, of gangs and turf war disputes.

Fizz Waller and Ricky Oakley in Red Rose Chain's Much Ado About Nothing Picture: DAVID NEWBORNFizz Waller and Ricky Oakley in Red Rose Chain's Much Ado About Nothing Picture: DAVID NEWBORN

Although, the idea of Mods and Rockers isn't the first one you think of when talking about Romeo and Juliet, Jo says that the setting suits the play very nicely. "It's set on the beach during that period in the late 1960s when there was a lot of gang rivalry and that's the perfect backdrop for Romeo and Juliet. It's something that happened within living memory and people can remember. It happened at many beaches during the summer of 1968 up and down the coast of Britain.

"We set out show on the beach and the Capulets are the rockers and the Montagues are the Mods. Romeo and Mercutio are members of an up-and-coming Mod band. They're not famous but they are starting to be recognised. That's rather lovely because you have got this beautiful bond of friendship between them. I have really enjoyed exploring that aspect of it. There's plenty of Mod-style music and Mercutio is a bit of a psychedelic hippy, the others are more Parka-wearing Mods, but the actors have worked very hard on building up that feeling that these guys are really close friends and understand each other very well. They have working closely musically and they jam and try and be as spontaneous as they can - and it gives Romeo an edge.

"When Romeo goes to the Capulet party and disguises himself as a rocker, he sings that beautiful Sam Cooke song Cupid at the party and that's how he wins Juliet's heart."

Jo Carrick on the set of King Lear in Rendlesham ForestJo Carrick on the set of King Lear in Rendlesham Forest

She said that the 1960s beach location really lends itself to telling the story which was important and it wasn't just a piece of set-dressing. The fateful prologue is delivered as part of a Punch and Judy performance. "It immediately sets the scene. We've got sand in and we've made a beach and we've worked with a real Punch and Judy artist to make the opening of the play very special.

"It's great to start the show with something very lighthearted and fun and the kids are shouting out and getting involved we have commissioned a beautiful new puppet to start show and he's William Shakespeare."

She said that the show starts in daylight and is very bright and breezy and gradually gets darker in tone as dusk and then darkness falls.

Jimmy Grimes and Kirsty Thorpe in Red Rose Chains production of UFO the musical staged in Rendlesham Forest in August 2005Jimmy Grimes and Kirsty Thorpe in Red Rose Chains production of UFO the musical staged in Rendlesham Forest in August 2005

"People know Romeo and Juliet as this tragic love story but the first half is really funny. It's very light, very joyful and its very similar in feel to Much Ado About Nothing."

One of the most enjoyable challenges has been working out how use beach architecture to tell the story. High-rise lifeguard lookout chairs become the balcony outside Juliet's bedroom while promenade beach shelters, designed to protect visitors from wind and rain, serve as the location for Romeo's band practice and eventually The Tomb.

"I was very keen just to use what would be found on a beach to tell the story. It allows everyone to use their imagination and enter into the fun of the performance."

Jack Heydon as Romeo in Red Rose Chain's Shakespeare's classic romance Romeo and Juliet  Photo: Bill JacksonJack Heydon as Romeo in Red Rose Chain's Shakespeare's classic romance Romeo and Juliet Photo: Bill Jackson

Romeo and Juliet is being staged by Red Rose Chain as part of their Theatre in the Forest series at Jimmy's Farm, Wherstead; until August 25.

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