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Theatre in the Forest will premiere Twelfth Night online

PUBLISHED: 19:17 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 19:17 15 July 2020

Theatre in the Forest will be different this year. Twelftth Night will capture the spirit of the event but without an audience Photo: Red Rose Chain

Theatre in the Forest will be different this year. Twelftth Night will capture the spirit of the event but without an audience Photo: Red Rose Chain

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Red Rose Chain’s Theatre in the Forest is not letting lockdown stand in the way of their annual Shakespeare celebration. They are creating a new production of Twelfth Night which will be premiered online.

Remote rehearsals for Twelftth Night, this year's Theatre in the Forest at Home production.  Photo: Red Rose ChainRemote rehearsals for Twelftth Night, this year's Theatre in the Forest at Home production. Photo: Red Rose Chain

Theatre-in-the-Forest is a glorious opportunity for a theatrical knees up. It’s a celebration of creativity, innovation and thinking outside the dressing up box. It’s Shakespeare but Shakespeare with a twist. It’s Shakespeare everyone can enjoy.

For 20 years Red Rose Chain have been creating magic – first in Rendlesham Forest and for the last ten years at Jimmy’s Farm, just outside Ipswich. Artistic director Joanna Carrick is a genuine Shakespeare fan who knows the Bard’s works inside out, which is what gives her the confidence to play with the settings and edit the playscripts with confidence and imagination.

This is not dull, dreary school-room Shakespeare, Theatre in the Forest is fun-filled, action-packed mischievous Shakespeare – Shakespeare you can understand because Jo and the actors give the words meaning.

Shakespeare has long been considered a literary genius but his works are not designed to be read like a novel, they are designed to be performed. They are designed to engage an audience and they can be interpreted in any number of ways.

Remote rehearsals for Twelftth Night, this year's Theatre in the Forest at Home production.  Photo: Red Rose ChainRemote rehearsals for Twelftth Night, this year's Theatre in the Forest at Home production. Photo: Red Rose Chain

This is what gives Theatre in the Forest its distinctive atmosphere. But, the big question on everyone’s lips is: “Can Theatre in the Forest happen this year?”

Happily, according to Jo Carrick, yes it will but not in the usual way. It will be just as creative and imaginative as ever but it just won’t be live in front of an audience.

This year’s production of Twelfth Night is going online and will enjoy an August 1 premiere with everyone joining the theatrical party at home.

Jo said that the company have pooled their collective talents to come up with a show that looks and feels as special as Theatre in the Forest but without the live interaction.

Red Rose Chain are looking to do something different with Theatre in the Forest this year . Photos: Bill JacksonRed Rose Chain are looking to do something different with Theatre in the Forest this year . Photos: Bill Jackson

“We realised quite quickly that it was extremely unlikely that we would be able to do our annual Theatre in the Forest performance and so we started looking around, trying to find ways we could do something different but in a way that would capture the spirit of Theatre-in-the-Forest.

“So, as the government were dragging their heels about making decisions about theatre we felt that we had to make our own decisions, based on what we felt was safe – both for audiences and cast and crew – and reluctantly came to the conclusion that we couldn’t do Theatre in the Forest in the way that we were planning to. There were just too many variables and unknowns and we didn’t know if we could get a cast together to rehearse or whether audiences would want to come and sit together even if they were allowed to.”

However, despite all the difficulties, Jo has pulled an experienced cast of Theatre in the Forest regulars together to film one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies and, in keeping with Theatre in the Forest tradition, Jo is promising that audiences will not have seen it this way before.

“Without giving too much away, you can expect to see everything you love from a Theatre in the Forest show - toe tapping music, laugh out loud comedy and dancing to get you up on your feet!”

Remote rehearsals for Twelftth Night, this year's Theatre in the Forest at Home production.  Photo: Red Rose ChainRemote rehearsals for Twelftth Night, this year's Theatre in the Forest at Home production. Photo: Red Rose Chain

“Fortunately, because we have a lot of experience in film-making, making a digital production of Twelfth Night didn’t feel as daunting as it may have because we, as a team, know how to make films. It’s a good skill to have and has proved to be a huge plus because we have had to scale some huge challenges because everything is being recorded remotely against greenscreens. It’s not simply a case of pointing a camera at the stage version because that just wouldn’t cut it. Our audiences are used to something far mor inventive and visual – so it has been important to think very carefully about what we can do to get the spirit event across.”

One of the major challenges has been assembling a cast that understands Jo’s way of working and what Theatre in the Forest is all about. This was imperative because rehearsals and filming would be carried out remotely and in isolation. So, she has recruited Theatre in the Forest veterans who can communicate with Jo in a specialised shorthand in order get the job done.

Jo explained: “We have sent green screens to our actors houses. These are all people that I have worked with before so I know them really well but not all them have worked with each other. All the rehearsals have been on Zoom and that has worked very well and I have found a way of cutting through the distance and some days we have forgotten that we are remote from one another because the atmosphere has been so good.

“Even with the music we have found ways of being collaborative. Music is difficult on Zoom because of the delay between people – you can’t sing something together – but we have found ways of coping.”

Remote rehearsals for Twelftth Night, this year's Theatre in the Forest at Home production.  Photo: Red Rose ChainRemote rehearsals for Twelftth Night, this year's Theatre in the Forest at Home production. Photo: Red Rose Chain

Planning has been the key to creating a coherent yet socially distanced performance. Everything is rehearsed and recorded in isolation before being assembled in the editing suite by Red Rose’s production guru David Newborn.

“We have posted everything to the actors houses, including the most fabulous hand-painted costumes, and they perform against a green screen. If we have props, then duplicates have to be sent to each actor involved in the scene – it’s logistical nightmare but it’s doable if you think things through.

“While the actors are filming their roles we are all connected on Zoom, so we can all communicate and I can direct what they are doing and then David can take all the footage and drop them into the same scene.

“The whole is meticulous because we are recording one actor at a time and the stitching it all together. It looks fragmented when you are recording it but because of rehearsals and the fact they can hear one another, it cuts together very well. It doesn’t look as if this is being filmed in separate spaces.”

“We are managing to do big group numbers and if an actor is playing more than one part there are appearing twice in a song which is something you couldn’t do on stage. At times it’s really mind-bending.

“Katy Frost, who did the costumes, is a brilliant artist and is drawing some marvellous backgrounds which give that heighten animated ‘cartoon’ feel – a bit like the animated scene in Mary Poppins Returns – and the costumes have been hand-painted so they look as if they are part of this animated world.”

This live streamed, digital version of Twelfth Night, what would have been this year’s Theatre in the Forest, is being broadcast online on Saturday August 1.

The live stream begins at 6pm with Red Rose Chain’s famous pre-show appearances by the actors giving the evening that live feel, with the performance of Twelfth Night at Home beginning at 7.30pm.

Tickets are priced from £10 - £100 and grants one device access to this totally unique experience on the August 1. While all tickets offer the same view, audiences are asked to give what they can, especially if there are a number of people watching. Your ticket money will help secure Red Rose Chain’s future. Tickets are available on the website.


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