The Taming of the Shrew - 2015

Lackham House provides the perfect setting for Shakespeare Live’s upbeat production of the Taming of the Shrew, one of The Bard’s best known comedies.
Under Pat Cannings’ creative direction, the play is updated to the England of 1913 and the headstrong Katherina (now Kate) is a suffragette with Petruccio her arrogant, potential soldier suitor.

Fast-paced and bursting with energy, Shakespeare Live does not disappoint with yet another highly professional offering. From the moment the play opens with the marching, banner-waving suffragettes, we sense we are in for a treat.
Harriet Bridger, as the feisty, never-to-be-tamed Kate, and Chris Constantine, as Petruchio, are simply superb. A perfect pairing, they spar wonderfully and provide comedic moments throughout the play.
Lucy Long, as younger sister Bianca, is also excellent and the competitive sibling rivalry between Bianca and Kate is a joy to watch, with many laugh-out-loud moments. Graham Paton delivers a polished and professional performance as Baptista Minola, portraying Kate’s father with suitable gravitas as befits a man of his social standing.
Rod Moor Bardell is beautifully bawdy as Grumio, Petruchio’s servant, and is a splendid foil to his swaggering, pompous master, while Lucentio (Nic Proud) and Tranio (Ashley Spiers) make a wonderful double act, timing some of the play’s funniest moments to perfection. There are other strong performances from Mike Taylor as Gremio and Colin Jackson as Hortensio.
As an added bonus, the audience is also treated to live music, with Tom Corbishley as the wedding singer, complete with ukelele.

Pat Cannings uses Lackham House and its three-tiered garden to wonderful effect – visually it is a joy. Her production is a glorious, strong, talented ensemble piece, from the non-speaking characters strolling in the background to the main leads enthralling us with their antics in the foreground.

Pack a picnic, chill the Pimms and indulge yourself in a fabulously fun evening!

Jude Bucklow

The Comedy of Errors - 2013

Shakespeare Live brought the fun out of Shakespeare’s shortest play on their opening night.

The play, one of Shakespeare’s first, revolves around the antics of two identical sets of twins who share the same names, but were separated at an early age by a tragic shipwreck.

Two wealthy masters, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, own two slaves both named Dromio, which causes confusion when they both end up in the same place.

Tempers run high when masters and slaves are mistaken for each other and when Adriana, the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus, has dinner with the wrong brother, locking the door on her own husband.

The cast brought the flavour of Middle Eastern Turkey to the stage with colourful costumes, bazaar music and marketplace scenes with additional characters bustling back and forth.

They interpreted the play brilliantly and never missed an opportunity for comedy. Steve Sprosson and Rod Moor-Bardell, who played the two Dromio brothers, made the audience chuckle as they ran back and forth trying to fulfil their master’s requests.

Nic Proud and Elliot Davis, who played the two Antipholus brothers, also made the most of slapstick and farce, pulling frequent looks of outrage and confusion.

Although Shakespeare Live bills itself as an amateur theatre company, this performance had a professional edge. The whole play was fast paced, easy to understand, and thoroughly entertaining throughout.

Lackham House provided a splendid backdrop for the play, which took place outdoors with a covered stand for audience members, and plenty of people used the occasion to come early and enjoy a picnic on the lawn.

Anne Moore - Wiltshire Times

Hamlet - 2011

In recent years there have been madder Hamlets (Mark Rylance), wittier Hamlets (David Tennant), more desperate Hamlets (Ben Whishaw), and more spiritual Hamlets (Simon Russell Beale).

But Matt Nation, who confesses to moments of physical and emotional exhaustion playing the role of Hamlet during rehearsals, joins the modern pantheon of spellbinding sweet princes with a performance of raw vulnerability and emotional openness.

Looking younger than his 38 years, he is a modern student prince, dressed in black, often kneeling, crawling, lying prostate on the lawn or sitting on the ground with dark sock on his hand muttering to himself.

From the opening soliloquy he gives the impression of a young man floored by grief and confusion. Like most depressives, he yearns only for oblivion. And then his father's ghost tells him that he has to act, rather than wallow in misery, and the strain often becomes intolerable.

Nation's boyish Hamlet is often on the brink of tears, but there is also no mistaking the intelligence of his mind or the nobility of his heart as he confides in the audience in soliloquies that allow us to follow every fleeting thought, every quicksilver change of mood.

In the closet scene, when he confronts Gertrude with her sins, the Oedipal anguish between mother and son is almost too raw as he stands astride her and with venomous spittle, decries her sexual shame.

Yet in the great last act, Nation's Hamlet seems transformed as the turmoil in his mind is replaced by acceptance and a deeply moving sense of spiritual serenity. There are moments when he seems to be skating on the surface of the role rather than digging deep, but this is already a deeply moving, wittily spoken Hamlet in command of the liquid tomes flowing from his lucid tongue.

This Shakespeare Live production is set outdoors (a production challenge if ever there was one) and yet Director Rod Moor-Bardell's gripping, accessible production strikes me as the ideal introduction to Shakespeares greatest of all plays.

Moor-Bardell and Graham Paton (Assistant Director) seize on the fact that Hamlet is an absolutely cracking psychological thriller, and his First World War staging, set in the gardens of Lackham House give it a period feel which is comfortable viewing yet an intense gripping portrayal of a man obsessed with his own demons.

Graham Paton gives a thrilling masterclass in Shakespearean verse-speaking as the Ghost of King Hamlet. Paul Batson captures both the humour and the mealy mouthed spirit of Polonius, Jude Bucklow movingly captures the wracked anguish of Gertrude and Alexandra Evans is simply the sweetest, prettiest maddest most pitifully vulnerable Ophelia I've seen in a long while. The Grave Diggers scene brought some black comedy relief from Jeremy Reece and Colin Jackson.

This entertaining production was a delight to watch in a setting taking you into another world. We came away with smiles on our faces and plenty to talk about. Where do Shakespeare Live go next time? Its their 22nd Year in existence raising money for charity as well as raising spirits of its local community.It does beg the question... to be or not to be...

DeafboyOne - Venue Magazine

All's Well That Ends Well - 2008

It's perishing cold for July and I open my programme with numb hands to bone up on the unfamiliar plot. I suppose the title is a bit of a giveaway. Rest assured, it'll be all right on the night.

The notes tell us this is a "problem play". It was thought "indelicate" (oh, goody) and was not performed for hundreds of years.

This Helena is an intelligent, charming young woman, but how could she chuck herself at a surly bratling like Bertram, especially when the newly-reinvigorated King of France seemed such a nice man? And what was all that blessed palaver about honour, virginity, rings and "the bed trick"?

On balance though it's a case of "All's Well That Acts Well". The fire and energy of a cast of troopers keep Christine Partington's clear and vigorous production from descent into a sodden morass.

There is some cracking good acting. Along with the excellent Sarah Davis and Nic Proud as the problem pair Helena and Bertram, there are delightful performances, notably from the gracious Countess (Lesley Langley) and the strutting Parolles (Matt Nation).

It's a team where even the smallest speaking parts have well-fleshed characters and dramatic effect. Of course, the large stage area gets the usual Hazelbury parade consisting of dozens of extras, but thanks to a welcome "less is more" style and bold costumes designed by Maggi Harley, all the dancing and the drumbeats have a clear role. Shakespeare Live audiences have come to expect cordial interaction with these familiar company members.

Whatever the play, the regulars have become friends: Paul Batson as Lavache, Brian Cassidy as the Jester, Graham Paton as the King of France, David Wood as the poor old councillor, and not forgetting Jenny Riddle, Pat Cannings and Sallie Furness in a hysterical trio of virginity enthusiasts. They and several others all drew laughter and much-needed warmth in these challenging conditions. Whatever the skies chuck at this brave band, they deserve a cheer.

Sue Le Blond, Wiltshire Times

A Midsummer Night's Dream - 2007

"...this rollicking outdoor performance which focussed on the farcical elements of the Bard's comedy. Some of the most funny sketches were in the play within a play by the country yokels - a toy dog cocking its leg, a character apparently relieving himself and a hilarious sequence involving a sword thrust between Bottom's legs.

This was a production in which the acting as a whole was strong. The unfortunate Helena (Sarah Davis) used her facial expressions to good effect, emphasising her gawkiness, her unflattering glasses and hairstyle. Hermia (Amanda Merchant) worked well as her rival and friend, and their set piece fight captured the raw hell of teenage girls scrapping.
The two male rivals Lysander (Matt Nation) and Demetrius (Nic Proud) were also well matched, generating much mirth as they accidentally kissed each other. Puck (Harriet D'arcy-Kent) was wonderful, getting up to mischief and mixing potions with glee. Her Essex-girl accent added to the comic effect..."

Diana Deal - Gazette & Herald

As You Like It - 2006

"A soft summer evening in the garden of an ancient stone manor house on a hilltop near Box . . . green lawns . . . magical topiary . . . a picnic among the gorgeously scented flower borders . . . and a Shakespearean comedy.

The gardens of Hazelbury Manor are an eloquent backdrop for a play where courtiers are exiled to the country and revel in nature while imposing on it their own fantasies. Shakespeare Live makes Shakespeare almost as topical (and as funny) as when the elderly Elizabeth I danced her final shaky steps across the world stage.

Paul Batson as a Cockney Touchstone made the Tudor jokes fresh for a modern audience. The warmth and wit of Sallie Furness' Celia was a perfect foil for Madeleine Clague's glowing, free-spirited Rosalind: their schoolgirl devilry a pleasure to watch. Gareth Williams was sinister as the choleric, paranoid Duke Frederick. Graham Paton was powerful as Jaques, the cynical outsider, with Steven Sprosson a loveable Orlando. Amanda Merchant's Phoebe brightened the stage and made us laugh.

Most enjoyable of all were the pastoral vignettes, the dalliances in the shrubbery between courtiers and rustics: the pantomimes of love. No one lost focus; everyone stayed in character and everyone was valued."

Angela Goodman - Bath Chronicle

Romeo & Juliet - 2003

"This is how Shakespeare should be done. In the delicious setting of Box's Hazelbury Manor, this open air performance of Romeo and Juliet is perfectly placed, with lavish costumes and a full cast, weaving in and out of conifers and arches, creating the true magic of a Veronian summer's evening."

"Directors Pat Cannings and Graham Paton have captured the bawdy lustiness of the play, which spills into the delivery of the lines by the cast."

Abby Ray - The Bath Chronicle

Richard II - 2001

"Brilliant. Don't miss this splendid piece of drama"

"One of the many surprises of this refreshing take on the play was the humour extracted from the character of poor old York and his menage - his melodramatic duchess and their unsteady son Aumerle. It was fun to see the dour Bolingbroke break into a smile as all three hung - almost literally - on his lips."

"The triumph of the evening, thanks to Adrian Philpott's complex and intelligent performance, is to set one thinking about the whole nature of monarchy."

Sue Le Blond - Chippenham News

The Merry Wives - 2000

"For, of course, open-air Shakespeare is not just about sipping champagne and eating smoked salmon as the sun sets and the shadows lengthen. It is about shared experience, taking part whatever the elements may hurl at us and enjoying what is without doubt one of England's great artistic pleasures."

"How the women took their revenge is very, very funny and probably never funnier than in the hands of Shakespeare Live."

Chris Hansford - Bath Chronicle

The Tempest - 1999

"As if by magic, warm sunshire replaced rain just in time on Monday, and the The Tempest, Shakespeare Lives eleventh production, attained the high standards the audience have come to expect from this talented amateur company which draws actors and audiences from a wide area."

Stella Taylor - Gazette & Herald