Castle Theatre Company’s summer Shakespeare Tour is an annual tradition going back decades at Durham. Every year, a group of student actors, musicians and creatives, prepare a Shakespeare comedy and take it on tour, performing it at venues around the south of England in July. While affiliated with University College, the team is made up of students from across the University, studying a range of subjects and based in different colleges.
Sadly, 2019’s tour of The Taming of the Shrew was cancelled by a certain pandemic – I’d spent months contacting venues, arranging travels plans and so on, and we had just appointed a cast when the first lockdown was announced. By the summer, it still wasn’t safe to perform. This year, we’ve been working on the tour throughout the pandemic, which means that most of the preparation has been carried out remotely. Rehearsals have been largely outside, or indoors with everyone wearing masks, and following social distancing guidelines.
Celebrating Shakespeare’s comedy heroines
This year’s show is All’s Well That Ends Well – it’s a lesser-known but charming Shakespeare comedy, that follows a determined heroine on her quest for love. It tells the story of low-born Helena, who is madly in love with the noble Count Bertram, but he won’t take a second look at her. When she saves the King of France’s life, he offers Helena anything she desires in return – she asks for Bertram’s hand in marriage. Horrified, Bertram flees to fight in the war, and refuses to love Helena until she can take the ring from his finger. Meanwhile, Bertram’s boastful friend Parolles, is tricked by his fellow soldiers, who have had enough of his behaviour. Can Helena fulfil Bertram’s demands and persuade him to love her after all?
It’s a story of working hard to reach one’s goals, and, interestingly, a story of female friendship. In most Shakespeare comedies, the female characters are conspired against, or are passive figures in a courtship plot – in All’s Well, Helena and her female friends define the action, as they work together to play a trick on Bertram. There’s also plenty of room for slapstick comedy and hilarity in the play, featuring the sub-plot of the foolish Parolles who is the victim of a practical joke. Our actors have brought this story to life with energy and enthusiasm, including original music, dance routines, and 1930s period costumes.
Hitting the road
The tour itself sounds glamorous, but it’s very much done in a student style – no tour buses or hotels for us, instead we’ll be travelling around the country in our own cars, camping over at various venues. Performances will be taking place outdoors, with audiences sitting in socially-distanced groups, at well-known sites around the country, including Tewkesbury Abbey, Childerley Hall, and Mapperton House (home to the Earl and Countess of Sandwich!).
Getting involved in the annual tour is open to any current Durham University students, so next term look out for production team and audition opportunities!
Find out more and book tickets
Read more about Student Theatre at Durham