Worthing's outdoor Shakespeare tradition

So what's the secret behind putting on nearly two decades of open-air Shakespeare in Worthing?

Nick Young
Nick Young

“Stupidity and a belief in what we are doing!” laughs Nick Young, whose Rainbow Shakespeare will be in action once again this year.

They are back at Highdown Gardens this summer with A Midsummer Night’s Dream from July 11-16 and The Merchant of Venice from July 18-23. Performances will start at 7.30pm, with picnickers invited to arrive from 6.15pm. There will be matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm.

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Over the past eighteen years, Rainbow Shakespeare has built enthusiastic audiences of supporters of all ages who love the fact they can enjoy understandable, exciting and entertaining productions of the Bard in the most magical of settings.

For Nick, the point is that this is non-gimmick Shakespeare : “Shakespeare has always been the love of my life. So many people, put off Shakespeare at school or having been confused watching modern productions, think that they will not understand Shakespeare. Well, we’ll change their minds!

“We just want people to be inspired and to enjoy the plays. I know that magic means power, and the magic empowers people to say things like they never realised Shakespeare could be so understandable and so amusing, and they realise that to see it without gimmicks is just wonderful. The last time we did A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a little boy said to his mother ‘Mummy, did Shakespeare write any more plays like that?’ That’s wonderful. That’s what it is all about. And now we are doing The Merchant of Venice as well. I have only ever done it once before, but I realised I missed so much. It’s an exciting play, and it has got a lot of humour and it has also got a nice romance, but it builds it all up layer on layer. You have got justice and mercy, and you have got to balance it out. And because we interact so much with the audience, the lovely thing is that each member of the audience feels that they are at a very special performance that is unique to them.

“We are doing things an interesting way this year. We usually do the comedy first, but this year we are doing it second. I knew I wanted to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We hadn’t done if for about 11 years. It is the ideal play for introducing young children to Shakespeare and also for reintroducing to Shakespeare those people that were put off at school. The point is that once you do it properly, you realise that Shakespeare is so easy to understand. I had wonderful experiences growing up, going up to the Old Vic. It’s not about the director saying ‘OK, let’s make this a lesbian or gay production.’”

And that’s what Nick means by gimmick: “If you are a director and you are wanting to make your mark, you put a gimmick into it. I remember a Lear at Chichester a few years ago, and they dressed the entire company up in black and grey. By the interval, no one knew who was who. It all just melted into one grey-and-black merge.”

Nick suspects this is the kind of thing which happens when a director doesn’t trust the text. And that often happens when actors don’t actually understand the text.

“Shakespeare builds in certain rules and techniques that you have to know, for instance that when two lines both start with the same letter, those are the words that you have to emphasise. And I always tell my actors not to breathe on the commas!”

Tickets at the gate or on 01903 206206.

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