COME AND JOIN US: Ophelia (Kennedy Page) leads a member of the audience to the stage
COME AND JOIN US: Ophelia (Kennedy Page) leads a member of the audience to the stage

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
The Castle Players
The Bowes Museum

SATURDAY'S performance of this romp through the 37 plays of England's Bard was a big day, and not just for the Castle Players.
While the Players have endured months of stage inactivity, those of us on the other side have been starved of our fix of live entertainment.
I had tickets to see singer Elles Bailey at the Sage, in Gateshead, on March 17, last year. It was cancelled at the last minute as the scale of the pandemic was becoming evident and since then... nothing.
I suspect I was not alone in delighting in the simple act of turning up to be entertained. It was a sell-out and word had reached that the previous evening’s show at Mickleton had gone down a storm. We were ready.
The show, a comedy, was written as a three-hander and spent nine years delighting audiences in the West End.
The Players took a different approach, employing a cast of 18. While not detracting from the show, it did mean quite a lot of simply sitting around for some of them.
It was a nice set up. The pandemic had caused theatres to shut as the travelling players looked for a venue at which to perform.
Fortunately, for them and us, permission was granted, masks were torn off and it was on with the show.
We were treated to Romeo and Juliet in 12 minutes, complete with Peter Cockerill channelling his best Blackadder/Peter Cook/Monty Python for a comedy breasts skit; Titus Andronicus as a cooking show – the Gory Gourmet – and Othello performed as a rap, which was quite the sight.
Sixteen comedies were merged into “one big lump of hilarity” and the “Scottish” play was all tartan and ginger wigs.
The show breezed along nicely for an hour or so, raising plenty of chuckles among the audience.
And then we got to Hamlet. I’m sure many loved the dissection of Ophelia's mind and there was plenty of audience participation.
But in the words of the closing song: “I never understood a blinking word.”
I found it completely incomprehensible, not helped by the fact that I was having difficulty hearing quite a bit of what was being said.
With such a wide performance area I really found it difficult to hear some of those whose projection was not as strong as others, especially when the action moved away from where I was seated.
The actors also had to compete with a generator at the back of The Bowes Museum and the occasional emergency services siren.
All this notwithstanding, overall, it was an enjoyable journey through the works of Shakespeare and the Players deserve every credit for getting the show together at such short notice.
As with all sketch shows – which is essentially what this is – some worked better than others and everyone will take home their own particular favourite.
There was plenty of energy on stage, none more so than Peter Cockerill, who took on a variety of roles, along with Janie Caldbeck and Sarah Fells as Romeo and Juliet.
Kennedy Page gave it her all as Ophelia and Nic Worsnop was delightful as a “difficult” actor, while Trudi Dixon and Ian Kirkbride dominated the stage whenever they were called on.
Hopefully, from now on, normal service will be resumed. Three one-act plays by Alan Bennett are planned for November and a winter tour of Pygmalion is scheduled for the new year. The Comedy of Errors, which has been postponed for two summers, is now slated for July 2022.
Plenty to look forward to.