Dr David Crilly describes himself to me as “a musician from Liverpool”. His first brush with The Bard was as a post graduate student of musicology at Oxford University when a friend asked him to be Musical Director for a student production of “The Taming of the Shrew”. While David was happy with the incidental music he composed, he was distinctly underwhelmed by the production and reckoned that he could definitely do better himself! Without further ado, bolstered by the insouciance of youth and undaunted by his lack of experience in the producing/directing department, he appointed himself Artistic Director, put an advertisement in “The Stage” newspaper and set about casting “Macbeth”. And so it began ….
…. Now in its 31st year, the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival holds 4th position in The Independent’s Top 50 UK Arts Festivals and attracts upwards of 25,000 visitors a year, from all over the world.
This summer, the Festival runs from 9 July to 25 August, bringing its open air productions to the stunning and intimate surroundings of private College gardens which the public can’t normally access. Heck, even the College students can’t access some of these! Think the Fellows’ Gardens at King’s College and Trinity College and the Scholar’s Garden at St John’s, all of them hidden gems. This year’s programme includes crowd pleasers “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Macbeth” alongside plays such as “Cymbeline” and “Pericles” which are perhaps less well known.
The actors perform in full period costume and there is live Elizabethan music. This is Shakespeare without gimmicks … in the magical atmosphere of the gardens, with the light changing as the sun goes down, David creates productions that everybody can enjoy whether they’re familiar with Shakespeare or not.
Festival prep begins in February as David starts to audition professional actors to build a company. Each actor appears in two plays so the rehearsal period during June is intense with 12 hour days. And once July’s plays are under way, the cast rehearses the August plays during the day. Inevitably, the company (who lodge in College accommodation) becomes a very tight unit. Along the way this has led, rather romantically, to 11 marriages!
It’s over thirty years since David appointed himself Artistic Director and founded this Festival. Since then, he’s developed a linked programme of educational events for students of all ages. He composes and conducts, writes and publishes, researches and lectures here and overseas.
Each of the 8 plays in this year’s programme holds one charity matinee performance at 2pm, raising funds for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices and St John’s Hospice on the Wirral, in memory of David’s sister. Tickets are only available on the door for these performances and you need to pay with cash as every penny raised goes to the charities. Funds raised over the years come to £89,650 so far and David hopes to hit £100,000 this year.
All performances start at 7.30pm but you can arrive in the beautiful College grounds to enjoy your picnic from 6.30pm. Mulled wine is served in the interval and children of all ages are welcome. You can buy tickets and season tickets in advance through the Festival website but there are always tickets for sale for every performance on the door too.
These productions take place at multiple venues across the city.