In the week the ongoing heatwave in England has made international headlines and has officially declared a national drought, the Open Bar Theatre Company are visiting Caterham on the Hill’s pub The King And Queen. Not once, but twice. The troupe has split into two groups, one touring Shakespeare’s The Taming Of The Shrew, the other one the nowadays less frequently played The Comedy Of Errors. While this Surrey town has avoided fires and hose bans alike, both evenings spoil visitors with warm evenings amongst this year’s last super-moon for this double bill of Shakespearian comedy.
Most fellow visitors are already looking forward to return here on the weekend before the first show actually starts: The opportunity to tick two shows off from the Shakespeare bucket list (39 plays long as you asked) in one week is clearly welcomed. And the barbecue smells tempting, even for vegetarians, for who options are available. No one seems to miss the table service provide in the last two years during the performances. Raised hands on both nights prove that most folks in the audience are indeed returning visitors – thespians or not, jokes about the amount of alcohol consumed in the audience are scheduled for both shows and lead to roaring laughter. Open Bar’s mission to democratise Shakespeare’s oeuvre works once again. By now a personal British summer staple for me, the tours lead once again through Fuller’s pub gardens across the country. And if venues do not have a garden big enough to stage performances while seating an audience, the parking area will do as done here previously.
The Taming Of Shrew takes us with candy-coloured pairs of suspenders, outdoor furniture, fitbits and – of course – ukuleles to Italy where a whole range of suiters busy themselves winning the attention of two rich sisters: One because she is desired, pretty and provides a good dowry, the older one because she needs to get married before her younger sister may be wed off. The obviously outdated values transported regarding courting, marriages and women in general do not deny this 1500s play its accessibility, and the four head cast, covering all roles masterfully, simultaneously and ironically, are on fire. Without doubt, so are those audience members selected to join on stage.
The Comedy Of Errors (about not one but two pairs of twins being separated in early childhood) is slightly more difficult to follow, more wordy and less linear. The program claims modestly “pretty confusing, even for Shakespeare” and so we all benefit far more from unplanned improvisations, audience participation and embedded songs, especially those summarising what just happened. But any criticism addresses the aging of the Bard’s text and narrative structure, not the crew – first time goers tonight compliment particularly founder and producers Vicky Gaskin’s performance as an abbess (also playing Dromio of Syracuse and Dr Pinch tonight) with spontaneous applause. Dragonflies accompany the sunset behind the stage and… has this been a shooting star high up in the evening sky? Another summer dream achieved, folks.
**** out of 5 stars
Directed and produced by Open Bar Theatre Company’s founders Nicky Diss and Vickey Gaskin
Both tours continued through this summer and are hopefully back in 2023.