Manchester takes lead role in Contact Theatre’s World Shakespeare Festival 2012

By James McLaughlin

William Shakespeare once declared ‘All the World’s a stage’ and Manchester is playing its part in the World Shakespeare Festival 2012.

North West amateur dramatic companies have teamed up with Contact Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company to produce a dramatic extravaganza from May 23 to 26.

The Open Stages festival showcases 20-minute versions of the Bard’s works and writings inspired by them at the theatre on Oxford Road.

Last night, twice National Operatic and Dramatic Association nominated ‘Hand in Hand Theatre Productions’ performed a dinner party gone wrong named ‘After the Dream’.

Hand in Hand’s performance – set 20 years after ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – centres around Demetrius (Keith Simpson) and Helen’s (Phillippa Hipwell) 20th anniversary party.

Their gathering is soured by friends’ Mia (Val Marshall) and Sandy’s (Adrian Davies) bickering while trying to celebrate 20 years since the marriage in the original play.

A family of palm-reading travellers impose themselves on the party with disastrous consequences before Demetrius and Helen’s daughter, Faye (Melanie Smith), arrives.

The travellers, Ron (Mike Lockley), Tanya (Calli Hughes) and Robin (Mark Dawson) cause mayhem with comic effect with many nods not only to the original play but many of his works.

Chemistry oozes between the cast members allowing many strong figures to be built within the tight window and even a cunning twist to boot.

Next up was a more traditional performance of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ condensing another of Shakespeare’s comedies into a bitesize performance.

Portrayed by the York Shakespeare Project, their concentrated Shakespearean shot only involves four cast members – Clive Lyons, Victoria Delaney, Clancy McMullan and Ford Ben Sawyer.

Having run for 12 years, the group took on the roles of Sir John Flastaff (Lyons), Mistress Page (Delaney), Mistress Ford (McMullan) and Ford (Sawyer).

York Shakespeare Project has trimmed the comedy to showcase Falstaff’s lusty pursuit of the two mistresses and Ford’s subsequent jealousy.

Their aim is to produce all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays over 20 years and halfway through this aim, they managed to convey all the necessary humour and plotting within the condensed window.

After a short interval, ‘Yardstick/Big Trip’ took to the stage for a more abstract interpretation of a number of Shakespeare’s works.

Admittedly more immersive and complex than the average theatrical spectacle, their performance ‘A Matter of Time’ delivered a powerful and at times, unnerving, reworking.

Interlaced with Shakespearean passages are commentaries on life as well as ongoing visual performance from the additional cast members, brought to life through cunning lighting effects.

If the opening night’s gambit is anything to go by, the ‘traffic of our stage’ is set to provide some enjoyable interpretations – proving the Bard’s works remain as influential 400 years on.

Tonight sees three workings of Macbeth with tickets available on  or 0161 274 0600.

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