Cambridgeshire, Summer 2008.

Michael Grosvenor Myer

Michael Grosvenor Myer. "Cambridgeshire, Summer 2008.". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.2/Special Issue 17 (September, 2008) 15.1-5 <URL:>.

  1. There are, as you will imagine, stages available around Cambridge which give a wonderful sense, when designed and costumed appropriately, of the characters moving about in their natural environment. I am always greatly disappointed when a production in the beautiful half-timbered Cloister Court at Queens', say, has a crass, smartarse director who will play it modern, or Victorian,or thirties, or even, like one Dream I recall from many years back, Fragonard. What a waste of a perfect setting. One of the things I enjoyed about that rare Hvi3 I praised here a few years ago was that the characters seemed to belong in Trinity Great Hall.

  2. Another such venue is the courtyard of the George Hotel, up the A14 in Huntingdon, reputedly once the home of the grandfather of Oliver Cromwell who was a son of the town. It has fine grey stone walls and a perfect sixteenth-century gallery at one end (even more perfect, for those who know Cambridge, than the famous one at The Eagle in Bene't Street — where, in a later period [to whit 1953], the discovery of the DNA molecule at the Cavendish Laboratory just over the road was first mentioned in the bar one lunchtime by Crick & Watson: forgive irrelevance please; but who could write of The Eagle without mentioning that?).

  3. Sorry about that. Back to Huntingdon. Shakespeare At The George, an annual production, will celebrate its half-centenary next year. I hadn't been before — not sure why, as my house is about equidistant from Cambridge and Huntingdon. But I was gratified to find that John Shippey, this year's director of The Winter's Tale, with his designer Hilary Kemp, had taken pains to make their design appropriate to this perfect setting: not only in the costuming, but in the Elizabethan-style use of banners to symbolise place — cold and abstract for Sicilia, turning round to reveal a pastoral backdrop lurking behind colourful designs for Bohemia. And, mercifully, none of the other otiose block'n'tackle which cumber up and slow down so many productions by having to be lumbered about between scenes.

  4. This was a well thought out version in every way, in fact. Local folk musicians Ruth and Robert Bramley and Roy Belass had taught the countryfolk appropriate songs to sing on entering and leaving, and played beautifully on hurdy-gurdy, recorders and guitar for the courtly and the country dances which set the contrasting atmospheres; but, as in everything here, with exemplary moderation and restraint, and without, as again so often happens, going on and on till one had had enough.

  5. Above all, Mr Shippey was blessed in his company. The long tradition of this annual production makes it one in which all the best of local actors strive to participate, and a director can choose experienced actors who know the plays, understand the words, and can speak the lines. Richard Brown's neurotic Leontes was particularly strong, in both breakdown scenes and remorse. Paulina and Antigonus (Stephanie Hamer and Derrick Scothern) had just the right degree of vehemence and troubled dignity. Phil Cox nicely contrasted a convincing conman of an Autolycus with a matter-of-factly venal Gaoler. Stephanie Winiecki and Danny Haslop were charming young lovers, and Susan Painter pulled off the feat of being an Old Shepherdess instead of an Old Shepherd without one's being unduly worried by it. And for once the Bear was both sufficiently scary and sufficiently comic to mark that vital break between court-and-country, political-and-pastoral. Rumour had it that it was actually Bramley-the-Recorders hidden in there. I wouldn't know!

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at

© 2008-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).