TAKE a warm and sunny summer evening, followed by a starry night.
Add the imposing sight of Stafford Castle, silhouetted against a velvety sky.
Mix in an appreciative and enthusiastic audience in picnic and party mood.
And top it off with one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies, delivered by a multi-talented cast at the peak of their form.
The result: a resounding triumph for Stafford Festival Shakespeare.
This year’s production of As You Like It has to be one of the best yet from the Gatehouse Theatre’s team.
And while summer sunshine may not be guaranteed for every performance, nothing short of a monsoon should prevent you from heading to the Castle for a brilliant evening’s entertainment.
Many of the cast, such as the redoubtable Eric Potts, are familiar faces from previous productions. And this is definitely a plus.
As You Like It is a real ensemble piece, and the cast come across as thoroughly comfortable and at ease with each other, drawing each other out, helping each other shine and proving that the whole really is more than the sum of the parts.
The story features Shakespeare’s comic staples - disguises, mistaken identities, banishments and family feuds, with everyone married off happily at the end and all the loose ends tied up suspiciously neatly.
But who cares if it all makes sense, when it is such a comedic romp, particularly when updated to a 1960’s summer of love, and with a backdrop featuring possibly the world’s first hippie milk float.
We have a fine Rosalind in Georgina White - feisty, outspoken and reckless - and well matched in a passionate Orlando (Tom Radford), who also drew appreciative gasps from the audience when he stripped of for the wrestling scene.
Graham Kent, as Duke Frederick, is also a strong presence carrying the story forward. Mind you, dressed in hippie florals and with straggling grey hair, there were times when he was the spitting image of Top Gear’s James May.
And no one can do melancholy tinged with pomposity like John Challis, playing Jacques. He had the difficult task of delivering some of Shakespeare’s best known speeches - the seven ages of man, and ‘all the world’s a stage’ yet managed to make them sound fresh and unexpected.
Meanwhile Eric Potts as Touchstone and Shirley Darroch as Audrey proved to be a comedy marriage made in heaven, with some of the best clowning of the night.
However, it is invidious to single out individuals when this was such a splendid team effort of acting, musicianship and staging. Buy a ticket immediately!