Pendley Shakespeare Festival’s landmark anniversary will take the tradition back to its roots

The artistic director behind the Pendley Shakespeare Festival’s highly successful 64th year says she is looking forward to bringing the tradition back to its roots in 2014.

Sarah Branston, whose parents have also been heavily involved in the annual Tring event over the years, is looking forward to ushering in a new era more similar to festival founder Dorian Williams’ original vision.

As the 2013 event draws to a close, she will begin working with producer William Edwards, who debuted in the role this year, to create more educational opportunities for next year’s two-week Bard bonanza.

She said of the latest performances, which included As You Like It from August 6 to 10, and Love’s Labour’s Lost this week: “What has been delightful this year is, for the first time ever, we have managed to get the same company of actors to work almost like in one of the old rep theatre systems. They rehearsed both plays in a ridiculously short time over 10 days and performed them back to back.

“It has been really exciting welcoming two directors who have been completely different. Gemma Colclough who directed As You Like It was very willing to leave her actors to make creative choices themselves. Peter Broad who directed Love’s Labour’s Lost has a wealth of knowledge. He used to be an actor and then retrained as a teacher so his passion and his obsession is language. The company here came from Gemma’s dramatic, playful experience to Peter being very demanding and very prescriptive about language. It has been a really interesting combination.”

Sarah, whose introductory ‘vital health and safety announcements’ are becoming as much a part of the tradition as Pendley Manor Hotel itself, says neither play this year was particularly better than the other, despite such different interpretations of Shakespeare’s original words.

She said: “I hope the actors have had a very interesting two weeks in terms of taking their knowledge on to further jobs.”

Part of the reason behind wanting to rejuvenate the festival next year, in part by introducing academic lectures alongside the plays, is the fact it is a landmark anniversary. She said: “We are looking to develop next year because we have a wealth of theatrical and Shakespeare knowledge, and our core audience are phenomenally bright, brilliant, intelligent, cultured people who actually come because they want to listen to the words.

“Will [Edwards] and I are going to try to add quite a lot more educational opportunities for the audience – making links with undergraduates and universities, trying to get people studying English literature involved.

“We need to tap into those people who clearly have an obsession with Shakespeare and try to get them into this amazing venue to celebrate his work.

“Founder Dorian Williams started the festival to encourage adult learning. It will be really lovely to get the festival in its 65th year back to its roots. It is all developing in quite an interesting way and I hope 2014 will be an exciting year.”

Read about reporter Victoria Bull’s experience of As You Like It in this week’s Gazette or by clicking here. Look out for Becca Choules’ write-up of Love’s Labour’s Lost next week.