Theatre at Lancaster
Over the past decade the Castle has played host to a variety of theatrical and musical events. The plays have ranged from promenade productions of Shakespeare to a new play by a local author on the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, while musically we have hosted performances ranging from Mozart to our popular Christmas event 'Deck the Hall'; from music by the popular ‘Five In A Bar” to a recital played on traditional medieval instruments. Whether using the stunning backdrop of the Castle's two courtrooms or the chilling darkness of the Old Cells and Hadrian's Tower, these productions have met with both popular and critical acclaim. Hopefully, at the same time, they have also allowed more people to see and appreciate all that the building has to offer.
Ever since our first venture into the world of theatre we have worked closely with local company, Demi-Paradise Productions, under the guidance of professional actor and Castle Guide Steve Tomlin, who writes:
"An ensemble of freelance professional performers and technicians, Demi-Paradise was founded in 2000 in order to produce Shakespeare’s RICHARD II at
RICHARD III, which closes this epic cycle of history plays, was the company’s most recent production, staged in March 2006. Our choice of plays reflect not only the history of the Duchy of Lancaster but also the castle’s age old role as a gaol and law court. MEASURE FOR MEASURE, set in both a court and a prison, did this to perfection in 2001. The connections between Shakespeare, James I and the castle’s infamous Pendle Witch Trial inspired the 2002 production of MACBETH, which proved a true coup de theatre. In 2004 an uplifting interpretation of the neglected ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL demonstrated that bitter/sweet comedy could be realised successfully here too.
Given the physical nature of the playing spaces – which include the dungeons, Hadrian’s Tower, Shire Hall & Crown Court – audience capacity for plays is limited to 60 per performance. The intimate shared experience generated by promenade playing puts the castle itself in the starring role while another key to success (and a core element of our productions) is the integrated use of live music, from instruments to harmonies, which sustains and develops the mood and atmosphere of the drama from scene to scene and from venue to venue.
The company rehearses at night when the building ceases its daily role as crown court and tourist attraction. Run by necessity on a ‘fringe’ or profit share basis all contributors and suppliers get small but assured fees generated by100% box office revenue and sponsorship. Actors invited to work on a production commit to five weeks of rehearsals (unpaid but for travel) and four weeks of performances (paid with travel).
So far 45 Equity members have been showcased in our concerts and plays. Each successive production attracts a growing attendance by potential employers - casters, directors and producers - resulting in greater profile and enhanced work opportunities. Demi-paradise provides an increasingly rare and much needed opportunity to perform in plays from the wider Shakespearian repertoire. Given that an estimated 85% of Equity’s 38, 000 + members are unemployed at any one time this is an effective self help stratagem which can, and does, make a real difference to an individual’s career.
Be an Angel
We acknowledge the generous support our regular sponsors - The Duchy of Lancaster & Graphic Design -and warmly welcome the interest and support of new sponsors, KPMG, The Merchants, Holdens Solicitors and Oglethorpe, Sturton and Gillibrands Solicitors. If you would like more information on future performance plans or would like to support any of our performance projects please contact either myself or Christine Goodier at Shire Hall. We would love to hear from you.” Stephen Tomlin, Producer
Richard III 2006
Richard III On Trial for Murder May 3rd, 4th and 5th 2007
A wonderfully apt follow-up to the success of 2006's production of the Shakespeare play, this is a new piece by Michael S. Bennett which places Richard in the dock accused of the murder of his nephews: The Princes in the Tower. The audience decide guilt or innocence!
Simon Lacy as Richard III
Fiona Paull as Defence Counsel
David Frederickson as Prosecution Counsel
Measure For Measure (2001)
All original production photos courtesy of George Coupe
The cast and crew on their first night of rehearsals for Merchant of Venice, Jan 2010
Yuletide at Lancaster Castle
In association with some of the area’s leading acapella choirs, our actor/readers present an annual concert, Deck the Hall With Boughs of Holly, a celebration of Yuletide in words & music, staged within the Shire Hall itself in the run up to Christmas. We are grateful for the help received from J.Atkinson & Co. Tea and Coffee Specialists of Lancaster, and also to the staff at Williamson Park for so generously allowing us to gather holly from their site
As well as continuing our association with demi-paradise we are also happy to work with other companies. The Function Factory Theatre, based in Nelson, are regular visitors to the Castle with their production of Yvonne Pinnington's original play Cold Light Singing based on the Pendle Witch Trial which took place here in August 1612. To be able to hear the words of the women embroiled in the case, spoken in the dungeons of the Castle, is a prospect that has delighted audiences and breathed new life into an old story.
Our last staging of Cold Light Singing in October 2008, was with the kind support of Moorhouses Brewery
In 2005 we were also very happy to stage three performances, in conjunction with North Face Theatre, of Frank McGuinness's Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, a play based on the plight of the Beirut Hostages, and one which still resonates with timely insight into the problems that face the world today. With the action taking place entirely in the cells, and an audience of just 45, this was an event to remember for the people fortunate enough to experience it.
Opera at the castle
In 2006 we were pleased to offer opera at the castle for the first time, in association with the Heritage Opera Company under the leadership of Chris Gill . Mozart's comic opera Cosi fan Tutti, sung in English and performed in the Shire Hall in costume, delighted audiences with the energy and talent of its young cast, so much so that we were delighted to ask them to return in October for a darker tale of doomed love: Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, followed in 2007 by Puccini's wonderful La Boheme, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and a truly amazing production ot Britten's The Turn of the Screw. In 2008 Heritage Opera returned with The Magic Flute and a double bill: Dido and Aeneas and The Beggar's Opera, while 2009 saw Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore and Trial by Jury followed by The Barber of Seville and Tosca. We were also pleased to be one of the first venues in England to stage the Polish national opera Halka (see review below)
2010 has witnessed stunning productions of Don Giovanni. Madame Butterfly and Die Fledermaus.
Our only production for 2011 was Cosi Fan Tutti at Easter but we hope to stage a full programme in 2012 so please check back in the New year
We hope to continue to offer top-quality musical events, and to showcase more contemporary plays and local talent in the years ahead. Please check our Whats On section regularly for news of these (and other) exciting events
Heritage Opera, Lancaster Castle, October 2009
'You don’t have to go to
, or Salford Quays, or even Leeds Grand, for innovation and excellence in world-class opera. Heritage Opera has shown that the North is more than capable of upstaging the capital and the other British opera companies. An outstanding triumph.'
Michael Nunn, Virtual Lancaster
Deck the Hall
'A very entertaining and different sort of evening proving that adults can genuinely enjoy Christmas in their own way' Lancaster
'...performances of real power and persuasion' Lancashire
'...another theatrical triumph'
Measure for Measure (2003)
'You are seldom likely to experience anything quite so astonishingly authentic...it all comes close to a sensory experience.' Lancashire
Richard III (2006)
'One of the few supremely memorable events -by far- in the forty and more years I have been going to the theatre.'
"A most remarkable and passionately moving production...We are so lucky here in Lancaster to have the building, the local talent and the resources to give us world-class theatre like this"
Michael Nunn Virtual Lancaster
Cosi fan Tutti (2006)
The Times: Top Five Opera
Cold Light Singing (2005)
'Stunning script...an absolute pleasure to watch, emotionally charged and bewitchingly special.'
Someone Who'll Watch Over Me (2005)
"All three actors are compelling to watch in a play that cries out to be seen.' Lancashire
Praise for Heritage Opera
"A rip-roaring success" Music and Vision
"Satisfying and involving" Opera Now
"A first-rate professional performance" Opera Magazine
Richard III- On Trial for Murder
"Producer and director Stephen Tomlin again proves beyond doubt that Lancaster Castle lends itself superbly to theatre adaptations" Lancashire Evening Post May 3rd 2007