Since 2002, Jane Davis, Director of The Reader Organisation, has had many Get Into Reading group members say, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could put on a play?”, a suggestion that, although attractive, was easily resistible. “Just think”, said Jane, “the work! The organisation! The cost!”. However, in 2006 she paid a visit to New York’s Central Park, attending attended the fabled free ‘Shakespeare in the Park’; she was inspired. With Liverpool ‘08 on the horizon and this year also being the National Year of Reading, Jane conceived the idea of bringing Shakespeare to Birkenhead Park. A couple of years later and thanks to many hard-working people, Wirral Community Shakespeare – organised by The Reader Organisation and Aspire Trust – performed five open-air performances of The Winter’s Tale.
The show was an astounding success, thrilling audiences and instilling enormous pride in everyone involved in the project. “Remarkable…a fantastic ensemble piece and great team effort of which all involved should be justifiably proud,” Liverpool Daily Post. Directed by Brookside‘s Neil Caple and starring twenty-eight members of the local community, with Coronation Street‘s Pauline Fleming as Paulina, the cast and crew staged an unforgettable show.
It is estimated that more than 1500 people saw the performances in the “fabulous setting” of Birkenhead Park. Free tickets and huge involvement by the local community – in the cast and crew – plus some big names, meant that The Reader Organisation’s aim to make Shakespeare more accessible to people in the wider community has been realised. Councillor Phil Davies, who attended the performance on Friday evening, said,
I’m sure that the fact that tickets were free encouraged people who may never have read or seen a play by Shakespeare to attend. All in all, it was a great night and I very much hope that other plays and performances can be staged in the park in future years.
A mixture of pleasure, pride and surprise was felt amongst the audience, cast and crew: people didn’t expect something that “great and good” in Birkenhead. “This is important, for Birkenhead and for the park,” said one audience member and another commented, “The park’s only used by dog-walkers and scallies. To see it being used like this is wonderful, like reclaiming it for what it should be used for.”
A volunteer on the refreshment stall, a Get Into Reading group member said, “I’m so impressed by what’s been achieved, a wow for the audience and a truly profound, uplifting experience for the Get Into Reading members involved: double success!”
It’s been a remarkable inaugural year for Wirral Community Shakespeare and we hope, due to an overwhelming amount of positive feedback and support received, that The Winter’s Tale is the first of many open-air productions. One cast member commented, “Many of us are asking ourselves, ‘what are we going to do now after such an intense experience? – we all know we’ll be back next year”.
Posted by Jen Tomkins