The British Summer, with its delights and vagaries, so far this year it seems to have been reasonable kind to us. With lots of sunshine along with the odd heat-wave, and most of us have been able to enjoy something of a “staycation” if we so wish to. Barbecue's, festivals and beach days are all part of the fun come rain or shine and we are lucky enough to host some world renowned events here in the UK. Glastonbury enjoyed one of the sunniest weekends in the festivals history and fingers Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, which runs throughout August, will see some sun.
Apart from music festivals there is another Great British Summer outdoor event that we staunch Brits just love to challenge ourselves with: I am, naturally, talking about the outdoor theatre experience. We all know about the famous Regents Park productions of Shakespeare and I do believe that Hampstead Heath likes to give the Bard a go. Down here in the Southern Home Counties we are most fortunate to have the delights of The Rude Mechanicals Touring Theatre Company, who perform to small audiences in village locations around Kent and Sussex – occasionally venturing down to the West Country – with their original, and funny, scripted plays, usually loosely based on a Shakespearian theme. The Rudes performances are centred on the theatre tradition of Commedia dell’Arte, a genre born in Italy sometime during the Renaissance, spreading throughout Europe and reaching its popularity in the 16th & 17th Century. It’s a style of theatre that never took hold in the UK, but its comedy/pathos influences can be seen in such Situation Comedy Shows as “Steptoe and Son”, “Dad’s Army” and, more recently, “Gavin and Stacey”. It’s a masked theatre, but the Rudes use White-Face Make-up, and there are no props; seriously, no props! The actors mime all the props and produce all their own sound effects: I know, it sounds down-right weird and I thought that myself when I was initially invited to watch a performance. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong and the first show I witnessed was a delight from start to finish. I’ve been going to performances for 4 years now, sometimes twice a season, and I cannot recommend the Rudes more highly – well worth braving the coolth of an English Summer.
So just how do you cope with the unpredictability of our lovely weather in these situations? When it comes to the Rudes, you get a full refund if the production is called off due to rain, and free tickets if the performance has to be abandoned: but what about the cold? Take this year; the evening started off beautifully, yet I knew, come sundown, the dew would start to fall and the temperatures to plummet. Shorts and Tee-Shirts see me through the pre-production picnic, and from then on my cunning plan comes into play – a cunning plan finely honed during a May visit to an Alfie Boe Concert in the grounds of Studely Castle. Out comes my well-packed, trusty leather hold-all: a pair of jeans go over my TikiBoo shorts (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, all you Fitness Bunnies out there, look it up – you’ll be amazed!) then a cotton sweater and my trusty fleece go over my Tee. That sees me through to the interval. Before the start of the second half I put on my padded, quilted, furry-hooded gilet and finally my windproof walking jacket; the picnic blanket drapes over my folding chair, thus keeping my rear nice and warm and a woolly blankie ensures my knees don’t freeze over: I’m as snug as a bug in a rug, and am able to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the performance. My friends suggested they bring me along in a bath chair next time!Seriously, though, do give the Rudes a go. Sadly, for this year, they’ve almost finished their tour, but there’s always next year and you could all do an awful lot worse than spend a thoroughly enjoyable evening, supporting a supremely talented, and much underfunded, theatre group.