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A Venetian Ball – with be-decked revelers, intrigue and romance, and with entertainment by masked performers who play jolly music and show off their acrobatics and clowning..
I was in Venice towards the end of August when I had a call from Charlotte Lloyd-Webber. She was asking about the possibility of creating a troupe of Commedia Dell Arte players for the Christmas opening at Castle Howard this Winter. Would I be interested? I was sitting at the time in a back alley in the Northernmost tip of Venice, hiding from the Summer heat on the crowded streets and waiting to board a boat to the islands of the lagoon with the family. It seemed serendipitous.
We’ve enjoyed working with Castle Howard in the past, including most recently this year as partners in their Skelf narrative around their new Skelf Island play area. We enjoyed hugely the experience of working in the imaginative world of the Skelves whilst bringing our trademark of turning a walk into an adventure. But this offer from Charlotte marked a departure from our usual Rusticus style. Obviously, the answer was yes.
In order to bring the troupe to life, I drew on my background as an actor-musician in the West End, working in outdoor Shakespeare, and even a masked Commedia piece myself for Trading Faces theatre company about 20 years ago.. I also drew on my contacts to help me realise the piece – namely composer Tim Sutton who I worked with on As You Like It at the Wyndhams, West End with Sienna Miller, Helen McCrory and Dominic West, and good friend and mask specialist, Audrie Woodhouse, who trained with Trestle Theatre Company, the go to mask people in the UK. They were both, brilliant.
We are lucky enough to work with terrific actors, who all have their own thing going on as well as working in the Rusticus style and several of them snapped up the opportunity to work on something a wee bit different. It was also possible to bring in some brilliant new performers, all Yorkshire based, whom we knew in a different context, to mix things up a bit.
They’ve worked fantastically hard, bringing with them instrument skills, clowning and mask and a willingness to adapt their style to suit the Rusticus style of engagement and group enjoyment. We’ve been lucky enough to rehearse in a staggeringly beautiful place, made all the more stunning by Charlotte, Adrian and Breta’s designs – and we can’t wait to share the magic with you all this Christmas.
We kick off on Saturday 16 November and the Troupe are in the house every weekend until Christmas. Come and see Castle Howard like you’ve never seen it before, and come and play with us – it’ll be a ball!!