The Knight From Nowhere/The Bells
by Andrew Shepherd
Every time we come to play in Park Theatre we try to set a challenge for ourselves in Park 90. For Much Ado it was making it smell like Christmas and a 10 foot tree. For Hamlet it was a disappearing ghost. This year we are recreating the most famous melodrama in Victorian Theatre originally staged for around a capacity of 2000 in a studio space for 90...and it has not been without its challenges and detractors.
We are in our final week mounting a Victorian double bill of The Knight from Nowhere - a new show about the life of Sir Henry Irving and the play that made his name The Bells - recreated using his original script and stage directions.
We could have gone down the easy route and stuck with just the story of Irving - it’s a cracking tale that rattles along featuring a host of well-known characters from theatre history - Ellen Terry, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw. Though considerably less perilous than Everest, sometimes you’ve got to do something “Because it’s there”. And The Bells was there in all its Victorian melodramatic glory.
Perhaps if we’d staged it in a much larger venue...what if we’d tried to make it a more modern type of performance...what if we’d used a real horse? All these questions arise in development, rehearsal and more than often once the reviews are out. But you have to stop yourself as there is only one thing more important than anything we do…
They are the critics we answer to. It is their applause which still echoes through the ages of Burbage, Garrick, Irving, Olivier to Branagh and today. They are the reason we still exist. They are why enterprising artistic directors get to build theatres because they know that if they do...the audience will come.
So you arm yourself with a brilliant cast who believe in the show. You get a talented up and coming director to help shape this wonderful ensemble. You spend hours developing and understanding the Victorian voice thanks to a brilliant voice coach, shaping the movement. You work with three outstanding young designers and their team on creating a festive Victorian feast of a show.
And then you turn it up to 11…
The result has been almost exactly what we thought it would be - divided critics balanced with a couple of Off West End award nominations. Above all we have the fabulous Park Theatre audience who make all the difference with their support.
We’ve got a week left at Park and it’s been a joy as always - not just the show but the amazing staff and volunteers who make us feel like part of the family. If you haven’t already come and join in the fun.
We’re already dreaming up the challenge for next year- for some reason a food fight in tudor costumes but in a reality tv setting springs to mind...sounds like a breeze…