What do the plays Romeo and Juliet, The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, Hamlet, King Lear and Much Ado About Nothing have in common, apart from the obvious, their author?
The answer is that they have all been sponsored by BDS as touring productions presented by London’s Globe Theatre.
Bringing Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to a field near the BDS offices may seem, well, remote. In Shakespeare’s own day The Bard certainly toured with his band of players but it is doubtful if he ventured north of the border. But to the thousands of adults and school children that enjoyed the three performances of each play year after year, Shakespeare in Dumfries was special, perhaps, for some, life-changing.
Anyone who has seen The Globe’s productions of Shakespeare knows that invention is a key characteristic of the productions. A small group of actors each play multiple parts, sing and dance. The historic setting of the plays is often re-interpreted – hence, the action in Romeo and Juliet all emanated from a VW camper van. Many who had never seen a Shakespeare play performed were struck by the relevance of the plot once they had suspended disbelief, including hordes of school children, who sat entranced by the unfolding drama.
Of course, for a company like BDS, sponsoring Shakespeare makes sense. BDS is a company focused on cultural product, and getting six or seven actors performing a great play in a rural Scottish town in front of thousands has to be a good thing. But the audience, and I dare say you, reading this, can only have a small idea of what’s involved before those first lines are delivered – unless you have been part of the process yourself.
“It’s quite a plot in itself,” begins Lesley Whyte as she tells the story of how BDS came to sponsor Shakespeare’s Globe. “In true Shakespearean fashion a chain of whispers led to me hearing that Dominic Dromgoole’s mother had suggested to her son, the Director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, that Galloway in the south of Scotland would be a superb venue for the touring company to visit. The Crichton Estate, where the BDS offices are located, is such an idyllic location for outdoor theatre that it seemed the obvious choice to me.”
“Through my connections at The Bakehouse, the arts performance organisation interested in producing the event, and with the Crichton Development Company, I was able to broker a meeting to discuss the possibility of The Globe performing on the Crichton Estate. Everyone agreed that this was a wonderful opportunity for local people to see world-class theatre in a local venue.”
“Organising the visit of a theatre company where you hope you are going to get thousands of spectators is a huge undertaking,” comments Chrys Salt. “We had the venue, we had the landowners on our side, we had a car park but we needed so much more. Above all, we needed money to underwrite the event.”
BDS stepped in again. Lesley spoke with her fellow director, Eric Green, and he was quick to agree the seed-funding to attract other investors in the project. The local authority matched the BDS money, seeing this as a sensible investment in the region’s quality of life and also a great attraction. Dumfries and Galloway College Library supported the project and the University of Glasgow offered familiarisation classes for school children attending the three planned performances. The Bakehouse set up a fund, requesting small donations from all and sundry and secured a volunteer force to keep local costs as low as possible.
“And that’s only the beginning,” continues Chrys. “There’s publicity, electricity, crowd barriers, grub on site, changing rooms, wet weather planning, hotels, ticket sales, not to mention firming up on dates and getting the message out to schools and organising coaches for kids, the list goes on…”
BDS had got so enthusiastic about the prospect of The Globe visit, it decided to throw its own party before the first performance of Romeo and Juliet. The rose garden outside the BDS offices was the ideal venue and the beautiful weather meant that visitors from London, Edinburgh and Glasgow could take the opportunity to meet the BDS team before enjoying the play. The BDS staff benefitted from reduced priced tickets and everyone turned out with a blanket, some attending both evening performances.
“Perhaps the best thing for me,” says Lesley, “were the schoolchildren that attended the matinée. We are, obviously, a company that believes in the culture of the book and the value of beautifully crafted language, so to see young people introduced to Shakespeare in the home town of BDS was wonderful. It was also great to see the effect it had on my colleagues. The staff room was buzzing on the days after the performances, and many of the BDS staff saw a live Shakespeare play for the first time.”
The tradition continued with six more annual visits from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, each more successful than the last, each special in its own way for BDS and for the local community, although for different reasons. The productions seemed to get better, year on year. “As You Like It” saw BDS celebrating the purchase of Weesleekit Design which is now integrated into the Design division of the newly branded BDS. And the weather has almost always been kind. The Forest of Arden got rather wet in the closing moments of the final performance of As You Like It, and King Lear saw a downpour fit for a king on the blasted heath, which added to the atmosphere on the night.
“BDS’s relationship with Shakespeare’s Globe has been one of those special moments where, to use a metaphor Shakespeare’s father might have used, two companies fitted as hand in glove,” concludes Lesley. “Sponsoring these events has been one of the highlights of BDS’s twenty-year history, and I hope another opportunity to bring so much pleasure to so many in our community will occur.”