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Super troupe bring Shakespeare with a touch of ABBA to Meopham, Medway and Maidstone

By Chris Hunter

A vain and fickle leader invites his bosom buddy to his court, but is suddenly overcome with jealous suspicion and attempts to have him killed.

No, we have not consulted the oracle on how things will play out between Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, although anything is possible - rather we are escaping the modern world, and returning through the mists of antiquity to a Shakespearean tale of love, confusion, tragedy, redemption and joyful mirth.

Sounds like a mind-bending mix, and it is, so why not throw in a few Abba-style tunes and perform the whole thing in the shadows of historic venues around Kent?

Changeling Theatre's performance of The Winter's Tale will come to Rochester Castle (14911367)
Changeling Theatre's performance of The Winter's Tale will come to Rochester Castle (14911367)

This is the magic of Changeling Theatre, who will bring Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale to Nurstead Court near Meopham on Tuesday August 13.
Renowned for alternative performances of classic tales, full of twists and sprinkled with generous doses of their own peculiar kind of weird magic, Changeling Theatre has been entertaining audiences at inspirational outdoor venues since 1997 and shows no sign of letting up.

Set in Sicily and Bohemia, The Winter’s Tale begins in the former, the kingdom of Leontes, who has everything a man could want - wealth, power, a family that loves him and friends.

But he is not at peace, and inside he harbours a bitter jealousy that drives him to destroy all he holds dear.

Many years later, in a distant country, a journey begins that may ultimately heal his pain and reunite his family. This production melds the classic tale (complete with Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction, “exit pursued by a bear”) with all the usual Changeling madness, plus beautiful costumes and just hint of ABBA.

Fans have also been treated to Changeling’s performance of Nell Gwynn, which comes to Rochester Cathedral on Thursday, August 15, starting at 7.30pm.

Can Nell Gwynn survive the perils of the court of King Charles II? (14615476)
Can Nell Gwynn survive the perils of the court of King Charles II? (14615476)

The smash hit musical comedy from The Globe Theate was written by playwright Jessica Swale, and won a 2016 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. having been nominated for several awards.

Set in London, 1660, King Charles II has exploded onto the scene with the love of all things loud, extravagant and sexy, while at Drury Lane a young Nell Gwynn is causing stirrings amongst the theatregoers.

Nell Gwynne charts the rise of an unlikely heroine as she wins a place in the heart of the king, but at a time when women are second-class citizens, can her charm and spirit protect her from the angers of the court?

We'll avoid any spoilers here, but the production was voted by Changeling followers as their choice of play this year, along with The Winter’s Tale, and the Kent based group have been performing both to great acclaim at venues around the county this summer.

The tour will culminate in performances of both shows at Boughton Monchelsea Place near Maidstone, between Friday August 16 and Sunday August 18.

A Winter’s Tale with The Changeling Theatre Company at Walmer Castle, (14911494)
A Winter’s Tale with The Changeling Theatre Company at Walmer Castle, (14911494)

Director Rob Forknall said: “This year the people of Kent have spoken and voted for Nell Gwynn in last years audience poll, it’s the first time we have performed a play in the open air by a living, female playwright. We are very excited. I saw this show at the Globe and thought it perfect for our audiences, sexy and funny. The Winters Tale was a surprise for me as a summer play, but the audiences love it’s beautiful verse and fairy-tale

feel. Audiences are going to love both plays, they are both brilliantly funny plays with great music.”

This year’s tour is making the most of its talented cast, including new and returning faces. Former 2010 Rookie, Scott Ellis plays Leontes in The Winter’s Tale and Charles II in Nell Gwynn, while Jess Nesling plays Hermione and Rhianna McGreevy plays Nell Gwynn.

Also among the cast are two Kent- based apprentices, Layomi Coker from Gravesend and Tegan Steward from the Isle of Grain, who are playing parts in both shows. The Apprentice Scheme is being supported by Arts Council England.

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