Much Ado in the Park: Shakespeare at Calderstones Mansion House

unnamedWords by Laura Harris

Last Thursday saw the opening of The Reader Organisation’s presentation of Much Ado About Nothing, performed in their grounds by The Globe Company. After a day of glorious sun, the gardens at Calderstones park served as an idyllic setting for a picnic alongside some outdoor theatre; a perfect summers evening.

The impressive Calderstones Mansion has found a new lease of life after being acquired by The Reader Organisation from the Council. The Mansion is in the process of being refurbished for the charity, which holds and organises reading aloud groups for those not fortunate enough to have easy access to great literature. Jane Davis, one of ‘Britains New 50 Radicals’ and one of the key figures behind The Reader Organisation, hopes to bring about a ‘reading revolution’, and her passion is infectious.

Her ardent belief in the power of reading underpins the important and inspiring work of the charity, and it is hard not to be convinced of the utmost importance of reading together as social action, after hearing her lovely recital of poetry. She proudly told the stories of several members of reading groups who have been empowered by their experiences; the sort of personal biographies that strike at the heart of social issues, rather than the tear-jerk tales of x-factor candidates.

The charity have recently been awarded Heritage Lottary Funding, and deservedly so. The Reader approaches the perenially important task of employing the arts to combat social problems, and the act of reading is catalytic in discussions of personal and political issues. This engagement with the arts and critical and frank discussions of social issues is an increasingly rare pursuit, ever quashed by the cuts faced by the arts and education reform enforced under Gove. It is some relief to see funding awarded to projects such as this, and the work and dedication of Jane Davis is deservedly recognised.

As part of their fundraising drive, and an integral part of their move into Calderstones Mansion, The Reader Organisation have secured The Globe’s touring production of Much Ado About Nothing. The performance is true to the play, and the cast’s enthusiam is contagious; a real community atmosphere is instilled in the garderns.

Shakespeare’s classic comedy is done justice, with a supremely sassy Beatrice, and an endearingly goofy Benedick. The play is presented much like a pantomine, and the jokes range from bawdy humour to soliciting childish giggles. Shakespeares timelesness is evident as Beatrice’s revolutionary anti-marriage stance seems as relvent today as it ever was.

The Reader Organisation continue to be a great project, and one well worthy of support. Be sure to keep abreast of their work and events programme over summer, which promises to be as much fun as Much About Nothing.

For more information on The Reader Organisation, visit www.thereader.org.uk

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