Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Fabulous five star reception for The Tempest at Stafford Castle

Following a storming opening weekend, Stafford Festival Shakespeare producers are celebrating the incredible critical reception of this year’s production of The Tempest at Stafford Castle.

Here’s what critics had to say:

★★★★★ “A triumphBirmingham Mail

★★★★★ “Outstanding, magical productionThe Stage

★★★★★ “It gives the RSC’s production a run for its money, that’s for sureBreak A Leg

★★★★“Stafford Shakespeare Festival has taken a centuries’ old production, given it a contemporary twist, and brought it to life for a whole new audienceStaffordshire Living

Spellbinding open-air spectacleStoke Sentinel

Something for everyoneStaffordshire Newsletter

Prenton’s insightful direction and Frances Collier’s delightfully atmospheric set ensure it takes audiences on a memorable journeyBritish Theatre Guide

The Tempest has also received a ‘Best Regional Stage Production’ nomination for the Break A Leg Awards 2017, with Stephen Beckett (Prospero), James Lawrence (Sebastian), Richard Gibson (Gonzalo), and Zephryn Taitte (Caliban) nominated for ‘Best Actor on Stage’, and Katrina Kleve (Francesca) and Grace Carter (Miranda) cited for ‘Best Actress on Stage’.

The Tempest will run until Saturday 8th July 2017 at Stafford Castle. Full ticket information and this year’s catering options can be obtained from the box office on 01785 619080 or by visiting

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Magicians Morgan & West chat to us about their involvement in Stafford Festival Shakespeare 2017

The opening of Stafford Festival Shakespeare is just over a week away and this year audiences can expect a true feast of magic and wonder for the production of The Tempest at Stafford Castle, thanks in no small part to the contribution of magicians and the production’s Illusion Consultants, Morgan & West.

Acknowledged as Shakespeare’s final solo play, The Tempest is widely celebrated as one of The Bard’s most enchanting works. It follows the story of Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, who becomes stranded on a largely uninhabited island where music, magic and supernatural creatures provide a strange education for him and his young daughter, Miranda.

To help accentuate the magical themes of the play, magicians Rhys Morgan and Robert West will be consulting on the tricks of their trade during rehearsals in order to support the wider vision of the Creative Team, led by Director Clare Prenton, for the production at Stafford Castle. 

During a break from rehearsals, the pair caught up with Stafford Gatehouse Theatre’s Marketing Office, Tom Waldron, to chat about their involvement in this year’s show:

TW – “How does it feel to be back in Stafford and working on this year’s Stafford Festival Shakespeare production of The Tempest?”

RW – “I’m very excited. We don’t often get chance to be part of proper theatre. We do quite a bit of horror consultancy because that’s quite special effects heavy. We used to work a lot with a company called, ‘Theatre of the Damned’ for a few years. It’s all gore and shock elements, rather than magical flourishes.”

RM – “It’s also nice to be somewhere we’re quite familiar with because we’ve performed here [in Stafford] a couple of times, so that’s very nice, as well.”

TW – “How familiar are you with Shakespeare’s plays and has it influenced your own work?”

RW – [LAUGHS] “We’re not that familiar with Shakespeare’s works, in all honesty. Obviously I’ve seen many productions of his plays.”

RM – “We used the ‘Complete Works of Shakespeare’ in a kid’s show… we stand on it! [LAUGHS] So this is exciting for us to be proper Shakespeare people.

TW – “This year’s Stafford Festival Shakespeare production is set in the 1930s, did this have any bearing on your involvement as ‘Illusion Consultants’ given the Victorian/Edwardian theme of your own act?

RW – “We think of [our act] as a BBC costume drama version of Victoriana than the brutal, gritty reality of the Victorian period.”

RM – "I think it did have a bearing on our involvement, not so much our act, but more the magic because the 1920s and 30s was a time of a lot of magic in theatres – the end of Vaudeville and before TV.”

RW – “The 20s and 30s was also a time when magic publishing became popular. There are loads of texts, books and tricks that were invented during that time that you can still find.”

RM – “Yes, [magic] was starting to move away from being a very insular, secretive hobby to being one that lots of people had access to.”

RW – “And there were lots of old fashioned tricks [popular at that time] that nobody does anymore because it involved things like, having a cane or a pair of white gloves, that fit really nicely with this setting [for the play this year].”

RM – "In particular, there was a magician who originated from Swansea whose act was called Cardini, who travelled the world… and his act was that of a gentleman returning from a night at the theatre in the 20s and 30s, dressed in the aforementioned top hat and white gloves, and that is another interesting influence we will be drawing on for this production.”

TW – “Without revealing too much, what sort of magical goings on can we expect to see in this year’s show?”

RM – “It’s an interesting one because it’s a mix of conjuring and actual magic.”

RW – “Because the character of Prospero has genuine magical powers, including spirits and that kind of stuff, so it’s working with that element. But also, the character Prospero as ‘The Duke of Milan’, is meant to be a fan of “The Liberal Arts” (as it says in the text), and this production is casting him as a fan of magic, which a lot of rich blokes of the 20s and 30s were. So it gives us scope to do fun tricks as well as looking at the darker magic arts, so to speak!"

The Tempest will open on Thursday 22nd June and run until Saturday 8th July 2017 at Stafford Castle. Tickets start at £13.50 and can be purchased from the box office on 01785 619080 or by visiting the

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A week in the life on an actor at Stafford Festival Shakespeare

In the first of a series of blog entries on the goings on back-stage at Stafford Festival Shakespeare, Richard Gibson - renowned for his turn as Her Flick in the popular BBC Sitcom 'Alo 'Alo - discusses his impressions during week one of rehearsals ahead of playing Gonzalo in The Tempest this year at Stafford Castle...

Driving on a Sunday afternoon to a town you have never been to before, to spend an intensive few weeks with a whole tribe of people you have never met before, some of whom you may soon be required to kiss and declare undying love for, and others whom you may even be required to kill. All in the line of duty, of course, and all familiar territory in the life of an actor working in the theatre.

Last week, a collection of people arrived in Stafford to begin work on this year's production for the annual Stafford Festival Shakespeare, which with each year grows in scale and stature, and, as Europe's largest-scale outdoor Shakespeare Festival, is becoming a coveted booking for those lucky enough to be chosen.

But first, after navigating the ring roads and byways of a new town, to find one's digs, there is the unpacking and preparation for the next day's read-through.

On our arrival at the Gatehouse Theatre, a vast ring of chairs was set out on the stage, ready to seat contributors from every area of the production - from front-of-house, to management, technical staff, publicity people, safety officers and, of course, the actors. None but the most shameless and courageous – or, possibly, sickeningly well-prepared - enjoys showing what they are made of in front of complete strangers, even in the most lightly written murder mystery, but to launch in to the finely crafted language of the Bard, is to become the bared. Daunting indeed.

This season, following the introductions, safety briefings and warnings about cast members eating their own food in the theatre café, we are treated to a preamble by our director, Claire Prenton, whose vision of the play takes us to the east coast of Africa, aboard – but not for long – a luxury Italian cruise ship in the 1930s.

Shakespeare's plays contain resonances for the whole world, and at different times in history, may have particular resonances for the people watching them, and there is therefore an almost infinite range of possibilities for how they can be presented. Strict adherents to the idea that Shakespeare's plays lose some authenticity when set outside the period overlook the fact that the writer's respect for  details of geography could be described as fluid, and his concern for historical detail as relaxed. In fact, in his time, plays with a historical setting were played in the modern dress of the time, so it seems unlikely that he would have felt that liberties were being taken when exploring resonances in different times and places.

It would be more than my life is worth to give any detail about Production Designer Frances Collier's set and the designs at this stage, but all will soon be revealed, and I can offer a firm promise that they are nothing short of spectacular, and that audiences will not have seen anything quite like them for sheer scale and imagination.

Having heard about the period, it was some relief to me to think that there would be no beards in this one. Quite wrong. As it turns out, among the Italian gentry of the 1930s, facial hair was very much a feature, and instructions were issued that shaving, among the men especially, would cease forthwith. So after presenting themselves on day one as fresh-faced, wholesome professionals, by Wednesday the men of the cast were beginning to take on the appearance of having slept under a hedge – and of course, there may have been some who had done just that. By Friday, many of them blend in nicely in a homelessness shelter. Who knows what week two of rehearsals has in store...

The Tempest will open on Thursday 22nd June and run until Saturday 8th July 2017 at Stafford Castle. Tickets start from £13.50. Full information, including this year’s catering options, can be obtained from the box office on 01785 619080 or by visiting

Friday, 28 April 2017

Win tickets to the Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival on behalf of Stafford Festival Shakespeare

Producers of Stafford Festival Shakespeare have teamed up with the Emma Bridgewater Factory in support of Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival (8-10 June) to celebrate all things Shakespeare!

A true celebration of outstanding writing and brilliant books; the UK’s only “festival in a factory” the Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival takes place every June in the creative surroundings of the Emma Bridgewater Factory - a Victorian pot bank that has manufactured Emma’s iconic handmade and hand decorated pottery for more than twenty years. Now in its fourth year, the Festival is an established highlight of this creative city’s lively cultural scene and for three days in June author talks, panel discussions, hands-on workshops and live performances take place all around the canal-side factory in surprising spaces from the old pottery warehouse to the cobbled courtyard.

On the bill this year, renowned Shakespeare scholar Sir Jonathan Bate (above, right) will be giving a special talk,
'The Bard and his Afterlife – from the Romantics to Ted Hughes', on Friday 9th June at 4pm, and you could win 1 of 3 pairs of tickets to the Festival!

To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize, we want to know what your favourite Shakespeare play is and why. Using no more than 50 words, simply post your answer in the 'Comment' section of this post. The closing date for entries is 10am on Monday 29th May.

Full terms and conditions apply - for more information contact

Good luck!

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Help for Men with Depression Workshop

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre will play host next week to a free workshop led by Clinical Hypnotherapist, Tracy Swift, aimed at helping men with depression.

Part of a series of free workshops available throughout the UK during the last week of April 2017, for men with depression.

The workshops are aimed at helping participants to feel free from the effects of depression and specifically for men who hide their emotions.

Limited places and advance booking only. Contact Tracy on 07764 997298
(please do not contact the venue)

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Savour the ‘Golden Age’ of dining at Stafford Festival Shakespeare

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre management have this week announced the catering options for Stafford Festival Shakespeare (SFS) 2017, with Sugnall Walled Gardens once again providing the hospitality at Stafford Castle, offering picnics, pre-performance dining and food on-demand.

This year’s production of The Tempest is set against the glamorous backdrop of the1930s – the golden age of luxury cruise liners, Hollywood glitz and the dying days of vaudeville – and the dining experience at Stafford Castle will hark back to this era of elegance.

For just £12.95 per person, visitors can sample the delights of ‘Sugnall High Tea’, with a pot of tea or coffee for one, a selection of daintily cut sandwiches, a homemade scone with fruit preserve and clotted cream, and a range of cakes ‘of the day’. All this includes reserved seating in the hospitality marque – and for those who fancy splashing out on a glass of something fizzy, why not upgrade to ‘Champagne Tea’ for only £18.95 per person? Due to demand, bookings for both options are only available via pre-order.

Also on the menu, the hugely popular ‘Picnic for Two’ makes its return for SFS 2017. Prepared daily at Sugnall Walled Garden and available by pre-order only for just £25, these mouth-watering picnic hampers include a pot of olives, Anglesey Sea-Salt crisps, freshly baked Artisan sub-roll and two portions of fresh butter, homemade quiche, freshly picked salad with dressing, salami and cooked meats, smoked salmon, mature cheddar and a pot of chutney; and for desert, a Pot of strawberries (ice cream available on-site), two slices of homemade cake, as well as two bottles of spring water and a large bottle of Sugnall apple juice. There is also the option to add a bottle of one of the award-winning red or white wines on sale at the bar.

Come rain or shine, an English Summer just isn’t the same without a strawberry or two, and this year Sugnall caterers are offering a plump pot of these delicious fruits – grown on-site in the beautiful walled garden – served with either vanilla ice cream or fresh cream, and a glass of prosecco, all for £8.95 per person. 

Finally, for those seeking a quick bite on the night, there will be a daily selection of fine, artisan sub-sandwiches, with a wide range of delicious homemade fillings available from the kiosk. These fine, soft sub-rolls are freshly baked and supplied by Eccleshall’s Artisan Bakery, and also available for pre-order before midday via 01785 851556.

Orders for the picnic bags, High-Tea and/or Strawberry’s and Cream at this year’s Stafford Festival Shakespeare can be placed by telephoning via

The Tempest will open on Thursday 22nd June and run until Saturday 8th July 2017 at Stafford Castle. Tickets range from the first night saver price of £13.50 up to £25.50 for Thurs / Fri /Sat evening performances. Full information can be obtained from the box office on 01785 619080 or by visiting the new website

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Spring return for Stafford’s only Cabaret and Burlesque Show

Back with a bang for the first time in 2017, Stafford's first, and only burlesque and variety show is set to return next month, with yet another evening of saucy decadence!

Since its launch in 2013, Très Très Cabaret has gone from strength to strength – performing numerous sell-out shows in the MET Studio at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre.

The first act to be announced for the forthcoming springtime show is the incredible, Good Ness Gracious! An award-winning, international burlesque artist who brings boundless fun and sparkle to the stage, this acclaimed performer has a range of hilarious acts and her cheekiness is bound to charm the pants off local audiences!

Winner of the Audience Choice Award at ‘The Neo Burlesque Awards – 2015’ and first runner up for ‘Burlesque Idol 2014′, her broad range of characters are set to leave the audience begging for more! From clown comedy to vintage starlet, Ness does it all with a twinkle in her eye and a tongue firmly in her cheek.

Très Très Cabaret has always prided itself on providing a “right royal knees up”, and the next act to be announced is certainly no exception to the rule… the finest of all royal males and king of the codpiece: Rusty Von Chrome!

An award-winning performer from Manchester, Rusty has been lighting up the burlesque scene with a wide spectrum of colourful characters – both delightfully dirty and refreshingly funny. Laughter (and slight confusion) guaranteed!

Next on the bill for the April show, Audacity Chutzpah hurtled with demure panache onto the burlesque circuit, and has been performing her unique brand of clown-burlesque on stages across the UK and Europe ever since!

Twice shortlisted for a London Cabaret Award for Best Burlesque Performer, Audacity Chutzpah has been described by ‘Time Out’ as "one of the funniest and most endearing performers on the burlesque scene". This girl is poignant and charming, seemingly innocent yet knowing, and always cheeky and surprising!

Missy Malone – a heady 1950s inspired bombshell – is also set to astound local audiences with her dazzlingly delightful act for Très Très Cabaret’s first 2017 show.
A highly accomplished and sought-after performer, Missy has been performing on the UK burlesque scene for over 13 years. More recently she has achieved international attention, including a tour with punk band The Damned as part of their ‘Twist Cabaret’ tour.

With the looks and grace of a Hollywood starlet coupled with her stunning costumes and stage presence, audiences are promised a scintillating show from Missy, and she never - but never - breaks her promises.

All of this incredible entertainment is personally selected by Très Très resident producer, promoter and performer: Stage Door Johnny

A flirtatious, lyrical lothario and seasoned comic raconteur with razor-sharp wit, he'll have audiences grinning, giggling and eating from the palm of his hand -sometimes literally. Johnny can be heard singing everything from Shirley Bassey to Guns ‘n’ Roses, as well as ridiculous self-penned medleys to surprise and delight!

Très Très Cabaret will be performed in The MET Studio at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on Saturday 15th April at 8pm. Tickets are £15.50 and can be booked by calling the box office on 01785 619080 or by visiting

Early booking is advised as a sell-out is expected again.

The show is strictly for over 18s only.