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About Polesden Lacey Shakespeare

The CompanyPolesden Lacey open air theatre

Polesden Lacey Shakespeare performs Shakespeare’s comedies at Polesden Lacey using simple staging in the open air, just as Shakespeare intended, with ticket prices which make performances attractive to families. The company also organises a number of educational initiatives making people more aware of the fun that is Shakespeare including "Pop-up Shakespeare" where short scenes from Shakespeare are performed around the grounds of Polesden Lacey.

The company draws on the very best amateur and semi-professional actors to produce Shakespeare to the very highest standard.

History

In 1949 Bookham Community Association (BCA), produced a pageant called Merrie England in the grounds of Polesden Lacey. With the success of the pageant behind them the BCA, driven by the enthusiasm and dedication of Betty Harrison, sought for a way of celebrating the 1951 Festival of Britain, and conceived the idea of building a permanent outdoor theatre for 'the people'.

It was ambitious in concept, but did not lack willing volunteers, and preparations began in 1950 to build the open air stage we recognise today - set against the lovely background of Surrey Hills.A Midsummer Night's Dream at Polesden Lacey in 1951. The first production in the open air theatre.

The first production of Shakespeare on the stage of the open air theatre at Polesden was A Midsummer Night's Dream on 30th July 1951. On the new  stage the actors performed without scenery, and the orchestra had no protection from the weather.Elsie Green directing in the 1970s

The theatre's reputation grew steadily due to the unstinting commitment of Elsie Green, who became its Resident Director from 1953 until her retirement in 1988. With success established, the concept of the season began to change. A second week was introduced to include the work of other dramatists and then, by extending to a third week, a wider variety of entertainment became possible, Gilbert and Sullivan, light operetta, grand opera, ballet, classical concerts, jazz, big bands, music hall, folk dancing and spectacular firework finales.

A Shakespearean production has always been performed, and the tradition established by Elsie Green, was maintained by the directors that followed, including Peter Hahlo, Joan McAlpine, Margaret Hunter, Ros Rokison, Peter Barlow and Damien de Roche. Experienced actors, mostly amateur, have been drawn from a wide area, and have auditioned for their parts in January, then rehearsed through the spring for a performance in July.

With major changes in the overall programme and the introduction of more concerts and jazz, it was decided in 1999 to change the name to the 'Polesden Lacey Festival' as this would more appropriately describe the choice of entertainment.

In 2009 Margaret Hunter, hearing that the The National Trust were no longer underwriting Shakespeare at Polesden, banded together with a few friends and created the organisation that has evolved into the charity Polesden Lacey Shakespeare Ltd.  The National Trust continue to support the productions by providing and preparing the venue, publicising the performances and managing car parking and access to the theatre.

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Polesden Lacey Shakespeare Limited, Registered Number 7512952 Registered Charity Number 1142776 Registered Office: 16 Dorking Road, Great Bookham, Leatherhead, Surrey KT23 4LX