The Talented Town of Ripley

Having almost forgotten the delights of growing up in the English countryside it was a pleasant surprise to return to these quirky times.    With two tickets to see Shakespeare`s Comedy Of Errors by Sprite Productions, I momentarily forgot about the dire state of public services and low interest rates and enjoyed the evening. 
    Studying literature and dramatic arts at sixth form in Harrogate, we took the same familiar drive  over the North York moors; the same one I used to make at 7am every weekday as a teenager.  I was reminded not only of how much vast and open space there was how cosy it all seemed.  Like hearing your name being called in a familiar voice for the first time in years.  Had it really been 17 years? Turner-esque skies stretched out before us as we drove through seemingly endless rolling, lush green hills.  Finally we arrived at a picturesque European style village of Ripley nestled just a short distance from Harrogate.
Ripley Castle Grounds

Hotel De Ville
By 1850 Sir William Amcott Inglby, having traveled Europe built Ripley as replica of many of the towns he loved in France.
    So there would be no mistake for the local villagers he embossed type of French building it was on the front.  Having stocked up for our evening picnic with delicacies from Marks and Spencer`s, that I remember had amusingly been given the name of "The Temple" by an old university friend favouring their above average standard supermarket, we began our walk into the elderflower picnic garden.  

 After a few wrong turns, we managed to find 19th Century style circus signs placed along the forest path to guide our way.
 We joined other picnic clad audience members meandering and finding their way into the Ephesus Circus.

Reaching the box office in what seemed to be a magic tent with scented candles, I half expected our fortune to be told as we collected our tickets for the show.
 In the last few wooded meters we could hear 1920`s Jazz and Ragtime being played in the clearing.
 As we unpacked our delights, the audience started to arrive, just as surprised as we were at the peculiar marquee tents pitched and colourful lights lighting up a sort of circus space in this forest of Ripley castle.  Being English and from the country, people soon felt quite at home drinking bubbly from plastic cups, digging into their feasts with neatly matching utensils and dipping strawberries into natural yoghurt in pots. 
 Not before long the friendly, well spoken producer stepped upon a wooden carton, welcome us to the show and after thanking the sponsors, that included some of the families in the audience, who were given jokey moustache and glasses play masques as thanks-remember this is A Comedy Of Errors-the play began.
 Shortly afterwards, the whole audience were led through the forest as a promenade, fold up chairs under our arms to the first part of the play.  Settling into the Bard`s language, I couldn`t help but feeling as if I was in a Tim Burton film.  His film Big Fish came to mind.
     The whole thing was set as an idiosyncratic circus, slightly dreamlike and off center, with bearded ladies, corrupt clowns, always on the make and absurdities abound.  This choice of costume and setting added to the farcical finesse of the show.  Comedy of Errors was one of Shakespeares`earlier plays and probably one of the most filled with folly.
 A ship-wreck followed by mistaken identities and frequent word-play make a hilarious cacophony keeping the audience on their toes.
Lights, props and sets were strung from the trees and actors, auditioned from local villages and towns gave their all, wrapping their tongues round the comedic rampage of Shakespeare`s early play. 

 Each act took place in a different part of the forest, where we were led and each time the characters lingered on the side of the paths, coaxing us with circus tricks just like the traveling circus from the Fin de si├Ęcle.  Each character, played their comic elements out with gest, accenting their roles and never fully identifying with them.  This added the farcical element.  The audience, just as the actors seemingly, were quickly confused.  As we strolled from one scene to the next through the pine trees, I could hear families discussing the elements of the play, to see if each one of them had understood it correctly.  "So there are two twins right"? "Yes, that`s right"...."and there was a ship-wreck, which confused everything, right"?   "right"?

 As with most of Shakespeare`s plays, the ending brought all the characters together...

  ...first in desperate conflict and further confusion....
 ....then in relief and resolution.
 Before too long, it was time to applaud; promenade back through the forest and to pack up our evening picnic to head back into the Turner sky and fading pale blue light.
These times are what renew my hope, as I glimpse into the potential of simply enjoying nature, each other`s company with good food, whilst learning so much about the absurdities of our modern times through a magical Shakespearean evening.