How Ripley Castle became a stage for Shakespeare plays

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Ripley Castle
A Midsummer Night's Dream at Ripley Castle
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Ripley-based theatre company Sprite Productions is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – a reprise of the very first show they put on in the grounds of Ripley Castle, near Harrogate.

Set up by husband and wife team Liam and Hester Evans-Ford, the company has gone from strength to strength in the past decade and Liam has become a much sought-after producer. His most recent successes have included the York Mystery Plays in 2012 and last year’s co-production between York Theatre Royal, Slung Low and Pilot Theatre, Blood + Chocolate.

An epic First World War promenade piece involving several hundred community actors working alongside professionals, it ranged across the city of York. Evans-Ford recognises that Sprite’s annual open air summer Shakespeare productions provided him with good training.

“We have been on a very steep learning curve since our first show at Ripley Castle,” he says. “At that time we were a very small team and we didn’t know how to use the grounds to their best effect – we were guessing, really.

“Since then the whole team has learnt a lot. It is much easier to do a promenade piece in Ripley Castle than through the streets of York, but working with Sprite was good preparation for that.”

For the past three years Evans-Ford’s wife Hester has been running the company single-handedly and has built up a strong team. Many of this year’s cast and crew have been involved in previous productions and director Charlotte Bennett returns for her third consecutive show. Once this year’s production is over, however, the company will be taking a break for a while. After 10 years we just want to give ourselves some time to evaluate and decide where we go from here,” says Evans-Ford. “And it would be really nice to have a summer where our life isn’t totally dominated by putting on the show at Ripley Castle.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a perfect play to stage outside and Ripley Castle is the ideal setting.

“Charlotte has set the action in Edwardian times so it is still very upright and proper,” says Evans-Ford. “But then as we head into the woods and we meet the fairies all sorts of chaos starts to happen.

“The fairies have quite an eclectic mix of powers – some of them shape shift and some time travel – and we are playing with the idea that they love to party. Every time we see the fairies they are accompanied by samba drumming – which ties in quite nicely with what is happening over in Brazil at the moment.”

Apart from producing, Evans-Ford has also been doing a fair bit of acting – he has just finished a run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in The Last Train to Scarborough – and is looking forward to his first appearance in a Sprite production as Oberon, King of the Fairies alongside his son Matteo, six, who is making his debut as the Changeling Boy.

“Rehearsals have been great fun,” he says. “Acting is really enjoyable and that’s what I started out doing because I love it. As a producer you are able to put the team together – on the downside you have to worry about everything. I am now going to spend the next six weeks in the beautiful woodland of Ripley Castle with lots of lovely talented people.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at Ripley Castle until July 13. Tickets on 01423 772994 or www.spriteproductions.co.uk