Every year, Cambridge Shakespeare Festival transforms all the city into a stage – Miriam Balanescu meets artistic director David Crilly and star Andrew Stephen
Theatre has long thrived in the city, but when things quieten down for the major establishments during the summer, the best place to search for shows is not indoors, but out. The Cambridge Shakespeare Festival has been a magnet for theatregoers since its inception in 1988, founded by then-music student David Crilly.
“It was almost accidental,” David laughs. “We actually started the festival in Oxford, then transferred to Cambridge when I started my PhD at Magdalene College. I had friends doing student shows and they asked if I would be musical director. I had no background in theatre, but didn’t really like what I was seeing. I thought I’d have a go and see if I could do a better job.”
Such stuff as dreams are made on, across four weeks a fresh troupe of actors frequents the lush gardens of Cambridge colleges – usually closed to the public – to perform the troubadour’s greats. Although the festival started small, it has grown beyond David’s expectations. “I’ve had people calling from California, saying they’re organising their vacation and always plan around the festival,” he says. “The loyalty we have from our audience is quite astonishing.”
Bringing the bard outdoors has a long precedence, dating back even before the Globe Theatre’s opening in 1599, although Cambridge Shakespeare Festival was the first of its kind. “What we do is directly tell the story, as effectively, colourfully and dynamically as we can,” says David. “Our circumstances and the environment that we’re in dictate how we approach each production. I don’t feel that we’re performing in any kind of historical context. We’re independent in terms of our artistic mission.”
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