THE acclaimed Festival Players will be performing the ultimate love story across the UK and Europe this summer – Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. And for actor Anthony Pinnick as Romeo it will certainly be a role change – in last year's production of Richard III he played Queen Elizabeth.
The Gloucester company, who this year celebrate their 28th year of touring outdoor Shakespeare productions, has grown in strength since acquiring the long-established London-based Theatre Set-Up and the new-look Players now bring audiences a combined 60 years experience of professional touring theatre.
The Romeo and Juliet tour will head to Devon on Thursday, August 15, to Powderham Castle, in its picturesque setting beside the Exe estuary. One of England's oldest family houses, it is currently home to the 18th Earl and Countess of Devon.
Undeterred by the worst possible weather last summer, the Festival Players will also have a second tour – A Midsummer Night's Dream – on the road. The twin tours will see them performing nearly 100 shows between June and August across England, Scotland, Wales and the Scilly Isles and as far afield as Belgium, Berlin, the Netherlands and Norway.
Two small casts of six will punch well above their weight, playing multiple roles demanding quick costume changes, as well as performing as musicians.
Whilst A Midsummer Night's Dream will feature an all-male cast, Romeo and Juliet will be mixed gender and both productions will be directed by Michael Dyer, Artistic Director of The Festival Players, and former director of Cornwall's Minack Open Air Theatre.
The actors are chosen through audition and the company is committed to including a core of younger actors to give them an opportunity to gain experience of working with Shakespeare's language and in good classical theatre. Many return time and again to play with the Festival Players.
Mr Dyer said he had applications from more than 800 actors wanting to audition for roles in the two productions.
"Romeo and Juliet is extremely popular and endowed with fast-paced action and humour," he added.
In the title roles of the star-crossed lovers will be Anthony Pinnick and Alicia Bennett.
Bristol-based Jasmine Darke, who played Olivia in last year's production of Twelfth Night, will be back as Lady Capulet, while Paul Jennings will play no less than four roles – Romeo's rival Tybalt, Lord Capulet, Juliet's nurse and messenger Balthazar; Henry Proffit is the moody and flamboyant Mercutio and Friar Laurence; Oliver Tucker is Benvolio and Paris while Jasmine Darke and Michael Dyer will alternate the role of The Prince of Verona.
Music has been specially written for the production by Gloucestershire folk star Johnny Coppin (front man of the cult 70s folk-rock group Decameron).
Romeo and Juliet will play at Powderham Castle, Kenton, on Thursday, August 15, at 7pm. The grounds will open at 6pm for picnics and audience members should bring their own seating. Advance tickets £12 adults, concessions £10. Call 01626 890243.
For the first time tickets for some performances are now available online at www.thefestivalplayers.co.uk where you can find all tour dates. Follow the players on Twitter @festivalplay