The Cumnor Players did Shakespeare!

RSC Open Stages

2012 was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s  50th birthday and to celebrate they were running a project called OPEN STAGES which invited amateur groups to put on a production with a Shakespeare connection. Some of us thought it might be fun and a development of our pantomime-based activities if we were to join the scheme, and as a result we performed our newly written drama The Darke Years in summer 2012. The play explored Shakespeare’s “lost” years, during which the young (but already married) Will left Stratford and became a force on the London theatrical scene. It drew on Shakespeare’s own plots and featured real personalities from the time to provide a fictional narrative for those early years.
Along with the support of the RSC, local celebrity Philip Pullman introduced Saturday night’s performance.



The Darke Years – Written by J.P. Blackband and Directed by Erika Harris

Performances were Friday 18th May (7.30 pm) and Saturday 19th May (2.00 pm and 7.30 pm) at “The Closes Field” (i.e. the football field) Appleton Road, Cumnor, Oxfordshire, OX2 9QH: (Google maps). It was a semi-outdoor production and to enhance the merriment there was a Friday night BBQ, Saturday night Hog Roast and a bar available.


See a small photo gallery of the show


Some of the Players were also fortunate enough to perform a part of The Darke Years at the RSC in Stratford as part of Open Stages. Read more...

The Darke Years Cast and Crew

For further information about the production, please email us at

Proceeds went to the Parasol Project which works to promote and provide inclusive play, social and recreational opportunities for disabled and non-disabled children and young people in Oxford City.

In July a cheque for £1400 was presented to the Project; this will go towards paying people to come in and help with a performance project, so a cause very close to our hearts.

Rehearsing, the RSC way!

 On Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th February 2012, seven members of the Cumnor Players’ Open Stages Shakespeare group were lucky enough to go to the Royal Shakespeare Company (our “partner theatre” in Stratford), for two full days of acting and backstage workshops.

 On Saturday, the actors’ group had their minds stretched with three workshops investigating movement, text and acting. Each session encouraged them to challenge their customary ways of approaching stage work. Exercises included:

·         pairs working to maintain a constant distance (a broom length) from each other, demanding incredibly quick reactions and unbroken eye contact.

·         reading a text without preparation and without any attempt at acting, allowing the words alone to create the rhythms and meaning.

·         reading a speech (one of Romeo’s more passionate moments) while being forcibly restrained, thus creating/conveying a desperate desire to escape.

Many of the techniques are intended to provide new ways into a play, encouraging open-minded investigation of the text, and are used at the RSC in their own rehearsals.

 Sunday was for directors, stage managers and technicians (specialising in light and sound). Again, the day consisted of three workshop sessions. Our stage manager learnt about the principles behind stage-management, the most useful probably being the creation of a “prompt copy”, a sort of master document of the play text, containing all the essential information about props, stage directions, costumes, light and sound effects and any other details of a production, so that someone could re-produce the whole show from it alone.

 The directors began with a rehearsal session led by a professional director and two actors. From a pair of scenes acted without dialogue, we had to deduce a story (demonstrating how much is conveyed to an audience without a word being spoken, and so how crucial it is for the actors to keep their words and their body language in harmony). Then we worked on building up a scene (from Richard III), contributing ideas, discussing decisions each actor could make and learning how a director can encourage experimentation within rehearsal. The second workshop looked at games directors can play with their actors to break down barriers, give new ways of reading a text (including sharing lines between an ensemble to find different rhythms and emphases), and encourage lively and convincing inter-action. The last session was an exercise in design.

 The whole experience was shot through with the thrill of the RSC at work: a glimpse behind the brand new stage, the immense array of lights, the massive set construction and the kilometres of gaffer tape required even in a world-class production. It was particularly striking how naturally everyone we met used “our” and “we” when talking about working at the RSC: they were all devoted to the place. And by the time we left, so were we.