The Hobbit comes to Williamson Park in Lancaster
- Credit: not Archant
The Tolkien classic will be performed in Williamson Park this month, writes Louise Bryning
As Tolkien fans prepare to mark the 80th anniversary of The Hobbit next year, one Lancaster theatre will be setting the pace. The fantastical adventure is to be played out this summer in one of Lancashire’s most magnificent parks which will be transformed into Middle Earth. Once again, Williamson Park will be the stage for The Dukes outdoor walkabout production which is the biggest of its kind in the UK.
And it’s not the first time that Gandalf, Bilbo, Gollum and other strange and wonderful creatures have wandered along the pathways and into the woods of Williamson Park courtesy of The Dukes. Back in 1994, The Hobbit became The Dukes most successful ever outdoor promenade production, attracting more than 21,000 people.
‘The Hobbit is a cracking story which has been told to generations of children over the years,’ said The Dukes Artistic Director, Joe Sumison. ‘Ours will be an authentic and respectful version of the novel.
‘The strongest elements in the book are its humour and charm. We plan to capture this, offering an intimate experience where the audience can get really close to all these fascinating characters and creatures.’
And this outdoor version of the classic tale can be seen not that far from the area which some believe inspired JRR Tolkien in the first place – the Ribble Valley. Tolkien loved nature and the countryside but it was family which first brought him to this part of Lancashire during World War Two.
The author, his wife and other children, used to visit their son John, who was studying to be a priest at the Jesuit Seminary which is now the prep school for Stonyhurst College where Tolkien even taught a few lessons.
He is believed to have worked on The Lord of the Rings, the long awaited follow-up to The Hobbit, while at the college where his younger son later taught. In 2002, the college formally recognised its links with the writer by opening the JRR Tolkien Library at St Mary’s Hall.
The Lord of the Rings includes several references to places whose names are similar to those found in the Ribble Valley including Shire Lane in Hurst Green.
To acknowledge the educational elements of Tolkien’s life and work, the Dukes Centre for Creative Learning has been working with five schools – Morecambe Bay Primary, Ryelands Primary in Lancaster, Wennington Hall, Heysham High and Central Lancaster High – on a Hobbit residency. The pupils explored the themes of quests and overcoming adversity while preparing for a performance of their own at The Dukes in June.
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Members of The Dukes Young Company are also benefiting from The Hobbit’s residency in the city as they will be performing alongside the cast of seven professional actors during the run of the show.
Among the cast will be Eccleston’s Josie Cerise who returns after playing the Artful Dodger in last year’s production of Oliver Twist; Manchester’s Gareth Cassidy, appearing as Bilbo Baggins in his third Dukes outdoor show and Russell Richardson, originally from Rochdale, who will play Gandalf after appearing as Fagin in 2015. They all follow in the footsteps of hundreds of actors who have taken on the challenge of Dukes outdoor walkabout theatre since 1987.
Among the promenading pioneers back then was Andy Serkis who later made his name by playing Gollum in the blockbusting films which have introduced a new generation to the delights of Tolkien’s tales. Josie will be taking on this particularly precious role for The Dukes.
Since his time in Lancaster, Andy has received much acclaim for using performance capture in many of his roles where motion capture acting, animation and voice work are combined. He has become so well known for this type of acting that he co-founded The Imaginarium Studios in London which specialises in performance capture technology.
It’s all a long way from his appearance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Williamson Park 29 years ago, but The Dukes is proud to have played its part in the early career of such a pioneering performer.
The Lancaster theatre was a pioneer itself when it first introduced the type of show where the audience follow the drama from scene to scene and it is one of the very few British companies to take on such a challenge every year. That’s why thousands of people set out on their own quest to Lancaster each summer for this rare outdoor theatre experience.
The Hobbit will be performed at Williamson Park from July 5-August 13. For more information and to book tickets, call The Dukes Box Office on 01524 598500 or www.dukes-lancaster.org