Shouting it out from the Rooftop for St Albans theatre group

ROOFTOP Theatre Company deserves to take a special bow – not just for its excellent production of The Winter’s Tale but for bringing the St Albans theatre season to such an exhilarating finale.

Forced to find a new performance space just a week before The Winter’s Tale was due to open at Kingsbury Barn, Rooftop moved back to The Inn on the Park to put on outdoor Shakespeare once again.

It was where they first came to the notice of the St Albans theatre-going public in 2007 and the gods were definitely smiling when I went on Saturday evening because the weather was glorious.

And if Rooftop had not had to ask for publicity to alert the public about the move – caused by the anger of neighbours of Kingsbury Barn – no-one would have ever guessed that the play was not going to be performed there in the first place.

The company used the space very effectively and their voices carried clearly in what many would agree is their best production yet.

Rooftop combines amateur and semi-professional actors, or so it seems, and that is one of the reasons why they make Shakespeare so accessible. It is timing and the use of emphasis which differentiates the kind of performance they put on in The Winter’s Tale and that of other less talented groups. Even the children in the audience seemed to be able to follow it comfortably.

The tragic tale of Leontes, King of Sicilia, and how he almost destroyed his family by his jealous belief that his wife is pregnant with another man’s child, is not performed that often. Co-director Paul Sayers admitted it was not a play for a new company to tackle but one that needs building up to.

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And it really was excellent with a first-rate cast, tight direction and a freshness that made it a pleasure to watch.

Singling out performances is almost unfair because they were all so good but I particularly liked Matt Broad’s Polixenes – the scene where he and Trevor Murphy’s Camillo disguised themselves as women was pure Little Britain – Sally Gilfillan’s tough-talking Paulina and Rachael Naylor’s Hermione, both with and without the cushion up her dress.

Chris Paddon was a memorable Leontes and Philippa Tatham as Autolycus managed what I think is one of the most difficult jobs to do – make a comic Shakespeare character funny.

As the young lovers, Rob Ferguson – recently seen in OVO’s As You Like It – as Florizel and Joanne Gale as Perdita gave more reason to think that the future of St Albans theatre is in good hands.

With a bit of luck Rooftop will be back again before next summer – catch them if you can, you won’t regret it.