Friday, 19 August 2022

Review: Shakespeare at Shiplake

Maggie Edwards

Maggie Edwards

A MARQUEE on the lawn at Shiplake College was the idyllic setting for an evening with Henley Symphony Orchestra. This was the second summer concert celebrating Shakespeare — they played at the Wargrave Festival too — with a varied repertoire of music written for film, ballet and the concert hall all inspired by the Bard.

Although now known as the “annual picnicking prom” the recent heavy showers meant only the hardiest of picnickers were in evidence — but it was a warm evening and the heavens didn’t open until everyone was seated in the marquee and the performance had started with Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, capturing the spirit of Shakespeare’s sultry summer comedy.

With Ian Brown as conductor and David Burton as leader of the string section, this was followed by two extracts from music for Shostakovitch’s score for the 1964 film Hamlet, commencing with The Ball At The Palace, played with verve by the string members of the orchestra. The Ghost was the slow, eerie second piece creating a creepy atmosphere with ominous brass notes and evil-sounding violas adding to the mood.

Next up was French composer Gabriel Fauré’s interpretation of another Shakespeare favourite The Merchant Of Venice. The Epithalme is a tribute to the betrothed couple on the eve of their wedding, a gentle and contemplative episode and performed beautifully by the whole orchestra.

The first half was concluded with excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo And Juliet, starting with the wonderful piece Montagues And Capulets, probably best known now as the theme music to BBC show The Apprentice. This was stirring stuff to introduce the audience to Prokofiev’s score. This was followed by Juliet Jeune Fille, Masks and finally concluding with the sombre piece Death Of Tybalt.

After the interval, the orchestra and audience was joined by the RSC actor and director Samuel West, well known for his role in the film Howards End and most recently in the popular TV production Mr Selfridge.

Reciting the famous speeches from Henry V made so famous by Sir Laurence Olivier and accompanied by William Walton’s rousing wartime film score, this was a fitting conclusion to a memorable evening.

For forthcoming HSO performances please go to

Shakespeare at Shiplake

Henley Symphony Orchestra

Sunday, June 23

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