LAST weekend Chedworth Drama Productions put on one of their most ambitious productions yet – an outdoor rendition of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Set in the scenic grounds of Chedworth Manor, I witnessed the cast deliver a flawless performance to a sold-out stand.

Guests enjoyed a picnic on the lawn before settling into their seats. The show set out to impress, beginning with a beautiful chorus featuring Rowena Wakefield, who we would have the pleasure of hearing a number of times throughout the night.

It was immediately clear that a massive effort had gone into constructing the stage, props, costumes, stand and refreshment areas. This was all possible with an increased income, producer Martin Abbott explained. But as a true asset to their community, proceeds from purchases on the night went to Winston’s Wish and the Friends of St Andrews Church.

The Merchant of Venice was a passion project for director Ross Aldridge, who has been with Chedworth Drama for 10 years.

Desperate to play the lead adversary, and fellow Jew, Shylock, Ross auditioned for the Cotswold Arcadians’ rendition of the play years ago. He was given the role of Antonio.

“I thought the only way I’m going to get to play Shylock is to direct it myself,” he joked.

The outdoor setting presented him with some specific challenges. Ross explained how getting the entry and exit just right was hard when they had such a long way to travel within the audience’s view. A lot of practice evidently went into their seamless transitions on the night.

The record-breaking temperatures were also tough, with the team pushing through full dress rehearsals in 30C heat.

Apparently, a few of the cast had only done a couple of pantos before – although those in the audience would find this hard to believe.

Despite the challenges, the company managed to take full advantage of their open setting, giving a performance full of movement and background detail.

The play leaves you feeling slightly unsettled by the supposed triumph for good in Shylock’s downfall – an uneasiness probably not shared by its original audience. The story, seen with contemporary eyes, explores the effects of anti-Semitism and the destructive nature of greed and jealousy.  

The emotive performances of the cast drove home these themes.

A particular highlight was Katy Sirr as the main female lead Portia, who evidently drew on her extensive acting experience to develop a particularly witty and believable heroine.

Lights twinkled as darkness fell and the Shakespeare play without magic, became particularly enchanting.

“We were concerned the play was a bit less light-hearted than our last Shakespeare A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Ross explained.

But they needn’t have worried, the brilliantly-acted final scenes had us laughing out loud.

Anyone interested in joining Chedworth Drama Productions in any capacity should contact chairman Sue Sharman on