West Berkshire’s renowned Boxford Masques event returns to Welford Park this summer in the form of “Joe Soap’s Masquerade” specially written by award-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean.
Directed by Ade Morris with music written by Flying Picket Paul Kissaun, the summertime play will be performed outside in the grounds of Welford Park from July 30 to August 3 by kind permission of the Puxley family.
The play is set towards the end of the First World War and is performed by a cast of locals aged from seven to 70 plus! Performed with live music, the action takes place in 1918 in the “Big House” and the neighbourhood is hoping for peace. The protagonist Charlotte Peake has her heart set on a circus to celebrate the end of the war – there’s even a tent in the barn, but where’s the talent going to come from to fill it?
Maybe by taking a leaf from Lord George Sanger, famed Newbury circus owner and gold-plated fibber… Enter the anarchic Joe and friends, deserters from the army, with their bitter-sweet Masquerade.
“It will be strange to see Great War uniforms walking around these grounds again,” said Deborah Puxley who, for a second time, is throwing wide the gates of her home to the Masques. “A century ago so many individual tragedies and little triumphs must have been acted out here, in this idyllic spot, while the War raged on overseas.”
Geraldine McCaughrean added: “Fittingly, Welford Park itself was used as a First World War hospital and the idyllic setting between the Queen Anne house and the River Lambourn is the most gorgeous backdrop for a play.”
From 1916 onwards Welford Park was used as a convalescent home for injured troops. Photographs from the time show men recuperating in the grand rooms and gardens, ‘wound patches’ sewn to their uniforms like ‘red badges of courage’. 600 troopers were treated there, 30 resident at any one time. In summer there were outdoor sports, in winter occupational therapy. In October 1919 it closed with a final concert given by the residents.
The Boxford Masques were established in 1908 by the real Charlotte Peake and were revived by late Boxfordian historian John Vigor, and Ade Morris with the Watermill Theatre, in 2000. This year’s production, now independent of the Watermill, is the second at Welford Park.
Originally, masques were lavish musical spectacles staged for kings, queens and courtiers but Charlotte Peake began writing her own ‘masques’ for performance by family and staff, and for the enjoyment of her arty circle of friends.
Her stage was a natural amphitheatre at the top of Hoar Hill, overlooking most of the county. In ten years they became a village tradition.
With songs specially composed by Paul KIssaun , dancing choreographed by Newbury Contempory Dance's Deborah Camp, lovely costumes, a huge cast of local men, women and children, and fully professional production values, a Boxford Masque is always a sight worth seeing.
“Bring a picnic and a bottle of wine or enjoy an onsite barbeque and a drink from the bar. Enjoy the ravishing gardens, the sun setting during Act 2, the flare path lighting your way home…
"Masques were invented to entertain royalty. The Boxford Masques are made for you,” added Geraldine.
Tickets are available from the Watermill Box Office on 01635 46044 or www.watermill.org.uk and cost £9 in advance (£10 on the gate for Wednesday, Thursday nights and Saturday matinee at 2.30pm).
£12 in advance/£14 on the gate for Friday and Saturday nights.
£3 off the price of all seats (elderly, 12-16 year olds, disabled and unwaged). Free for children aged 11 and under.
A bar and a barbecue are available at each performance.
Grateful thanks are due to the Watermill for box office and costume assistance as well as Greenham Common Trust for match funding the project through their www.findmeagrant.org scheme.
For more information about Boxford Masques please visit www.boxfordmasques.co.uk
Notes to editors:
Review tickets are available on request. Geraldine McCaughrean, Ade Morris, and other members of the committee are available for interviews.
You’re welcome to send a reporter, photographer and cameraman to dress rehearsals on Tuesday or Wednesday, 29/30th July,or earlier to catch final preparations at Welford.