“I’M just getting in touch to announce that we’re doing some Shakespeare on a rugby pitch in Selby in August. Crazy? Perhaps. But it’s going to be fun!”, promises the email from Luke Adamson.
The Selby actor, London pub theatre boss and son of former England squad fly half Ray Adamson will be returning to the scene of his “greatest triumphs” – two times winner of Selby Rugby Club’s Stars in Their Eyes competition, no less – to present Twelfth Night on August 20 and 21.
Adapted and directed by Adamson, his raucous, musical version of “Shakespeare’s funniest play” will be staged on Selby RUFC turf by JLA Productions with Adamson as the foppish comic foil Sir Andrew Aguecheek in a cast rich with Yorkshire acting talent.
Twelfth Night is the Shakespeare one where identical twins Sebastian and Viola are separated at sea after their ship sinks. When Viola washes up on the shores of Illyria, she must disguise herself as a man in order to gain employment with the local Duke, Orsino.
In a nutshell, “Orsino is in love with Olivia; Olivia is in love with Viola (who she thinks is a man called Cesario); Malvolio thinks Olivia is in love with him; Viola is in love with Orsino (who also thinks she is a man called Cesario),” runs the plot.
“Antonia is in love with Sebastian; Sir Andrew is trying to woo Olivia; Feste is stirring the pot and Sir Toby Belch and Maria are getting drunk and making mischief.”
Ah, yes, that one! “Out go pantaloons, cross garters and big fluffy collars,” says Luke. “In come rugby socks, cricket jumpers and questionable facial hair. Filled with slapstick comedy, famous songs and more than a few modern references, it promises to be a fast, funny, family-friendly show for all ages.”
Luke, artistic director of JLA Productions and The Bridge House Theatre, in London SE20, is no stranger to the Selby RUFC pitches. He once played scrum half alongside his fly-half father Ray, who toured Australia and Fiji as part of England’s squad in 1988.
“It was for Selby fifth team” recalls Luke, who later returned to the ground on a Sunday afternoon in July 2017 as part of the squad for Leeds company Slung Low’s free Selby Arts Festival performance of Lisa Holdsworth’s Rugby Songs: the show with headsets for the crowd, first staged at assorted Yorkshire grounds during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Luke knew Slung Low director Alan Lane from doing Blood + Chocolate with him in York in 2013 and festival director David Edmunds from when his Dep Arts organisation helped him to tour One Last Waltz, a play about Alzheimer’s.
“The prospect of doing a show with rugby songs at rugby club grounds was something I wanted to get involved with, so I contacted Alan,” he says.
“I’d played Rugby Union since junior days, as a scrum half, starting at seven years old, and my dad went on tour with England in 1988, when he was playing for fly half and full back for Wakefield, and he was also in the squad for the Five Nations, so it was interesting when the script came through, with stories such as when England fans first sang Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, at Twickenham that year.”
Chris Oti, England’s black winger, had scored a second-half hattrick of tries that March afternoon in a 35-3 victory, prompting the Twickenham throng to burst into their tribute song. “‘I was there’, my dad said. ‘What, you were in the crowd?’ I asked him. ‘No, I was on the England bench’!”
Ray reached the rugby heights, first as a player then as a referee, and Luke showed promise too. “I played in the North Yorkshire squad for one season in my age group, but by then I was starting to go to youth theatre in York and I knew that was the route I wanted to go down, but I did play a season with the Selby fifths with my dad in 2006-2007,” he recalls.
The July 2017 sold-out performance took place on Selby RUFC’s first-team pitch with the crowd on the touchlines, hearing every note and story behind each national song, from New Zealand’s Haka to South Africa’s Shosholoza, through hi-tech headphone technology, the trademark of Slung Low’s outdoor productions.
Luke, who appeared in the 2015 production too, performed with Nadia Imam, Tyron Maynard and Sally Ann Staunton, each kitted in myriad national rugby shirts.
“Doing it in the middle of summer, it was so hot as we each had to have six jerseys on at one point – and we had to make sure we’d all got them on in the right order,” he says Luke.
The Kiwis’ Haka is traditionally the most fearsome sight and sound in world rugby, but Luke fondly remembers that not being the case on that Sunday afternoon. “I’m not sure it’s quite as intimidating when you have just four actors,” he concedes. “But the message was very profound and philosophical about life and death.”
Now he will return to Selby RUFC, for all the fun and games of Twelfth Night, later this summer.
JLA Productions in Twelfth Night, Selby Rugby Union Football Club, August 20, 7.30pm; August 21, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale at jlaproductions.co.uk with discounts available for family bookings.