Busy rehearsals as Stamford Shakespeare Company prepares for 2012 season at Tolethorpe Hall

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STAMFORD Shakespeare Company members are busy rehearsing all three plays for this year’s summer season of open-air theatre.

Twelfth Night, Henry IV, Part 1 and the non-Shakespeare offering - The Three Musketeers - will be performed at Rutland Open-Air Theatre at Tolethorpe Hall between June 4 and September 1.

Playgoers from all over the UK - plus some from overseas - will home in on this major tourist attraction that had 34,500 visitors last year.

Ticket-holders can enjoy picnics in a classic country house garden before watching a play from a renowned drama group which acts on an open-air stage surrounded by an idyllic woodland glade.

The 600-seat auditorium is set in a natural amphitheatre and has a weatherproof roof. No performance is ever cancelled because of rain and so actors can and do get wet.

Twelfth Night, a comedy about shipwrecked twins, mistaken identity, drunken revels and unrequited love and featuring characters Olivia, Orsino, Viola, Sebastian, Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Malvolio and the line: ‘If music be the food of love, play on’, runs from June 4-9 and June 18-23 and again from July 9-14 and July 23-28.

Henry IV, Part 1 is an intriguing mix of history and comedy. Hal, the Prince of Wales, is more of a rogue than royalty, preferring to spend his time in drinking dens with Sir John Falstaff before a threatened rebellion by the valiant Hotspur induces a transformation in the young prince.

The play opens on June 12 for a week and will run for three more weeks, June 25-30, July 30 to August 4 and August 13-18.

The Three Musketeers, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas and including the famous line: ‘All for one - and one for all’, features the adventures of Porthos, Athos and Aramis alongside young upstart d’Artagnan, the baddie Cardinal Richelieu and beautiful English spy, Milady de Winter.

Performances begin on July 3 and run for alternate weeks until September 1.

There is a restaurant, bar and tuck shop inside the historic Elizabethan hall with pre-performance buffet meals and readymade picnics available - booking essential.

The orangery can also be used for picnics if the weather is not suitable. The grounds open at midday for 1.30pm matinee performances and at 5pm for 7.45pm evening ones.

Tickets for plays are £12.50 from Monday-Thursday, £15 for Fridays and £18 for Saturdays. Matinee tickets are £12, children £7 and tickets for preview nights are £10.

There are concessions for group bookings and school parties.

The box office number is 01780 756133, or ring Stamford Arts Centre on 01780 763203. Online booking is at www.stamfordshakespeare.co.uk

l Stamford Shakespeare Company was founded in 1968 and for many years performances were in the monastery garden of The George Hotel. The company moved to Tolethorpe Hall in 1977.