Dukes actors prepare for Hobbit park production

Gareth Cassidy last appeared in Williamson Park as Rumplestiltskin.
Gareth Cassidy last appeared in Williamson Park as Rumplestiltskin.

He played The Beast in The Dukes Christmas show and now Gareth Cassidy will go outdoors with the theatre this summer when he appears as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.

Gareth is a firm favourite with Lancaster audiences having also played Scrooge in The Dukes’ 2013 production of A Christmas Carol.

He is no stranger to The Dukes outdoor shows either as The Hobbit will be his third summer in the park. His first appearance was in Peter Pan in 2010 and he played Rumplestiltskin and Sydney the Swan in the 2014 production of Hansel and Gretel And More Tales From The Forest.

Another familiar face joining The Hobbit cast is Russell Richardson who will play Gandalf after appearing as Fagin in last year’s production of Oliver Twist.

Despite now being veterans of outdoor theatre performance, it still poses challenges for the two actors.

“I think the main challenge is connecting with the large audience that the park show draws over such an open and expansive space,” said Gareth.

“We need to make sure that every member of the audience, whether they’re down at the front on their camping chairs or standing on a tuffet right at the back, feels connected to the story and the characters.

“The worst thing is not necessarily the potential rain, it’s aircraft noise,” said Russell. “The best thing is the natural setting and the unique element of the event.”

Gareth and Russell will be among a cast of seven who will begin rehearsals for The Hobbit at the beginning of June. The names of those joining them will be revealed soon.

Like last year, the cast will be supported by a community company chosen from The Dukes Young Company, some of who appeared in the recently acclaimed production of The Crucible.

The park show gives the teenagers a unique opportunity to work with professional actors and the team behind what is the UK’s biggest outdoor walkabout theatre event.

Over the next few months, The Dukes will be keeping Guardian readers informed of all the preparations for the park show. The Hobbit opens on July 5 and runs until August 13. For tickets, ring The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or www.dukes-lancaster.org. Book before May 31 and save £2 per ticket.

Also at The Dukes next week is an early Summer Holiday with the classic screening of the Sir Cliff Richard musical, Summer Holiday (U) along with a Swinging Sixties Sing-a-Long on April 25 as part of its pioneering A Life More Ordinary (ALMO) project.

Summer Holiday begins at 2pm and finishes at 4.15pm. Admission is £4 (carers go free).