Behind the scenes at the play in the park

THE milk float has arrived – it must be showtime!

The Dukes’ unusual mobile sound and lighting desk has become a star in its own right after featuring in the outdoor shows in Williamson Park.

Over the last 25 years, four milk floats have been used, and when the latest version is brought out of storage to be fitted up with all its gadgetry, it’s a sure sign to everyone at The Dukes that the park season is well and truly on its way.

The behind-the-scenes team have already started work in the park, moving logs about and checking some of the electrics.

At the helm are productions and operations manager, John Newman Holden, and lighting designer, Brent Lees.

John’s association with the park shows goes back to 1992, when he joined the team as stage manager for Taming of the Shrew and The Wizard of Oz, while Brent can go one year better, as he’s spent 20 summers designing the lighting which gives every show its memorable atmosphere as the sun goes down.

Everyone working on the show has already been given a sneak preview of how Merlin and The Legend of King Arthur will look, courtesy of a presentation by designer, Alison Heffernan.

The action will take place in six locations, beginning in The Dell, the ampitheatre created during the 25 years of park shows and a place which has witnessed many dramatic scenes in past productions.

Although a Round Table and sword in the stone are guaranteed features of this year’s show, there will be many surprises along the way, as the audience follow Arthur on his quest to save ancient England.

And the final scene will be truly spectacular – a moment to remember for years to come.

The set will be made in The Dukes workshop, an Aladdin’s cave of scenery, props and costumes which have graced many a previous park show.

The place becomes a hive of activity as the team make Alison’s designs reality.

It’s all hands on deck in The Dukes wardrobe department too, as materials are sourced and fittings begin taking place once the cast arrive – this Monday, June 13.

Next week will see the first readthrough of the script written by the award-winning Kevin Dyer, who will travelling to Lancaster for the first few days of rehearsals.

And for many of the cast, next week is also their first chance to see Williamson Park, which will be their stage for five weeks.

However, their initial rehearsal weeks will take place mainly indoors, upstairs at the Collegian Club in Lancaster city centre, combined with several familiarisation trips to the park.

But it’s not until the final week before opening night when the actors begin performing with microphones in the park that they, the director and cast get a true sense of how things work.

By then, everyone’s fingers are well and truly crossed for a successful special anniversary summer season.

n Merlin & The Legend of King Arthur opens on July 8 and runs until August 13.

For tickets, ring The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or go to www.dukes-lancaster.org.