UK Theatre Award Winners: The Herbal Bed

UK Theatre Award Winner: The Herbal Bed, Best Touring Production 2016

The Herbal Bed. Photo by Mark Douet. Charlotte Wakefield, Michael Mears
The Herbal Bed. Photo by Mark Douet. Charlotte Wakefield, Michael Mears
Date Published: 12 July 2017
John Manning Headshot.jpg

by John Manning, Producer at Royal & Derngate, Northampton.


Our production of Peter Whelan’s THE HERBAL BED was a co-production with English Touring Theatre and Rose Theatre Kingston. We’d previously worked with ETT on a production of EDEN END but this was our first time working with the Rose. We’d been in regular dialogue with both companies about possible titles on which we could collaborate and this was the one which seemed the best fit for all three partners.

James Dacre, our Artistic Director and the production’s director, had previously directed ACCRINGTON PALS at the Royal Exchange and was looking for an opportunity to work on another of Peter’s plays. The play is inspired by a document in the ecclesiastical court at Worcester Cathedral which makes reference to the trial of Shakespeare’s daughter for adultery in 1613. There’s a local link to the play: Shakespeare’s daughter later lived in Abington Park, a few miles away from the theatre. It was also the first of a series of plays we produced to commemorate 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.

We have our own workshops and wardrobe on-site at Royal & Derngate, so all the physical elements of the piece were made in Northampton. The challenge of Peter’s script is that it takes place largely in a herb garden behind a 17th century family house but midway through the second act, the scene moves to the rather ambitious setting of Worcester Cathedral, only to return to the herb garden for the last scene of the play – a challenge for any designer but particularly when a show is touring and needs to be put up and taken down at theatres around the country on a weekly basis.

Jonathan Fensom came up with an ingenious design which solved the challenge in an inspired way. A hessian curtain hung as a backdrop with a skyline effect painted across it. The play started with a two closed walls which were opened at curtain up to reveal the herb garden. When the action relocated, the walls were spun round and opened out to form the walls of a chamber in Worcester Cathedral and a parting of the hessian backdrop revealed an imposing cathedral door and arched window. Within literally seconds and with some clever changes to the lighting states from Malcolm Rippeth, the set could change from an rural garden to an imposing cathedral and back again. Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson’s excellent original score added further texture to the two distinct settings.

It was a delightful surprise to win the award for Best Touring Production and particularly important that representatives from all three partners were there to jointly accept it. So much of working in theatre is about collaboration and this production was a perfect example of the how working in partnership can pay off both financially and artistically. One year on and we embark on our second co-production with ETT and Rose Kingston this Autumn – Simon Godwin directing a new production of Sam Holcroft’s RULES FOR LIVING.

Submissions are now open for the 2017 UK Theatre Awards.

Our awards are open to UK Theatre members working in both the commercial and subsidised sectors of the performing arts. UK Theatre members can submit their own applications for several award categories.The deadline for nominations is 31 August 2017.  Find out more here. 

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