All Greek to thee

Kate Gray on the award-winning drama group hidden in a local school
By Waltham Forest Echo

The Taming of the Shrew in 2021 (credit: Greek Theatre Players)
The Taming of the Shrew in 2021 (credit: Greek Theatre Players)

Nestled in the grounds of Walthamstow School for Girls is perhaps the borough’s best kept secret: a theatre known fondly as “The Greek” and home to an award-winning drama group established in 1958. They are the Greek Theatre Players, who emerge every year for a short time to bring Shakespeare to life for local audiences at an affordable price.

Though built in 1924, the Greek is modelled on an ancient amphitheatre and there’s truly nothing better than sitting outdoors on a warm summer evening, watching the cast appear in their finery to perform in the round. I still remember the magic of the first performance I saw there at perhaps nine years old, which had me rapt even though full comprehension of the play’s language was beyond me. It became a firm tradition to attend each year, inviting others to come and experience Walthamstow as never before.

Of course, these days the local area has gentrified to the point that open-air Shakespeare doesn’t sound as incongruous as it did then but, nonetheless, it still has the power to surprise and delight. Us old-timers can always spot the newbies – they’re the ones without a cushion to sit on, you only make that mistake once!

As You Like It in 2018 (credit: Greek Theatre Players)

After three decades in the audience, I got brave enough to join the group and experience the magic from the other side with a small part in last year’s play, The Taming of the Shrew. The National Operatic and Dramatic Association named the production its “Best drama” at regional level and awarded “Best female character” to Laura Wootten for her marvellously feisty Kate.

“It’s Shakespeare as intended,” returning director Mark Greenall told me, “The Greek Theatre lets us produce Shakespeare plays in the kind of space they were written for: outdoors, with fine costumes but little set, surrounded by the audience.

“For the actors, it feels surprisingly intimate and, when the lights come up and the stone takes on a golden hue, it feels like stepping into a magical space quite unlike any other theatre.”

I have to agree. Whether you’re on stage in a fabulous period costume or watching the action while sipping a glass of wine in the audience, there really is something special about this place. I always come away feeling proud that we have this gem – and such talent – in Walthamstow.

Now you’re in on the secret, you’ll not want to miss this year’s production of Twelfth Night, a play featuring mistaken identity, love and laughs. It’s guaranteed to be a good night but you’ll have to be quick to catch it as the play is only running from 27th to 30th July at 7.30pm, plus a 3pm matinee on the 30th. Tickets, ranging from £5-10, are sold on the door 30 minutes ahead of each performance and all profits will go to the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal.

Find out more about this year’s production or how to get involved in future plays here