A GROUP of Shropshire’s most experienced actors are working under the ‘umbrella’ of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company to perform in Ludlow.

County thespians Steven Piper, Rai Fisher, Giles Emerson, Peter and Tim Mawson are in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which takes the stage at Appletree Studio in Ludlow’s Lower Galdeford. The play is produced by the TwoScoreYearsand 10+ company, based just over the county boundary at Knighton-on-Teme, and is one of only 90 amateur productions nationwide selected by the RSC under its prestigious Open Stages project which aims to transform the relationship between amateur and professional theatre. As part of the project the company have attended workshops in Stratford, and received training, mentoring, feedback and support from the RSC.

Although TwoScoreYearsand 10+ has amateur status, most company members have acted professionally. Oxford graduate Giles Emerson (Feste) was a director and actor with the Balliol College lunchtime theatre group, joined the Questors Company in Ealing, and co-founded travelling theatre group The Peripatetics, touring in Herefordshire and Shropshire.

Steven Piper, who plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek, is locally famous as the founder of the Old Dic Theatre Company, sending-up the Bard each year at the Ludlow Festival Fringe. In real life, he’s head teacher of a school for pupils with behavioural difficulties. Rai Fisher (Maria) trained for the stage, worked in professional and community theatre in Toronto, and has acted in many local productions here.

Tim Mawson (Sebastian) has appeared in performances in Manchester, Bolton, Stratford, Brussels, Luxembourg, Geneva and The Hague, and as an Ugly Sister at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms. International lawyer Paul Rew (Sir Toby Belch) has frequently acted with the American Theatre Company, Brussels, and is also a leading voice actor whose credits include recordings for Ludlow’s Dog Rose Trust for the visually impaired, and award-winning Acoustic Fingerprint Guides to Coventry and Lichfield Cathedrals.

Peter Hayter (Count Orsino) read Drama and English at London University’s Goldsmith’s College but left after one year to join the absurdly named Company Worktheatre, acting a variety of roles at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years running, first starring as one of the mechanicals in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and later as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. After a spell with 1980s cabaret sensation The Greatest Show On Legs, Hayter moved into sports journalism, writing on football and cricket for most of the Fleet St. titles, taking the job of Football Correspondent for Sportsweek magazine then succeeding Bill Frindall as the Cricket Correspondent for The Mail On Sunday, a post he recently vacated after 25 years’ service, and he is now the chief writer for The Cricket Paper.

The five join other actors, a director, a choreographer and a musical director from Herefordshire and Worcestershire in a production summarised as ‘love, laughter, identical twins, and a pair of yellow stockings’. It’s an intimate close-up production presented on a thrust stage. Song and dance feature strongly. Much-loved characters in this favourite among Shakespeare’s comedies include Sir Toby Belch, Malvolio, and Viola, who cross-dresses to survive after a shipwreck only to have local Countess Olivia fall in love with her male alter-ego.

See Two Score Years and Ten in Twelfth Night at the Appletree Theatre (01584 318015) in Ludlow on Wednesday and Thursday, September 3 and 4; the Willow Globe, Rhayader (01597 811487) on Friday, September 5 and Knighton-on-Teme Parish Rooms (01584 781412) on Saturday, September 6.