NOT all actors enjoy the outdoor life, Philip Ryder admits, but he is clearly one who does.
Ryder went out on the road one summer as an actor for hire with another company specialising in taking the theatre outdoors and had so much fun that he and his fellow partner in the London Contemporary Theatre, Jonathan Ashby-Rock, decided to do something similar themselves.
"I had an amazingly fun summer going to all these National Trust properties and stately homes, performing Shakespeare to big audiences," Ryder said.
"We tried that last year and now we are doing it again on a bigger scale. It’s just a beautiful way to spend the summer."
Joining Ryder and Ashby-Rock on the current tour are fellow cast members Lucy Peacock, Ewan Reilly and Jenni Stacey, most of them playing our or five different roles as they bring Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Dream to life in summer gardens the length of Britain, including Cawdor Castle where they make this year’s Highland appearance.
"They all play music as well, so for the whole two hours you are constantly doing something," Ryder added.
"Most of the costume changes we’ve got down to between 15 and 30 seconds so you go through the whole show like a marathon. You never stop, but it’s so much fun to do as a result.
"We look for actors who can play musical instruments, we look for a lot of musical theatre singers because you have to know how to use your voice. We perform in really big spaces and sometimes we can have audiences of up to 600 or 700 people, so you have top be able to project really well. Actors who do a lot of TV or smaller theatre work might not have that projection, then after a day or two lose their voices."
They also have to be able to stand up to the challenge of performing in the outdoors and all that brings, whether baking sunshine or, potentially more likely in the Highlands, rain and mum.
"Finding the girls is always the trickiest bit," Ryder admitted.
"We spend a lot of the tour camping in outdoor places and if it’s wet you get muddy — we had our dress rehearsal last week in London and it tipped it down. It’s great fun, but there are only a certain amount of female actors who would be up for such a gig."
If outdoor theatre attracts a different breed of actor, then audiences are different from the ones who might be expected to watch Shakespeare in the comfort of a theatre.
This tends to mean more holiday makers and more families than typical theatre audiences and a wider age range, going from pre-schoolers to the over-90s at one recent show.
"It does tend to be the more outdoorsy people, as well as regular theatre goers," Ryder said.
The adventurous London Contemporary Theatre does not just do shows outdoors.
It also performs shows inside, but not always conventionally. This includes performing plays in pitch black theatres, the only light coming from candles and torches for a few brief moments before being snuffed out again.
One of the most successful of these was the company’s version of Macbeth, which just adds to the actors’ excitement about appearing at Cawdor.
"We’re camping onsite and I think we’ll put together a little 10-minute of Macbeth, just so we can say we’ve done a little bit of Macbeth at Cawdor," Ryder added.
"But there isn’t really a suitable indoor space for that show whereas Midsummer’s Dream is a fun, outdoor show. It’s definitely the right show that we are doing there."
• A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare and performed by London Contemporary Theatre is at Cawdor Castle on Sunday 6th Jumy. Doors open at 6.30pm and the performance begins at 7.30pm.Tickets priced £14.50 for adults and £8 for children can be booked by calling 01667 404401.