WHAT better date to mark the end of a three-night run performing Shakespeare than taking to the stage on the 400th anniversary of his death?

April 23 is also believed to have been the Bard’s birthday and, as people celebrated his life and work around the world, Riding Mill Drama Club staged their very own tribute.

Written by one of the club’s actors, Steve Larkin, and directed by long-serving members Anne Lawrence and Mike Smith, the 15-strong cast took on a host of the most memorable scenes from Shakespeare’s plays in Shakespeare As We Like It.

Hand-picked by the cast themselves, each and every person on stage portrayed the romance, comedy and tragedy like true professionals.

Supported by live music from Colin and Di Dickinson, John MacDonald and Peter Woodward – and the impact of central staging – the performance was memorable.

Will, based on Shakespeare himself, was played masterfully by Graham Lindup, as he fought to keep his merry band of players in line during rehearsals.

A powerful soliloquy from Henry V by Moyra Gardner opened the action and was followed by the intensity of a scene from Macbeth where, amid thunder and lightning, three witches meet to plot their encounter with him.

The witches were played by Frances Hewitt, Susan Cook and Helen Mason.

Frances went on to become the nurse in Romeo and Juliet as she acted the scene alongside Liesl Allcock (Juliet) in which the nurse returns from a secret meeting with Romeo with news about when the pair will be married.

Her clever portrayal of the nurse, who keeps Juliet waiting for news while she catches her breath, was one of my favourite of the entire night.

As for Susan, her confidence as Portia during the quality of mercy speech from The Merchant of Venice, held the attention of the whole audience.

I also spotted nods to The Winter’s Tale, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Richard III and Hamlet throughout the evening.

Roars of laughter drawn by Sandy Gardner as the drunken porter from Macbeth changed the pace to comedy before Steve Larkin and Liesl Allcock took to the stage as lovers Pyramus and Thisbe from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The stand-out moment of the performance for me was when Liesl returned as Desdemona from Othello and sang the mournful folk ballad The Willow Song, in the scene where she is afraid that Othello is wrongly angry with her for being unfaithful.

Her voice was packed full of the haunting melancholy required and drew the loudest applause of the night.

For me, the evening brought memories of many an A-Level English literature class rushing back.

I also left with a renewed appreciation for seeing these important works interpreted on stage.

Shakespeare’s legacy lives on through the work of amateur dramatic groups like Riding Mill Drama Club and it seems safe to conclude, therefore, that “what’s past is prologue.”