Sheffield: Summer in the city

Heartbreak Productions perform Much Ado about Nothing at the Botanical Gardens in Sheffield. Picture: Alan Janaszek
Heartbreak Productions perform Much Ado about Nothing at the Botanical Gardens in Sheffield. Picture: Alan Janaszek

MIDSUMMER finds Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens buzzing with life as a busy programme of open-air cultural events reaches a crescendo.

Last weekend saw the first of three visits by Heartbreak Productions with a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

This week is the big one, however, with the annual Music in the Gardens which will bring thousands flocking to the park over its four days, an event which becomes bigger each year.

It opened last night with Keith Peters and his Big Band, supported by the Sheffield University Big Band, in an evening of swing which can be relied on to have many of the audience up on their feet dancing on the grass. This year there was a prize on offer for best-dressed dancer.

Tonight (Thusday, July 5) it’s the turn of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Relying on nothing more than ukuleles and singing (and a bit of whistling), they produce a funny and foot-stomping sound.

They defy the limitations of the instrument by using different sizes with high and low registers to play intricate melodies, simple tunes or complex chords. Sitting in chamber group format dressed in formal evening wear, they range round a diverse setlist that includes classical composers such as Tchaikovsky, to rock bands like Nirvana, mixed with Spaghetti Western soundtracks.

Headlining Music in the Gardens this year are the redoubtable 10cc, playing their greatest hits from the past 40 years such as Dreadlock Holiday, Life Is a Minestrone, Arts for Art’s Sake, I’m Not In Love and Rubber Bullets.

They will be led by writer, singer and bass player Graham Gouldman from the original line-up, along with Paul Burgess, who has been behind the drums since 1973, and guitarist Rick Fenn, who joined in 1976. They will be augmented by keyboard player Mike Stevens and multi-instrumentalist Mick Wilson.

They will be supported by local band The Bootleggers.

The classical concert on Saturday night will be opened by the Dodworth Colliery Band, followed by the Sheffield Philharmonic Orchestra and climaxing with the traditional Last Night of the Proms second half singalong and much flag-waving.

The orchestra will be conducted by Jonny Lo with Sophie Cameron as guest leader and popular Italian tenor Antonello Arca is returning.

The Sardinian has become a fixture of the concert since 2010, after the orchestra’s treasurer David Oakley spotted him while holidaying on the island.

Despite being forced to make the long journey to England by coach due to his fear of flying, he has returned every year and will once again sing popular Italian songs before leading the orchestra in renditions of Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem.

“ISheffield has enchanted me with its food, countryside and wonderful gardens where the concert takes place,” he said.

“Last year the trip lasted 28 hours to get to Sheffield. I’m pretty used to this trip now since I travel all around Europe only by bus or train, but Sheffield is the farthest city I reached by bus. It doesn’t bother me. I’m ready to face any discomfort to come to Sheffield.”

The night and the whole event will be rounded off with fireworks. Festival-goers can also enjoy food and beverage stalls and rent gazebos to watch the proceedings in style.

Chief charity beneficiaries this year of the event, organised by local Rotary Clubs, will be Safe@Last, Sheffield Young Carers, Barnado’s Rotherham Young Carers, Breast Cancer Care and Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind.

There will need to be a quick turnround to ready the park for the next attraction, which is some more open-air theatre.

The Pantaloons Theatre Company return with a contrasting double bill of Oscar Wilde’s classic, The Importance of Being Earnest, with a few contemporary twists next Thursday and Grimm Fairy Tales on Friday.

Formed in 2004, Pantaloons are a touring company who have built up a reputation for ambitious, highly physical and comic performances. With The Importance of Being Earnest, “We’ve taken influence from silent film, Victorian music hall and contemporary physical theatre to compliment Wilde’s brilliant words,” says producer Mark Hayward.

Audiences can expect moments of audience interaction even before the show even starts, The Pantaloons’ team of efficient butlers will help to direct people to their seats, announce their arrival, open their champagne and maybe even shine their shoes.

Both shows feature the same cast of five multi-skilled actor-musicians. Heartbreak Productions will be back with their version of family favourite The Railway Children from August 10-12 and Noel Coward’s Private Lives (August 16-19). The summer season will be rounded off with Art in the Gardens on the weekend of September 3-4.