The Guildford Shakespeare Company's Matt Pinches on new shows, theatre highlights and Surrey culture

The Guildford Shakespeare Company performing

The Guildford Shakespeare Company have two open air shows planned for this summer - Credit: Matt Pereira

We speak to the co-founder of The Guildford Shakespeare Company about highlights from over the years, Surrey spots, and open-air theatre plans...

What is Surrey to you?
Whether it’s a National Trust spot or a Heritage hidden gem, we have a range of green spaces that I’m incredibly grateful for. I think we do a wonderful job of celebrating our county too, and the arts and culture organisations in the county do a great job of standing out and shouting above the noise of London.

What is your favourite Surrey spot?
Where I live in Bramley, in my back garden. The gate goes on to the Downs Link, which connects to the North Downs. In lockdown my partner and I recently discovered The Hurtwood, where there are wonderful hills and sculptures dotted about the woodlands. There’s a break in the trees where you can see blue skies clearly when they appear, and a terrific view that goes on for miles. 

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What would be your ideal day in Surrey? 
I would start off with a local breakfast with a coffee in Guildford – it has lots of lovely independent eateries and cafes. Then I would go for a walk, starting from St Martha's Hill, and then making our way down into Chilworth for a nice pint, before getting the train back. The Wey and Arun Canal is also a great place to visit, so that would be an option for a visit too. Discovering and seeing the places which they are renovating, and watching the volunteers bring it back to life is really fascinating. 


How (or did you know) that Guildford was the right place to set up your theatre company?
Surrey has been my home since 2004, when I moved to Guildford as a jobbing actor. Sarah Gobran (the company’s co-founder) came to me with the question of why we didn't have an open air theatre company in Guildford. We looked at the venues that we've got here, the space and the fact it’s a really artsy type of town. We literally saw a gap in the market, and thought ‘let's do something different.’

What have been some highlights?
From a production side of things, having Brian Blessed played King Lear in 2015, was a massive highlight and to have his good friend, Kenneth Branagh come along, to see the show as well was amazing, as he helped us get going when we first started. The Wind in the Willows was also great, as we had a real 1920s motorcar for toad, and he jumped in and drove down the lane. 

Another highlight is our education and outreach programmes. We work with around, in usual times, 5,000 young and older people in our in-house classes, evening classes in schools, and in our brave new world programme that we started a couple of years ago. We're incredibly proud of these programmes and are excited about what they have in store for the future. 


What has been your favourite production so far?
That’s like asking to choose your favourite child! There’s so many reasons I adore them all. Merry Wives of Windsor in 2019 was wonderful. Entering the stage by train at Guildford’s model railway was just a pure, pure joy. Revisiting Romeo and Juliet in 2018 was great too. Our gender swapped production of Measures to Measure in the wake of #MeToo movement was also important and really generated a lot of conversation. 

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What plans have you got for this year?
As we come out of the pandemic, we have a wish list of what we want to be doing but we've got to continue to be flexible. In June we’ll be back where we first started, in Guildford castle gardens with She Stoops to Conquer. We are also performing As You Like It in July in Racks Close. We started the Guildford Theatre Company in the open air, so we're really excited to be able to be inviting our audiences back to those venues and to get on stage in front of them. 

Looking ahead, we have a number of new projects including one which is called the Purple Princess, which is a tour to primary schools, raising awareness of hidden disabilities but focusing on epilepsy. We're currently working on other community-orientated post COVID projects now. The arts have proved such an important part of our lives through these unprecedented times. Now, once again, they will be centre stage in helping to rebuild our communities and bring people together once they can be. Watch this space for 2022.

The Guildford Shakespeare Company’s Open Air season features She Stoops to Conquer June 17 – July 3 and As You Like It on July 19 – 31. Booking and further details are available on guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk

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