Amateur British actors are in hot demand this month as the ‘Castillon 1453’ association recruits around 680 volunteer thespians for this summer’s recreation of the Battle of Castillon near Libourne in Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
Founded more than 40 years ago, the not-for-profit association puts on a rousing show in the grounds of Château de Castegens, every summer weekend.
This year the dates run from July 19 to August 24 inclusive and around 35,000 spectators are expected to watch the shows, which start at 10.30pm in July and 10pm in August. (The evenings start, however, with Medieval demonstrations and, of course, wine tasting.)
The battle of Castillon was decisively won by the French in July 1453, marking the end of the Hundred Years’ War and pretty much the end of English ambitions in France.
Bordeaux had fallen to France in 1451, but having been under Plantagenet rule for 300 years, the people of Bordeaux considered themselves English and begged Henry VI of England to come and retake the territory.
So in December 1452, the Earl of Shrewsbury arrived with 3,000 troops and did just that.
Not in the slightest bit amused, the king of France, Charles VII, marched south in 1653 and laid siege to Castillon.
By the time the Earl arrived, the French army had dug trenches and equipped them with 300 large cannons. The Earl, believing his army were about to come up, attacked and ran into the full force of the French artillery.
As English reinforcements arrived in dribs and drabs, they were all blown to pieces by the French guns and after an hour, the English were routed.
The Earl died in the battle; apparently pinned down by his fallen horse he was hacked to death by a soldier armed with an axe.
“We’re looking for all sorts of people. Rehearsals in May and June mainly take place on Sundays; the technical and dress rehearsals take place on mid-week evenings, and how many people need to attend really depends on what parts they are playing,” says director Serge Ruaud. “Those playing leading roles, doing stage fighting and riding need to come to more rehearsals than extras in the crowd scenes. But we also have people working on costumes all year round.”
Experience is not necessary, although of course people with riding or combat skills are more than welcome. “We’re especially keen to recruit English participants as it makes the proceedings feel more authentic, more fun. We definitely need more bilingual people too.”
Taking part in the Battle of Castillon is an extremely social experience. “It’s nothing if not convivial,” says Serge. “Even during rehearsals we get the barbecue going, and before each show we have volunteers who cook for all the performers, who just pay €3 as a contribution to the cost. On the last night we have a party, and then we also have other events throughout the year. It’s a great way to meet lots of people and make new friends.”
Costumes are supplied, unless participants already have a suitable one, and safety is a top consideration. “People are running about in the dark so we get a few bumps and bruises, a twisted ankle or two but nothing serious because it’s a well-organised, well-orchestrated performance. Everyone knows what they are doing.”
Participants have to join the association, which costs €10 (to cover the cost of explosions, costumes, insurance etc) and need to upload their details to a dedicated Facebook page which keeps everyone in touch with each other. “We really could use an extra 40-50 anglophones!” says Serge.
So if you have ever fancied finding out what it might be like to take part in a 16th century battle, visit the Facebook page and contact organisers: www.facebook.com/batailledecastillon