Those of you who have some knowledge of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will know that the plot device which brings Bottom and Titania together is a quarrel that the latter has with Oberon about the custody of an Indian boy. In my relentless quest to leave no research stone unturned, I therefore thought I should spend some time on the relevant subcontinent to see what I could find out about this obviously key aspect of the play so I could report back to the rest of the Tower team. Sad to say that having searched through Delhi and Jaipur, explored the forests of Ranthambore and even got up at dawn to scour the Taj Mahal I have to report I have drawn a blank. Ah well, it was a tough job but someone had to do it!
Meanwhile, back at base, it was time to get feedback on our offering for Task 2 and find out what we would be set for our third task. This was to be via a further Google Hang out session in which various of the participating groups are able to talk to each other and to the RSC team via the Internet. Owing to my enforced absence (and, indeed, that of Messrs. Taylor and Tillery who were, no doubt, doing their own “research” in other parts of the globe) clearly a Plan B was required to keep blog readers up to date with developments. So I turned to another of my co-conspirators, Maria Waters who is playing Quince. It seemed entirely within the spirt of the play that Bottom should get Quince to do some of the donkey work, so I’m grateful to Maria for providing the following account of the latest feedback/task setting session…. though of course, Bottom being Bottom there may be an occasional editorial interruption!
A doctor’s life is never less than busy and I was pressed for time that evening so when I arrived shortly after 7pm, I found that we were first up and already halfway through showing our little video of our dance routine. As ever, Erica was very complimentary about what we had done and said that the sense of fun really came through. She felt that it looked like there was a great sense of teamwork, that the dance was ambitious and they particularly loved Adam’s cartwheel! Apparently, they didn’t show our entire video but I think the others were also edited in parts. (Yes, I’d heard on the grapevine that those groups who included pole dancing and twerking had been censored – Ed.)
Erica said that part of the intention of this exercise had been to bring the element of joy into our understanding of the Mechanicals. She asked us how we had found the task. We admitted that we had found it difficult, especially given the time constraints we had found ourselves working under. I told her that I had wondered if the main intention of this task was to put us under pressure doing a task which we were pretty uncomfortable with, i.e. dancing, and seeing how we coped as a team; it mirrors what the Mechanicals have to do rather well. Erica said that she fully expected the process to be stressful – “testy” was the word she used – but the challenge was to do something difficult/outside the normal comfort zone, but still look like we’re having a great time. She had particularly enjoyed the “concentrating faces” during the more difficult parts of the routine but mentioned that she felt that John, as Bottom, could take the fun and naughtiness even further than was evidenced in the video. (Remark duly noted – watch out world! – Ed.)
She asked Assistant Director Kim to also comment. She said that the end of the play is about release – celebrating the end of the show and the achievement of everyone involved. They remarked that they had already tried out some of the intended choreography on the schoolchildren who have been cast and noted that they were completely uninhibited and joyful, which is exactly what the RSC team are looking for.
We then watched some of the videos which other groups had produced; the quality of the routines was impressive.
Lovelace from Nottingham had tried doing the same routine to two different pieces of music and found that when they took the pressure off themselves and just performed without worrying about getting the steps right to the piece of music which they weren’t intending to use, everyone became “in the moment” and that it was miles better – a very important learning point. Becky Morris (their Bottom) threw herself into the routine and Linda Mayes (their Quince) mentioned that she had sort of taken charge and then worried about everyone getting it right – no surprises there! (Yes, that’s Quince alright – Ed.)
The Canterbury Players did a great routine, very detailed with excellent storytelling. They had some innovative moves and quite a few bottom wiggles. (I’ll do the derriere gags, thanks Maria! – Ed.) Though it was already highly watchable, apparently they had also considered adding 15 seconds of fire juggling as one of their members does it as a hobby – but thought better of it. Erica noted that Lisa Nightingale (Bottom) brought a lot of joy and truth and a big part of herself to the routine which they admired.
Belfast was both exciting and hilarious to watch. It seemed very clear that their intention was to show that Bottom had been behind (I’ve already issued a warning about this – Ed!) choreographing the routine but there were also some fun individual moments and Erica said that on occasions, she felt a little bit afraid! She admired that Trevor Gill (Bottom) seemed to take it all very seriously but with a cheeky little twinkle! (Oo-er! Ed.) She commented that it’s okay for the Mechanicals to be a little bit rude and naughty (What, like I’ve just been? – Ed).
Poulton Drama from Blackpool had cowboy hats aplenty and their routine was brilliant! (Being the home of British dance moves, I should hope so! – Ed.) Erica commented that it felt like a decent Saturday night out in Blackpool. The choreography was spectacular – one of the most ambitious and brilliantly executed; it clearly demonstrated great discipline in the group. Kim’s comment was that she felt she wanted to be part of that gang and as an audience member I have to confess I felt the same! She also said that doing a very silly thing very seriously looks brilliant; it’s daft and daring and if you do it with all your heart, it works.
We then moved on to the setting of Task 3 which is to record part of Act V of The Dream as a radio play called Pyramus and Thisbe. We will also have to play all the other roles such as Theseus and Hippolyta who are heard commenting on the onstage proceedings. We will be required to communicate everything using just our own voices. We mustn’t attempt to use “RSC Shakespeare” voices but should give due weight to the words and their sounds paying attention to Michael Corbidge’s work which we covered in our earlier text workshop. We need to consider the judicious use of silence but there is to be no “Archers sighing” (Tune in to Radio 4 to see what that means! – Ed.) We are to “trust that the only tools you need to make people laugh and tell the story are your voice and body” (though clearly not the latter in this particular instance –Ed.) The RSC team will be listening to the recording very carefully before the next feedback session, so that they can give us some very considered and meaningful notes.
Another interesting and challenging task, then, as the project continues to gather momentum. I see the whole thing as a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity to work with professional directors, voice and movement coaches, who are at the top of their game, and to experience, from the inside, how a company such as the RSC operates. This cannot fail to improve my own performances in the future. I am also taking the opportunity this year to see as many live and recorded performances of Shakespeare as I can. There are a large number of plays that I have never seen, but with each play that I see, I am developing a growing love and deep respect for his work. My latest expeditions to Henry V and The Winter’s Tale were revelations. Learning so much in the workshops has really helped to enhance my pleasure as I am more tuned in to the language and its delivery by the actors – when it is done well, it is truly a joy to witness. I hope that, by the time the project climaxes next spring, I will have been pushed to well outside my comfort zone and challenged in ways I hadn’t anticipated culminating in a set of performances that I will remember forever.
Many thanks for that Maria; I think you speak for all of us up and down the country who are participating in this unique experience. Given the evident quality of the other groups it sounds like it’s just as well that the competitive part of the project is over but it’s heartening to know we’re all considered up to the task of shaking a tail feather or two. Meanwhile I wonder if there’s any more research that should be taken care of. I’m pretty sure Theseus makes a passing reference to Egypt in Act V and, after all, Pyramus does sound a bit like pyramid…..