The big buzz in the last week has been the announcement of the professional cast and confirmation of the creative team for the A Play For A Nation project. The amateurs were made known back in May and the school children have been selected (if not yet announced) so that means the final parts of this theatrical jigsaw are now in place – very exciting!
The headline is that the role of Titania, the queen of the fairies, is going to be played by Ayesha Dharker. Ayesha appeared as a critically acclaimed Emilia in the RSC’s recent production of Othello; her performance was hailed in The Guardian as “a kaleidoscope of emotion resolving in a blaze of courage”. Ayesha has also appeared onstage in the lead role of Shahrazad in the RSC’s version of The Arabian Nights, in the original cast of Bombay Dreams and in many other theatre pieces. On TV she has appeared recently in the Channel 4 series Indian Summers (which I thoroughly enjoyed prior to my recent trip to the subcontinent), played a lead role in The Indian Doctor with Sanjeev Bhaskar and can tick off two icons of British TV- Doctor Who and Coronation Street – on her CV. While Ayesha’s filmwork has also been extensive she is perhaps most widely known for her role as Queen Jamilla of the Naboo in the Star Wars franchise which, of course, is just about to go global again with the release of a new film.
Playing another iconic Queen must be an interesting challenge and will perhaps be made more exciting by the unusual nature of the production. There will a string of 14 Bottoms to interact with as well as different sets of young fairies in 12 different locations as the production moves around the country. This might be enough to give any actor or actress pause for thought – the old adage about never working with children or animals (especially donkeys) springs to mind – but it is a challenge Ayesha seems to be relishing. She has said:
I am delighted to be playing Titania for The Dream! I have fallen in love with the RSC because every project I have done with them involves strong women and magical stories with ancient roots… I am looking forward to working with talented actors from all over the country and cannot wait to work with Erica Whyman.
I think that goes for all of us involved in the project.
The other members of the cast have also been announced, as follows:
Chu Omambala – Oberon
Lucy Ellinson – Puck
Jack Holden – Lysander
Chris Nayak – Demetrius
Mercy Ojelade – Hermia
Laura Riseborough – Helena
Sam Redford – Theseus
Laura Harding – Hippolyta
Peter Hamilton Dyer – Egeus
Jon Trenchard – Philostrate
with Jamie Cameron, Lila Clements, Aimee Gray, Isaac Ssebandeke & Alex Tomkins as fairies.
I hope this talented company will forgive me if I don’t go into biographical details for every one of them in this post; further information can be found here. That said, I think perhaps a special mention needs to be made of Alex Tomkins who has also been designated as cover for 14 Bottoms (insert own joke here!) Understudying any role has its own particular challenges but this seems to be a pretty tall order whichever way you look at it. However, I must say that it is exciting for me and I suspect my fellow Bottoms – personally I’ve never had an understudy for anything so it does make one feel just a tad self-important. Alex is currently appearing in a well-received adaptation of Alice In Wonderland at that great little theatre the Watermill in Newbury, playing both the Caterpillar and the March Hare; good to see that he’s used to playing animals and that touch of madness those characters seem to exhibit may come in very handy! Alex is apparently gearing up for all the bottom/ass jokes and puns that will be flying his way – I can assure him he will be the butt of plenty (see what I did there?).
Added to the already announced creative team of Erica (Director), Kim and Sophie (Assistant Directors) and Tom Piper (Design) are Charles Balfour (Lighting), Samuel Keynon (Composer), Tarek Merchant (Musical Director) and Siân Williams (Movement). It will be a privilege to work with such highly qualified practitioners in their various fields.
So with just about a month now to the first rehearsal the team is more or less complete. By the time the musicians are added to the mix it has been calculated that some 687 people will be appearing on various stages around the country as part of this project. That might just shape up to be one hell of a wrap party!