Tell me how it came this night

It somehow seems appropriate that for my 50th post on this blog (50th? How did that happen?) I should be writing about the official opening/press night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation which took place on February 24th. By another piece of serendipity it is also one whole year since our initial audition to become part of this great adventure took place.

Opening night tickets and programme

A first night in the professional world is, of course, quite different from that experienced by amateurs. For the latter – with the odd exception – the first night and the last night are usually so close together that that sense of settling in for the long haul tends to be absent. With, almost certainly, a lack of previews the first night can almost be as much of a tryout as the final rehearsals. Not so in this production; rather months of painstaking work is rewarded by seeing everything come to fruition. Indeed for this company as a whole there are going to be any number of “first nights” as various amateur groups and school teams join the production as it travels around with all the attendant anticipation, excitement and joyous fulfilment which that implies.

Press night warm up
Opening night warm up

The first “first night” was appropriately in Stratford upon Avon and the honour of playing the initial set of Mechanicals and representing the amateur world fell to the Nonentities of Kidderminster while the children came from local school Alveston Primary. None of the Tower team were able to be in the auditorium that day but, as with the previews, social media was there to keep us up to date with what was going on. In particular Aimee Gray (playing Cobweb) put out regular updates on Twitter as the day progressed and the excitement mounted. Early evening voice and movement warm ups jostled with wig fittings, makeup applications and traditional first night present swapping as the opening approached. Erica’s final words of encouragement went out both to the cast and creatives at the theatre and also to those at a distance:

Erica fnal tweet

As the clock struck seven, the show began in front of a capacity audience. Going by some of the later social media comments it was an evening enjoyed by all those present. Corrine Furness, in the audience that evening, shares her thoughts:

I can only talk about the evening from my perspective and, within this I wanted to talk about the part that’s most vivid for me. There’d been a lovely atmosphere in the audience all the way through (which, in my experience, isn’t always the case with press nights which often have their own slightly odd atmosphere of forced joviality). But this audience was not only warm but joyfully engaged and happy to share it. And then came “Pyramus and Thisbe” …and it’s probably an understatement to say that the Nonentities just SMASHED it. Funny, and ridiculous, but also laced with empathy and more of that joy, and I felt everyone around me just lean in together, in one of those moments you only ever get in a theatre. Forget reviews and reviewers, we were a group of people basking in the delight of another group of people magnificently telling us a story. There are many ways to judge a production, and reviews are just one of them, so I’m always reluctant to layer on the significance of a press night above others – but I’m not naive enough to think that when put together the words ‘press’ and ‘night’ don’t bring with them their own special pressure. And maybe as an audience we knew that too, which made what everyone onstage was doing all the more special. And, yes, I found myself discreetly wiping away a tear at the end…

Thanks for that, Corrine. Blog readers may be interested to know that Corrine has been and will be following the production all the way through the entire process. She will then be completing a collaborative Doctoral Scholarship with the University of Birmingham and the RSC investigating the interactions between professionals and amateurs in this innovative production. How’s that for academic credibility?

The Nonentities of Kidderminster as the Mechanicals Photograph by Topher McGrillis

One of the main purposes of a first night, of course, is so that the press can attend and critics can have their say. There have been many reviews (from the national and local media) which have come out in the succeeding days and I am happy to report that the vast majority have been overwhelmingly positive. Rather than try and summarise and/or quote them all in this post, readers who are interested can find a “highlights” summary on the RSC’s website by clicking here.

Discussing with professional actors whether they read their reviews or not is a whole problem area. Perhaps, as many of them do, we really shouldn’t take too much notice of individual opinions but for we amateurs this whole business provides another layer of novelty. In the normal course of events if we can raise local press interest (forget national) then a review will often do little more than retell the narrative and list the players. Inevitably it will appear in the local press a week later when the production has finished thereby negating any marketing uses it might have. So for once it’s been intriguing to see the full force of the media engaging with a production we are involved in generally even if it was not in that one particular performance. Perhaps, in the end, we can learn something from actor Douglas Hodge’s attitude: “I read all my reviews, good and bad, but I only believe the good ones. It’s a triumph of vanity over common sense!”

And so now the Dream has achieved a kind of equilibrium for the time being as it continues its first run at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Not that everything is cast in stone as rehearsals of certain sections continue and the understudies are brought up to speed in case they are needed. This is a production that by its very nature will keep evolving and developing but at least there are now very firm foundations upon which to build.

The current week’s performances are at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. Click the side bar for amateur group details

Tell me how it came this night

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