For the first time in a number of weeks, indeed months, there is little to report on in the way of direct Dream activity. Having finished its initial run in Stratford upon Avon A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation is taking a well-earned break before the national tour starts in earnest (actually it starts in Newcastle – boom boom!) However that does not mean that nothing worthy of mention took place – so here’s what occurred at a couple of events I went to.
Unless you have been living under a stone for the last six months you cannot fail to have noticed that 2016 marks four hundred years since Shakespeare’s death and that, in consequence, there are an awful lot of things planned in commemoration. The Barbican in London (our performance venue in May) has its own programme of plays, concerts, dance performances and exhibitions which goes under the general title of Play On; this, in turn, is part of the nationwide celebrations known as Shakespeare 400. As part of this, on the first weekend in March, the Barbican held what it called A Shakespeare Weekender. Filling the various open spaces and foyers of the Barbican, this event was two days of modern responses to Shakespeare and his world by artists drawn from theatre, dance, film, art and music and included workshops, talks, poetry readings, installations and performances throughout the weekend. So I thought I’d go along and see what was happening.
I’d thought it would be quite a brief visit but I actually managed to fill a whole afternoon immersing myself in Shakespearean related activity. First stop was perhaps the most bizarre – a pop up performance of something called Much Ado About Bingo. I think you had to be there but it basically involved listening out for Shakespearean quotes included in the patter of a fictional 1970s TV personality interspersed with reminiscences about the hit tunes and TV adverts of the day. Prizes included a bunch of parsnips, packets of dried lasagne and a Crunchie bar – as I say, you had to be there. Next it was off to a workshop run by RSC voice coach Tess Dignan where we all got to do vocal warmups (a salutary reminder of what we had been doing recently in Dream rehearsals), insulted each other Shakespeare style and carried out a mass reading of a Caliban speech from The Tempest. I popped my head in at the Shakespeare Karaoke Glitter Party – and quickly popped it out again – watched the T shirt making, badge making and tattooing exhibitions (quotes from Shakespeare) and handled some real Elizabethan objects courtesy of the London Museum. These included one of the pots used to collect theatre goers’ entrance money which I had learned about in my autumn online Shakespeare course. I singularly failed to participate in MoveMe’s flashmob dance class (perhaps I really should have), but listened to some poetry reading and rounded off the afternoon by taking a look at a stage fight demonstration again put on by the RSC.
However, all was not quite over as I then headed off on the short walk to the Guildhall. There was just time to view Shakespeare’s signature on his mortgage deed and see a copy of the First Folio in the Guildhall Library before joining the crowd in the courtyard for an early evening viewing of the Shakespeare son et lumiere. This was quite spectacular using 3D projection on the Guildhall’s façade accompanied by speeches from the plays and a musical composition by the resident School of Music and Drama. A most uplifting 20 minutes to end a day that was both stimulating (big tick) and free (another big tick).
Now, I have written in this blog before about the work of the RSC Education team (see here and here) and, even if the main production of The Dream is on furlough, their work has continued. Thus it was that I took myself off to Canterbury one evening to see a performance entitled The Dream: Met By Moonlight, an interschool’s version of Shakespeare’s play (don’t worry I’ll explain in a minute!) The performance stemmed out of work carried out through the RSC’s Learning and Performance Network. This is where subscribing schools enter into a three year partnership with the RSC leading to teacher training, learning about Shakespeare in the classroom, artist-led projects and performance opportunities. Indeed it is from schools in their second year of partnership that the 580 children playing Titania’s fairy train have been drawn for the #Dream2016 production. The schools taking part in this production (at six locations across the country) are in the final year of partnership.
I had never actually been to the Marlowe Theatre but it is a very nice space indeed with a 1,200 capacity, very comfortable seating and good acoustics. It only reopened in 2011 and I can see why it is fast becoming a popular venue for touring shows such as the RSC’s Dream. There were nine schools performing the evening I went along, giving a shortened version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which had been divided into nine scenes with each school taking on responsibility for one part. It was akin to a relay race and not unlike our own experience with the RSC project. However, instead of each amateur group passing on the baton to the next at the end of a week’s run, in this version the baton was passed on between scenes. Thus we saw nine different Titanias and Oberons, nine sets of Mechanicals and so on. You had to keep your wits about you as one minute Puck might be a fourteen year old boy and the next a nine year old girl – indeed the actors ages ranged from seven to seventeen. All of this was played out in a variety of costumes, to the accompaniment of student musicians and co-ordinated by student stage hands. All in all some 200 young people were involved. There were some arresting performances and delightfully magical moments and the packed audience could sense the pride the students had in their achievement.
The individual scenes had been rehearsed in the various schools but the whole thing had to be brought together in one day before the performance in the evening – hats off to Robin Belfield of the RSC Education team who had somehow achieved this mammoth task. I sat next to him during the performance and, just like any director, he was gripping the seat arms with anticipation and reacting with delight when it all worked. It was good to meet Fiona Clayton, the RSC Programme Developer for the Learning and Performance Network, who I had been corresponding with on Twitter; turns out she used to live just up the road from me! Also present were Sarah and Sally (Canterbury Players’ Quince and group director respectively) and we were able to catch up in the interval. They too are playing the waiting game until it is their turn to perform – though they are up earlier than us. In fact they are performing on THE big day, 23rd April, just the very ideal time to go and see a Shakespeare production. Perhaps I’ll see you there!
By the way it’s #ShakespeareWeek in schools. Find out more by clicking below