Midsummer @ Midsummer (Part The First)

Well…that vote was a bit of an eye-opener wasn’t it? No not THAT vote – I’m referring to the poll launched on a previous post which raised the thorny question of when, exactly, Midsummer falls. Well the people (some people) have spoken and after a close run thing I am happy to announce that the people are…undecided. The various dates which were suggested polled roughly equal numbers. Slightly ahead (and therefore, of course, the democratic winner so no whingeing, whining or signing ‘please can we have a rerun’ petitions) was the delightfully vague category of “other”. One might almost think that it wasn’t of enough importance to people. It’s not as though there was anything else of significance going on last week, was there? The best we can say then, is that Midsummer is “around this time of year” (probably) so let’s just call last week Midsummer Week and that keeps most voters happy. Thus there will be no need to invoke Fairy Article 50 and we can all get on with our lives.

So what DID happen during the week most closely connected to A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation? Quite a lot as it turns out – in fact there’s so much to say that I’ve decided to split this post into two – especially as I have another of my wonderful roving reporters to help me out. This time it’s the turn of Mr Al Freeman who is playing Snout the tinker (who in turn plays Wall in Pyramus and Thisbe). So, over to you Wall – sorry, Al!

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Photo by Topher McGrillis RSC

I went up to Stratford on Tuesday 21st June to see the People’s Theatre from Newcastle take their turn in the Dream encore performances. Back in 1994, I was in Newcastle training to be a teacher, and had done a couple of shows with them. Looking back, I don’t now know how I managed to get away from the relentless lesson planning and assignments in order to have done this, nor how I managed to be in the World Headquarters club drinking Broon Ale on a regular basis. Priorities, I suppose!

 I had previously contacted the company to see if any of the people I knew from 1994  were in the Dream cast, and got a reply from Chris Heckels (their Director) saying that she was my only link to that time. Chris had played the Headmistress in ‘The Happiest Days of Our Lives’ (John Dighton), in which I had played an angry parent. I thought that the 21st was the Summer Solstice and therefore a special night for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In fact, I was wrong – it was the previous night, Monday 20th, but never mind, eh? (See, I told you it needed sorting out – Ed.)

 I thought I was going to be late for the start of the performance when I found at Leamington Spa that the vital Stratford connection had been cancelled. (Why the railway companies can’t organise faster, more frequent and more direct trains to Stratford remains a mystery to me). But much to my surprise, taxis were organised for rail passengers with very little delay, and with the result that I arrived in Stratford earlier than expected, even being dropped off close to my B & B. Having checked in, I was straight off down to the theatre in time for the performance. Once again a good time was had by all onstage.

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Snouts from Newcastle, Stratford and London in Wall formation

 In the Dirty Duck afterwards, Lucy was looking well after another great performance as Puck. Also in attendance were several of the pros and AD Kim. I met up with Chris Heckels; neither of us remembered much about 1994, or each other for that matter (must have been the Broon Ale). Snouts from The Bear Pit (David), the Castle Players (Ben), the People’s Theatre (Stuart) and myself had our photo taken together in the Snug Bar (!) by Lucy. That’s four Walls, and that makes a Room. Behind us was the People’s Theatre photo on the wall next to the fireplace, which was to be replaced by the next company’s photo the next night. A nice touch that, as ephemeral as the theatre itself ….‘These our actors as I foretold you…’

Thanks Al and he’ll be back in the next post to tell us about the second part of his big Stratford week.

imperial-warI didn’t have to travel quite so far afield for my own little Midsummer adventure but it was to a slightly more unusual venue; the Imperial War museum to be precise. To explain – way back last autumn, while all the project’s preliminaries were still going on, I took a ten week online course with FutureLearn entitled Shakespeare and his World. Last week I was asked to go and give a short talk about the course and how it fed into the Dream project and this took place in the aforementioned museum. Attendees (about 100 in all) were potential future funders and developers of further online courses and came from universities from the UK and as far afield as Australia and the USA. Thus it was a really good opportunity to flag up the RSC project to a solidly academic audience. There was video testimony from course takers overseas and a very articulate 17 year old student and his teacher explained how he was supplementing his Sixth Form study with a range of short courses from the FutureLearn portfolio.

Then it was my turn. I started by giving the audience a blast of Bottom’s “Dream” monologue – partly to prove to myself I could still remember it.

1I then outlined the context of the RSC project and how workshops and tasks had got us ready for the rehearsals, how the FutureLearn course gave a structured dimension to the background research which I had carried out and how the content had fed into a better understanding of Shakespeare’s play. A (fuller) account of taking the course can be found here.

It was quite an honour to be asked to address such an eminent body of educationists and as they politely laughed in all the right places and nodded enthusiastically, I felt it had gone down well. In the coffee break which followed I found myself the centre of much questioning and, inevitably, slightly ribald comments about my Bottom (is there one variation left that I haven’t heard over the last year?) As the delegates returned to their conference I was whisked away to answer some questions on camera for a FutureLearn website video.

I finished my day there with a look around the museum’s “Family at War” exhibition. A bit late for further research I suppose but, as the production is set immediately after World War 2 it did give me a chance to brush up on the sort of experiences the Mechanicals might have recently been through. As I left I reflected that, but for the Dream project, here was yet another opportunity which would not have come my way. I’ve already mentioned how I may fill the gap left by #Dream2016  with further academic study and FutureLearn is certainly an option I shall be looking into.

So that’s the first part of a big week that was significant in so many ways – though not all of it directly connected to the project. To mark the anniversary of the launch (at Midsummer 2015) a video has been released which I hope you’ll enjoy. (Warning – it does get a bit emotional at one point!)

See you shortly for Midsummer @ Midsummer (Part The Second)


The production is now back in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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Midsummer @ Midsummer (Part The First)

Another anniversary

Have I really been blogging on the subject of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation for a whole year? So it would appear from the congratulatory message from WordPress.

1 year blogging

I took the decision to plunge into blogging just a couple of days after the media launch of the project on Midsummer’s Day 2015. I’d already written several articles for the Tower theatre newsletter outlining the process up to that point and these formed the backbone of the blog’s first pieces in order to get more general readers up to speed.

And what an experience it has been since then.

  • 77 blog posts
  • Just shy of 70,000 words
  • 7,500 views
  • Readers from 60 different countries

Although the blog was always going to be secondary to the Dream project itself, it now has a rather special place in my everyday life and I am very glad that I have kept a full account of this momentous escapade even if I’m the only person ever to access it again. It will give me something to look back on with pride and a sense of achievement and perhaps ease the symptoms of Dream withdrawal  – alas the final furlong is fast approaching. It’s amazing to think there has been so much to say since that media launch 12 months ago – the project, the people, the tasks, the workshops, the rehearsals, the performances – and still just a little bit more to come.

Thanks gentle reader for taking the time to join me.

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Photo by Topher McGrillis RSC

The production is now back in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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Another anniversary

One Year On

My Facebook page has just prompted me with a “one year on memory” photo released as part of the launch campaign for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation.

Facebook memory

What a glorious day that was. Full of hope, joy and the thrill of collaboration – a project to unite people up and down the country and produce something positively life affirming                                                                      Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive  

Now one year on it’s as though the lights that are burning so brightly in that Barbican auditorium have suddenly gone out. Division and hate have (apparently) triumphed

As ever Shakespeare puts it best:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house
Against the envy of less happier lands;
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings,
Feared be their breed and famous by their birth,
Renowned for their deeds as far from home
For Christian service and true chivalry
As is the sepulchre, in stubborn Jewry,
Of the world’s ransom, blessed Mary’s son;
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world,
Is now leased out – I die pronouncing it –
Like to a tenement or a pelting farm.
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.
That England that was wont to conquer others
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself

(Richard II)

 

Map-Here-be-Dragons

I despair! That is all.

 


The production is now back in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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One Year On

A tedious brief scene

Sorry everyone but if you care about our futures then you need to stop what you’re doing, read on and focus on something really important right now. There’s a big decision to make today which could affect us for the rest of our lives and indeed our children and their children and so on down the ages. You’ve heard the politicians, you’ve tuned into the commentators, you’ve listened to the experts (well, unless you’re Michael Gove) but the time has now come to stand up and be counted. The big question is … when exactly is Midsummer?

The amateur casts for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation were announced at Midsummer last year and so we’re now a whole year on. In that time the play has travelled the country and the term Midsummer has been bandied about in 12 cities across the UK but the vexed question of when it happens remains unresolved. I mean, it’s not like Christmas is it? Midsummer tends to move around a lot.

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Is it the same as the summer solstice (i.e. this year June 20th )? Certainly much of the media seemed to think so reporting on a Midsummer deluge on Monday morning and the appearance of the very rare “Midsummer strawberry moon”.  But surely that day is officially the start of summer. If that is the case then that would make the autumn equinox the end (this year that’s September 22nd). The mid point between those two is (hang on while I work it out….) August 7th but that seems far too late.  As we all know in the UK, summer’s pretty much over by then ….not that this year it’s ever got started. Even as I write the rain is thundering down again. Maybe Titania’s speech about the confused seasons is actually coming true:

     titania                             the spring, the summer,

The childing autumn, angry winter, change

Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,

By their increase, now knows not which is which.

OK, time out!…Now let’s get back to the point. One of the paper calendars in the house shows Midsummer Day as 23rd June and another 24th so that’s not much help. Wikipedia (which is, as we all know, totally accurate all of the time) has this to say:

Midsummer, also known as St John’s Day, takes place on a day between June 19 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different cultures. The Christian Church designated June 24 as the feast day of the early Christian martyr St John the Baptist, and the observance of St John’s Day begins the evening before, known as St John’s Eve.

Confused? You will be. The country that pays the most attention to Midsummer as a festival is Sweden and with their usual sense of orderliness and the fact they always want it to be at a weekend they designate a Friday as Midsummer Eve and a Saturday as Midsummer Day – this year June 24th/25th respectively. (Not sure if I can use Sweden as an example as they are in the EU and I don’t want to exert undue political pressure on the other key question of the day. Mind you, they don’t use the Euro so that’s all right then…isn’t it?)

By the way, in case you’re by now wondering why I’m bothering my brain about this, it was because I was trying to work out which of the amateur groups has or will be performing on the big day at Stratford. Turns out it could have been either of the Newcastle teams or will be our Glasgow brethren.  Anyway Shakespeare’s title is ambiguous, isn’t it? Does he mean Midsummer Eve – the day before Midsummer – or the night of Midsummer Day or just some random night at some point in summer?….Tell you what, let’s just move on shall we before someone loses the will to live?

So to sum up; it’s June 20th or 23rd or 24th or 25th or some unspecified date between 19th and 25th or will be August 7th – you decide. Now there’s a thought. Perhaps the only way to solve this is to put it to the people in a Midsummer referendum. I know there’s another (obviously less significant) vote taking place today but if you could bend your collective brains to this tricky proposition that would really ensure the future of this vital question once and for all. Come on people; let’s get together and take back control! (No bias intended either way)

 

Thanks for voting. Results will be declared in due course by the returning officer, Monsieur Mustardseed.

I could teach you
How to choose right, but I am then forsworn;
So will I never be (Merchant of Venice)


The production is now back in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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A tedious brief scene

Never anything can be amiss

If the various reviews which have emerged as A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation has toured the country are to be believed (and I think they should) the production has been a resounding hit. National and local critics, online bloggers and contributors to discussion boards and social media have been almost universally positive in their praise for the show (a digest of comments about Tower Theatre’s contribution can be found here). Ticket sales have also been strong suggesting a high level of satisfaction amongst the theatre going population. However, a number of blogs/articles have raised some question marks about the project and whether amateurs should or shouldn’t encroach on traditionally professional territory. As the final month of performances is now taking place this would seem to be an appropriate moment to address this point and the question of whether the experiment was a success and should ever be repeated.

Guardian blog

The highest profile commentator has probably been Michael Billington, a critic for whom I have the greatest respect. In his regular blog in The Guardian (and based on his viewing of the production in London) he gave the amateur cast a very positive review but raised the question of whether the project is or should be repeatable. He reaches the conclusion that it should remain as a one off:

If I argue that amateur and pro should generally be kept separate, it is because I respect the craft of both. Professional acting, as we all know, is a precarious business with a high unemployment rate… The RSC Midsummer Night’s Dream is a special case in which an honourable attempt has been made to create “a play for the nation”. It should be enjoyed as a one-off, but not become a template for future occasions. In hard times, we need to protect the status of the dedicated professional.

I have to say I find this argument a little disingenuous. The logical conclusion would be that in any given field only those specifically trained and dedicated to a professional standard should attempt anything. Really? By extension that would mean any actor struggling to find work should not accept a position as a part time tutor or waiter or call centre operator, etc because a) they’ve probably not trained for it and b) they certainly won’t be as dedicated as they would be to acting; that would clearly be both untenable and ridiculous. And who is to say that an amateur cannot make just as good a job of something as the “dedicated professional”? If I want a celebration cake and I know and can trust a good amateur baker, why would I necessarily go to a professional?

Stage 1

A similar argument has also been raised in a piece in The Stage in which anonymised professionals (not quite sure why they need to be so) were asked their opinion on mixing the worlds of pro and am.  Would you let an amateur plumber mend your sink? muses “Albert”; well, yes I might very well given that the context and circumstances were conducive. It is also not the case that allowing an amateur actor to appear on the professional stage is going to threaten someone’s health, safety, life span or possessions and so comparing them to (for instance) plumbers, dentists or lawyers is not really helpful. To be fair some of Albert’s fellow professionals take a rather broader view:

I think it’s great to use community and amateur casts. Not threatening at all… I have massive respect for them and for the role theatre can play in the community. (“Jenny”)

Totally inspires me. I have worked on a few community-based projects and it definitely encourages authenticity and originality, especially in new work. (“Tina”)

However, as these are Jenny and Tina’s only reported remarks in the article their positive slant is somewhat overbalanced and a rather more pessimistic view prevails. There is particular opprobrium reserved for producers who take this route to economise:

You Me Bum Bum Train and Secret Cinema – both dubious in the extreme as to their using actors and not paying proper rates. Or even anything. (“Albert”)

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The thing is, A Play For The Nation was anything but a rentacrowd or a gimmick led approach. No Andrew Lloyd Weber talent show casting here! (Interesting that Gary Barlow has just announced a resurgence of the format for finding a new Fake (sorry, Take) That) From the get go, the amateurs involved were respected and treated as an integral part of the whole RSC production, not some media generating bolt on. Lyn Gardner in another, earlier, Guardian blog summed up this position:

Without the involvement of non-professional actors, the RSC’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream simply wouldn’t have happened. Community involvement was at the very heart of the project. It’s a very different case from a theatre simply deciding that it will use amateur actors because they can save money on the wages bill.

Agreed. And I think there are other subtler ways of cutting down on the bills. I have absolutely no idea what the budget for A Play For The Nation has been – I can only imagine. Despite that I have seen little by way of cheese paring. We have had phenomenal coaching from the likes of Michael Corbidge and Sian Williams, directing from the Deputy Head of the RSC and her talented team, a full and generous complement of highly skilled backstage and organisational staff and unbounded support from the professionals in the cast. Neither have their numbers been skimped on as a result of using amateurs. There are 26 adult performers in each show (18 professionals plus the 6 amateur Mechanicals). Interestingly there are only 14 all told in the current Globe production and a mere 7 in the production at Southwark Playhouse (see here) – indeed in the latter case the paucity of performers is the key selling point of the show. Aside from this the RSC has enhanced prospects for workers in the regions through touring the show to a number of locations. Far from taking away professional earning potential I don’t think that it’s going too far to say that much work has been provided through this particular project.

Christopher Haydon, artistic director of the Gate Theatre, in a blog piece rebuffing some of Michael Billington’s arguments goes further. He contends that rather than the project undermining the work of those fully paid members of the company, it acted as a clear demonstration of how great art does not have any boundaries – a seasoned pro, or a teacher from Hackney, can both find pathos, humanity and truth in the words they are speaking.

 

Puck
Lucy Ellinson

He then goes on to quote our very own Puck – Lucy Ellinson – who generously says:
I’ve learnt a lot from my amateur colleagues (the collaboration has been) “an important reaffirmation for me that when we tour the country with our work we’re not simply offering the local community something – we are making each and every performance with them.

 

Thanks for the vote of confidence, Lucy, and I  think I can confidently say that, reciprocally, we have learned a phenomenal amount of stagecraft from our wonderful pros and that this will undoubtedly inspire us in our ongoing work within our local communities.

Indeed a learning experience is certainly what it has been right from day one. Susan Elkin, The Stage’s Education and Training Editor has stated:

The whole concept is one of the most inspired celebratory training initiatives I’ve ever encountered – as well as producing a glitteringly good evening’s theatre.

In her article she roundly calls on the powers that be to deliver a repeat of the project every year; well I’m game!

So was it worth doing? An unqualified yes. It has touched the lives of so many people amateur and professional, young and not so young, actors and audience alike that I think it will be fondly remembered as a trail blazer for many years to come. Should it be repeated? If the end results are going to be so joyous, life enhancing and affirmative it would be criminal not to do so. I’ll leave the final summation to Erica Whyman:

It is a project on an almost unimaginable scale, but it is also a very simple idea: to make a new production of a great play in partnership with good colleagues. If it works it will strengthen those bonds and make visible a truly national passion for making theatre.

It most certainly did, Erica, and it most certainly has!

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Graham Fewell (who visited all versions during the tour) presents Erica with a poster signed by the amateurs

The production is now back in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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Never anything can be amiss

Busman’s holiday

It is often said that at any given moment there is a Shakespeare play taking place somewhere in the world and this is probably no more true than it is in this big anniversary year. The sheer number of events connected with #Shakespeare 400 suggests that all the plays in the canon will be covered in one form or another in the UK alone; perhaps one of the most frequent to be so will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Several polls have been running asking respondents for their favourite Shakespeare play and those for The Stage, The Daily Telegraph and You Gov (why are You Gov running a poll on such a thing??) placed The Dream in the top three choices;  this is reflected in the flood of productions of this play taking place in 2016.

Telegraph poll
The Telegraph poll (nice to see Bottom at the top!)

Quite apart from our own A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation which has been criss-crossing the country there are at least another three professional touring productions taking place (Rain or Shine Theatre Company, Chapterhouse Theatre Company and Illyria Theatre Company). Other one off productions are scheduled for Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and the Edinburgh Fringe. Trevor Nunn completes his bid to direct every Shakespeare play with a production in Ipswich which will feature local children playing Titania’s fairy train (now, I can’t think how they came up with that idea!). As variations you can see Benjamin Britten’s opera at either Glyndebourne or The Minack in Cornwall. For children there are “retellings” – Robin Goodfellow’s Amazing Travelling Show or To Dream Again. Heaven alone knows how many amateur companies will be putting on productions. You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home – the recent Russell T Davies version for the BBC is currently still available on iplayer and can be acquired as a paid download or purchased on DVD/Blue Ray. While I’m not aware of a collective noun for a group of productions of the same play, maybe I can suggest one – a dramglut.

In London alone we have and continue to be inundated with Dream productions. Already over and done are versions at the Pleasance and Lyric Hammersmith. Recently opened are a stripped down production at the Southwark Playhouse (7 actors playing 17 roles) and The Donkey Show: A Midsummer Night’s Disco (Shakespeare meets ‘80s dance moves) in Camden. Perhaps most bizarrely is the version by Sh*t Faced Shakespeare in which the audience randomly choose one of the actors to consume a quantity of alcohol. S/he is then turned loose to wreak havoc throughout the performance. I have to declare my hand here and say that I think the whole set up of this artistically questionable (maybe even morally reprehensible) but as the show has just announced an extension run I guess I may be in a minority there. Highest profile of all the London openings has been that of the production at The Globe on the South Bank. This marks the takeover of the theatre’s artistic directorship by Emma Rice and has drawn some very positive reviews while drawing a good deal of criticism from traditionalists. As the main London contender to our own offering I thought I should take a look.

Globe

The last time I went to the Globe theatre I tried my hand at being a groundling but this time I felt a little more comfort was in order – if the Globe’s hard wooden benches could ever be categorized as “comfortable”. I also thought an evening performance would be fun as the night drew in and the atmosphere changed. It certainly did towards the end of Act 4 when there was a torrential downpour! Although I had read some reviews and had some prior warning from Maria I don’t think I was quite ready for the sheer number of changes/additions/tinkerings with which I was presented. The whole look/feel of the production was a mash up (more a mish mash in my humble opinion) with contemporary lovers, Elizabethan punk fairies, Indian exoticism and the Mechanicals as Globe theatre stewards. Did this work? Not really. Too much of the kitchen sink approach for my liking (throw everything in and see what sticks).

Even more irksome was the approach to the text. OK there were cuts – no real problem with that but I was less satisfied with some of the insertions. Rita (rather than Peter) Quince’s opening audience briefing was fun but this was before the play proper began. Other than that there was just too much monkeying around with something that has worked perfectly well for four centuries. Redistributing lines and reordering the sequencing might have some merits but here it just seemed to be gratuitous. Changing all the Athens references to “London”, “Bankside” or “Hoxton” seemed to be about getting some cheap laughs rather than improving clarity. And I still don’t understand why we were treated to snatches of Beyonce and David Bowie, what an impersonation of Marilyn Monroe added to the mix or why Lysander’s song used the words from John Donne’s “To His Mistress Going To Bed” – after all Shakespeare clearly didn’t write much love poetry himself, did he?

Globe Puck
Puck takes a pot shot

One character I just found plain annoying – Puck, in hot pants, Elizabethan ruff, sparkly trainers and toting a water pistol. It was all meant to be playful but I felt it became intrusive and excessive; I have to say our own Puck (Lucy) handles a broadly similar approach with much more finesse and style. It didn’t help that Katy Owen playing the role doubled as Egeus. What was that all about? I can only assume it was a way of suggesting that Puck was also somehow directly responsible for the plight of the lovers.

Meow Meow
What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?

So was it all bad? Far from it though it is in the nature of these things that the irritations tend to stick in the mind; there were many excellent moments which, had they been sustained, would have improved my view overall. I rated cabaret artist Meow Meow’s turn as Titania/Hippolyta; she had a very funny routine with several pairs of tights and literally went weak kneed at the sight of Bottom’s ass (both senses!) I also thought changing Helena to Helenus worked well and I certainly enjoyed the sometimes touching performance of Ankur Bahl – having said that it does seem slightly perverse when equal opportunity is such a concern, to have redesignated a key female Shakespearian role to someone male. The rest of the lovers did a sterling job, though I think Shakespeare put in enough (and funnier) insults about Hermia without resorting to calling her a “bitch” – the audience are intelligent enough to work that out for themselves without being told. The Bergomask/jig at the end of the play, however, was a thing of joy and another highlight was the ouzel cock song done as a George Formby pastiche – indeed the music throughout was a pleasure.

Globe Bottom
Bottom makes an ass of himself

And what of the Mechanicals? I thought these were good performances all round though somewhat hampered by the general concept. One of their defining characteristics (their jobs) had been axed – no longer Bottom the weaver and Snug the joiner but Nick the Health and Safety officer and Joanna the cleaner.  It worked having Bottom as the sole male but then I think our production has already proved that varying the Mechanicals’ gender need be no barrier to consistency. They found plenty of comedy in their roles though personally I found Pyramus and Thisbe an anticlimax. What should have been the comic highlight had been undermined by some of the earlier horseplay which I felt detracted from the overall arc of the play.

emmarice
Emma Rice in her new home

I’ve only ever seen one of Emma Rice’s productions before (her reimagining of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter for Kneehigh Theatre) and thought it most enjoyable but I really don’t think you can necessarily take the same approach to Shakespeare. I enjoy a certain amount of invention around the text and I’m certainly as guilty as the next man of including things in my own performance which are definitely not in the original but our directors kept a firm grip on any excesses which I didn’t feel was always the case here. I thought too many aspects went just a bit too far and that things became a bit too arch, a bit too knowing, a bit too “hey, look at me, aren’t I clever?” I guess in the end I’m bound to be just a teensy bit biased but I think I know which production I prefer.

I think I probably need to go and see another Globe production soon – one of a play in which I don’t have such a vested interest and where I can look more dispassionately at the outcomes. It will be interesting to see how the Globe develops under Emma Rice’s leadership and maintains its status as a world class venue. Looking around the foyers during the interval there do seem to be a number of interesting and ambitious plans afoot. One which caught my eye was an MA in Shakespeare Studies offered jointly by the Globe and King’s College. What a fascinating follow up to this year’s experience that would be!


The production is now back in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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Busman’s holiday

The End of the Road? Not Quite!

First an apology; what with one thing and another, I’ve got a bit behind with this week’s post. (See what I did there?… Bottom! Behind! Oh, never mind!) And so I’m indebted to two of my fellow Mechanicals (Trevor and Adam) for providing me with the “meat” of this particular outing.

Truck
The production arrives in Belfast

Last week A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation crossed the water to Belfast. I still find the logistics of the whole enterprise mind boggling and to have played successfully in so many venues with an ever changing cast means that the agenda underlined by the production’s subtitle has been well and truly met. Congratulations, once again, to any and all of the people involved in making it happen not just once but 103 times – so far. As you will have already worked out that means the production’s century has now been achieved. Last Thursday evening’s show was, indeed, the 100th and although I wasn’t there I know a man who was. Thanks to my colleague and fellow Bottom, Trevor Gill of the Belvoir Players for the following:

Guinness Puck
Puck’s regionally modified topper

On Thursday 2nd June the Grand Opera House Belfast had the great honour of hosting the 100th performance of Dream 2016. Our fabulous Stage Manager Jenny Grand made a special tannoy announcement just before curtain up. A fitting standing ovation that night – the Belfast audience in full roar! Highlight was the wonderful Puck (Lucy Ellison) who with the help of some white paper, sellotape and ribbon magically turned her top hat into a pint of Guinness.

Thanks Trevor and  I’m betting that one or two glasses of the real thing were raised in celebration later that evening.

 

And so it was that just three performances later, the end of the UK tour was reached with Belfast again the venue for another special night. At one time I had hoped to be there to witness proceedings at first hand but, alas, this was not to be. However, being younger than the rest of us old Tower fogies, Adam did make the trip and has kindly penned the following to give us all a flavour of that last night across the Irish Sea:

 A hire car, a wedding, three trains, a flight and two buses. That’s how I got from London on Friday morning to Belfast on Saturday afternoon ready for the penultimate instalment on the nationwide tour of the production. A month in Stratford Upon Avon is all that remains after Belfast so there was very much a ‘breaking up for half term’ feeling amongst the Dream 2016 gang.

 Converging from across the country were a Bottom and Quince from Glasgow, a Bottom from Bradford and almost the entire rude mechanicals from Norwich, all intent on joining up with the Belvoir Players and the professional RSC troupe to celebrate the (first)last night.

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A trio of Flutes (London, Norwich & Belfast)

 And so to the play and the fantastic Belfast actors and accents on display. Having seen three versions (including ours) in performance now, and a whole host of others in rehearsal, there is no doubt that each of the mechanicals’ takes are unique with vastly different interpretations but all thoroughly interesting to watch. And in every town the local audiences shriek with delight at their native lads and ladies in action. I must make special mention of my fellow Flute, Chris Curry, who was as truthful a Thisbe as they come. 

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A quartet of Bottoms (Belfast, Norwich, Bradford & Glagow) with Puck

 As for the professional actors, it was a pleasure to see them again. It had only been two weeks since the curtain came down on our last show in London, and despite it feeling longer than that to me, it was like meeting up with old friends instantly. And testament to their professionalism, their 103rd performance included energy, attack and a freshness that is no mean feat to muster especially considering how tired they all must be. Lucy Ellinson, our wonderful Puck, for example, appears to have learned from each and every show and each and every audience, resulting in a performance that gets better and better every time it is let loose on the stage.

 

After rapturous applause it was on to the ‘half term’ party to celebrate what had been an excellently well received tour of immense quality. Credit to Trevor Gill, Belfast’s finest Bottom, for organising a great shindig with much dancing, drinking and merriment. The only shame was that licensing laws in Belfast meant the lights came up and the music stopped far too early for anyone’s liking, but that failed to dampen a wonderful  evening. No-one can deny… she is indeed handsome, she is indeed pretty, she is the Dream in Belfast City.

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Farewell, Belfast – Hello, Stratford

Many thanks for that account Adam and I hope it wasn’t quite so convoulted getting back to London again.

And so, that was the tour that was. Working with just about the THE most preeminent classical theatre company in the world, dozens of amateur actors/Mechanicals and hundreds of schoolchildren/fairies have had the honour of performing in front of thousands of playgoers. That, as I am sure you are aware, though, is not quite the end. This week the production is on a well-deserved sabbatical but very soon the professional cast will reconvene in Stratford upon Avon for a further month of shows. During this time each of the 14 amateur companies (plus yet more local schoolchildren) have been invited to the RSC home to take it in turns to perform once again on the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It just keeps getting better doesn’t it? The plaudits the show has received as it has travelled the country have ensured that ticket sales in Stratford are already extremely healthy so it looks like we’re all in for another great time once it gets to each of our turns. For a schedule of these upcoming performances please click here.

Following a really memorable week at the Barbican, our Stratford turn  comes in the very last week of all. While this will inevitably be tinged with sadness we really can’t wait to get cracking again. Wish us luck and hopefully see you in July!


The production is on a week’s break and recommences on 15th June in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for the full schedule

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The End of the Road? Not Quite!