Curtain call

Puck’s final words in A Midsummer Night’s Dream provide theatrical closure. Would that I had a fraction of Shakespeare’s skill to bring this very last post of  this blog to a satisfactory conclusion but anything I say is likely to prove inadequate – “the eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen” as Bottom has it. However, it has to be done and it must be done, so let’s to it.

I remember thinking when I first heard about the project which was to become A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation that there were going to be a number of very happy souls up and down the country who would be winning a place to be part of a Royal Shakespeare Company production. Little did I suppose that one of them would be me. Funny old world isn’t it? Despite many years of am dramming, my sum total of Shakespeare plays performed in could be counted on the fingers of one hand (in fact they still can). Now, eighteen months later I’ve played (hopefully successfully) one of the key comic Shakespearean roles on two major British stages in front of approximately 10,000 audience members. Along the way I’ve worked with practitioners at the top of their game and professional actors who have been more generous and encouraging than one can possibly imagine. A strong bond has been formed with my Tower colleagues – thanks for putting up with me! I’ve learned many new skills and techniques, appreciated new slants on performing and substantially increased my knowledge of working in a Shakespeare play. I finally conquered the fear of that organised movement known as dance. I delivered a monologue while being the only person on stage. I was on the telly. I flirted with the Queen of the Fairies. I got to ham it up outrageously as Pyramus. Perhaps, most bizarrely, I got to play the spoons onstage at Stratford upon Avon. The spoons….! Onstage!! At Stratford upon Avon!!!

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Photo by Topher McGrillis (RSC)

I think (I hope) the project has enhanced my skills as a director too. Watching and learning from the RSC professionals is an education that money couldn’t buy. I was doubly fortunate that so many rehearsals were in London and that my flexible work patterns allowed me to take full advantage of sitting in on some of them all the while absorbing techniques and different ways of working; I can’t wait to get back into the director’s chair and put some of that stuff into practice.

Nor is that all. There’s this blog for a start. It began as a short weekly item in the Tower Theatre newsletter but has grown to mammoth proportions (92 posts and 82,000+ words) with a wide readership in this country and abroad. I do hope it will prove valuable as a record of a wonderful process albeit from the limited viewpoint of just one person in one of the 14 amateur companies who have been involved in this chance of a lifetime. The blog also led in turn to me writing pieces for Sardines Magazine, amdram.co.uk and NODA  (National Operatic and Dramatic Association). I’ve thoroughly  enjoyed putting pen to paper – or whatever the modern equivalent is – and sharing this experience with you. My grateful thanks for being there; just like a play, for this sort of thing to work there does need to be an audience. But this is finished now too; not entirely relishing a second set of withdrawal symptoms I have already launched a follow up blog entitled 2ndFromBottom. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

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Then there’s social media – something I thought I would only very rarely engage with. Now I’m on Facebook, Twitter (@johnchapman398), You Tube and (briefly) Instagram and, what’s more, I now get the point of it all. I’d never quite understood Marshall McLuhan’s famous declaration “The medium is the message” but that is so true of the sharing experience which is social media: as Hector says in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys “Pass it on, boys”. The lines of communication provided have led to friendships all over the UK – fellow Bottoms, other Mechanicals, the professionals and everyone else involved. I am sure “we will meet” from time to time; even as I publish this post I am just about to take the train to the NODA summer school in Coventry where some of the gang from Nottingham and I will be joining up with Dream producer Ian Wainwright to regale delegates with our wonderful story. (See new blog 2ndFromBottom for further details shortly). Thus the Dream legacy will pertain and we few (“we happy few”) will remain as members of a very exclusive club. For the record let me commemorate the whole group and “name their names”:

Whole company

It’s a role call of honour and innovation; one big, extended, unique and very happy family. And that in essence is what a theatrical company becomes. A temporary family of like minded individuals who come together to make a play, support each other and celebrate their joint achievement. It is undoubtedly sad that this particular company is now breaking up and going its separate ways but such is the way with all theatrical enterprises. Of all art forms, drama is probably the most temporary, rooted in the here and now and completely of the moment of its playing. As Erica Whyman said at the final wrap party “We will never do this again; it can’t be done. But every single element of Dream16 can be done again and must be done again”. Heartening news!

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Photo by Topher McGrillis (RSC)

So what of the future? At the moment, who knows? Like Mr Micawber I am “looking about me in the expectation of something turning up” and gradually realising that it is necessary to be proactive in order to ensure that something actually does so. In the early days I succumbed to the cliché that being cast in the project was like a dream come true. Do you know what though… it really really was! Yes, it is inexpressibly sad that this Dream is over but by heavens it was thrilling and life enhancing and just the greatest fun while it lasted. Let’s have no regrets that something has been and gone but recall with fondness and joy that we were there.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in sails.

Explore. Dream. Discover.  (Mark Twain)

I did. I have. I will.

Time to wake up.

No more words.

Curtain call

Those things do best please me

Throughout the writing of this blog I have been so fortunate that my colleagues in the team have added their own contributions.  This has made it a real group effort in the spirit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. Thus they have written whole articles, contributed reports of trips to other groups, supplied photographs and oral reminiscences and generally offered their support to what has turned out to be quite a mammoth undertaking – as well, of course, as lending their huge talents to appearing in the production. My thanks then go to Maria, Adam, Al, David, Tom and Peta for their invaluable contributions and their companionship on this theatrical adventure.

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Composite of photos by Topher McGrillis (RSC)

As one last piece of collaboration I asked the others to nominate for me their best time, experience or moment in working on the Dream2016. There was an element of the “reality show” format to the beginning of this project so it only seems fitting that before the credits role we focus on the participant’s “best bits”. I am sure they found making a single selection as much of a challenge as I did simply because there were so many bits of magic to choose from. However, here, in their own words, are their choices and, indeed, mine. 

Adam (Flute/Thisbe)

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Tower Team and professionals at the first read through

For me one of the most defining and best moments was very early on when the six of us London amateurs read through the Mechanicals’ scenes in the script, with the professionals, for the first time. We were all sat around the rehearsal room in Clapham and we’d only just met the professionals a few minutes earlier. We felt a pressure, applied by ourselves, to make sure we did ourselves justice. We gave it some energy and performance and the professionals, cast and crew alike, laughed and congratulated us heartily for our efforts. For me it was the first time we knew this whole project would work and we would be able to work well with these excellent actors. It really gave us a great springboard into the rehearsal process.

 

 

 Al (Snout/Wall)

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Al records his speech as Claudio

Writing from Italy where I happen to be at the moment, I have been thinking about Shakespeare’s imaginative world in this country and how the Dream does not form part of it! The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado, Romeo and Juliet and so many other plays have such a strong sense of being set here, but the Dream feels like England, and Warwickshire in particular. The references to Athens have always felt nominal to me, and the Mechanicals are a unique group of ordinary people who get drawn into those other worlds of illusion and Realpolitik in the play. With regard to Dream 2016, one of the many things I shall not forget is recording the speeches we did for preliminary Task 1. I had been allocated Claudio from Measure For Measure but because I was recovering from pneumonia when I recorded it I was late sending it in! I was relieved when David said he liked it and that it would do. We talked about why we had been given the particular speeches we each had, which led to some interesting speculation. I seem to recall that Erica talked about this at some point, and she may have referred to what I feel myself, namely that it is good for someone playing a grounded character like Snout to explore the terrors of the imagination and this mortal coil, and that brings us neatly back to the world of the Dream!

 

David (Amateur Group Director)

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The first run through (Sue Downing from the Nonentities stood in for Maria)

The first read through was special. We had a head start of course having prepared two of the scenes and run through the others several times, but I felt proud of the Tower team at that point. Then we got the first run through in Clapham. We were lucky being the London team and therefore able to step into the Mechanicals shoes, but again it showed that the work we had done for ourselves and with the RSC production team had “the play fitted”. But most of all I think it is an overall impression and remembrance that at every stage, from whoever it was, there was a friendly atmosphere and we were welcome and included. Without exception, during rehearsal in Clapham, at the Barbican and in Stratford we were never made to feel less than full partners in an amazing adventure.

 

Maria (Quince)

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Maria delivers the first prologue   Photo by Topher McGrillis (RSC)

My Dream 16 experience was wonderful. The reason I wanted to be involved was chiefly for the opportunity to work with a production team at the very highest level, from directors to vocal and movement coaches to  an award winning stage management team, to a wonderful professional cast and I just loved it.  If there is one thing I am personally most proud of, it is being able to say that I nailed that first Quince monologue “If we offend…”. That monologue haunted and terrified me for a whole year! I tried it every way I could think of and it just didn’t work to my satisfaction. Trying to demonstrate a piece of Shakespeare which is punctuated in such a way that it becomes a nonsense is really hard! We got to the last few days before the performance at the Barbican and I still hadn’t got there. However, with the brilliant direction of AD Kimberley Sykes, it all suddenly clicked and for the first time I properly got it! On our opening night at the Barbican, where an enormous surge of adrenaline was palpably pulsing throughout the entire cast, I flew onto that stage and delivered the speech to the audience with a clarity I had never felt before and in return, the audience applauded. I’m told for that speech, that is a pretty good result!!

 

Peta (Snug/Lion)

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Peta  in the RST space

For me a magical moment while at Stratford was the final workshop with Michael Corbidge (Senior Voice and Text Coach)) and Polly Bennett (Deputy Movement Director), which suddenly seemed to “unlock” the RST space for me. Such as having the courage to do things in a thrust space that would seem completely counter-intuitive on proscenium stage; for example, turning outwards instead of inwards and learning to communicate with EVERY seat in the audience. It energised me and made the Stratford performances even more memorable than the London ones.

 

Tom (Starveling/Moonshine)

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Tom as Moonshine with “lanthorn, dog and bush of thorn”

To paraphrase Shakespeare – “we were such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”  And the dreams will remain. It is the small things I remember most fondly. The friendliness of rehearsals and the drink and talk afterwards – especially at David’s; our first meeting with the professional cast and their continuing warmth, encouragement and cheerfulness; the delight the schoolchildren seemed to have absorbed and then radiated in their performances; the woman in Stratford who approached me to ask if I was the Man in the Moon; meeting the casts from the other companies and being introduced by Erica to Greg Doran at the splendid farewell party. We have been involved with the Dream for over a year and no other play remains with me as this one will. I can retire from the stage happy.

 

Me (Bottom/Pyramus)

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The Bergomask (don’t look too closely, it isn’t actually us)

I had a real breakthrough moment when I finally mastered the Bergomask dance at the end of the play. Dancing on stage (or at least as I have tended to think of it “co-ordinated” movement) has always been my bête noire and over the years I’ve talked myself into a position where I think it’s going to be a disaster before I’ve even started. Even David’s patience and Adam’s cheerful optimism wasn’t keeping my efforts afloat (I always found it distinctly ironic that my character was all for the dance and Adam’s wasn’t when in reality it was completely the reverse).  It was when I visited one of the school rehearsals with Miles, a brilliant RSC Education consultant, and saw how joyous and free the children were with it that made me determined to conquer it; if they could do it, then so could I. I repeatedly ran the training video supplied by the RSC and found that I knew it backwards at home. But as soon as I got it into the rehearsal room the cracks reappeared. Then once in a session with assistant movement director Polly Bennett we were encouraged to go for it and enjoy it even if we went wrong. That’s when I realised that to an audience it’s not so much about hands and feet as what’s going on above the neckline. After that my demons quickly dropped away and by the end of the run I was positively looking forward to that climactic joyous moment. Whoo!

There are so many other outstanding moments and wonderful memories that we will treasure from being involved in Dream2016. We have met the most incredibly kind, talented and generous people, from the cast, creatives and crew and the other amateur groups. We have made friendships which we plan to continue far beyond this project and we have learned what it is to be directed by a wonderful group of women at the very top of their game and who have helped us to recognise our potential as performers. We can’t thank Erica Wyman and everyone at the RSC enough for giving the Tower Theatre Dreamteam the opportunity to be involved in the most thrilling theatrical experience of our lives. We will never forget a single one of you and we love you all to bits!!!!

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Our three brilliant directors – Sophie, Kim and Erica

So, just one more blog post (probably) left to round out this extraordinary undertaking. Join me soon.


The Dream is now over. To find out more about the 14 amateur companies which took part, click on the side bar to access the page on each location.

Those things do best please me

All For Your Delight, Part 3

Working on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation has been a roller coaster of emotions …see told you that was going to happen, didn’t I? Some definite high points on the ride were reached in our two performance runs. The first of these was at the Barbican in May 2016 and the second at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon in July. This forms the content of Part Three of our story told in pictures. If you missed the previous parts then click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

The photos show final rehearsals, what went on backstage and, of course the performances themselves; this latter group of pictures is by professional photographer Topher McGrillis (© RSC) so stand by for a sudden increase in quality. There are also some shots commemorating our appearance on the BBC TV programme “The Best Bottoms In The Land” as well as a peep at the huge after show party on the final night. Enjoy! We certainly did!

Barbican performance photos by Topher McGrillis (RSC). Some Barbican backstage photos by Ruth Anthony

To follow the written story of the third part of our theatrical adventure, start reading here


The Dream is now over. To find out more about the 14 amateur companies which took part, click on the side bar to access the page on each location.

All For Your Delight, Part 3

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)

 

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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

Bottoms on the box

(NB – Links to the various programmes mentioned will take readers to the BBC’s IPlayer where programmes are available for a further 20 days at time of publishing this post)

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It’s Bank Holiday, it’s somewhat grey and miserable – no surprise there. Time to catch up on some BBC Bard telly missed while Dreaming at the Barbican. First The Hollow Crown with our old mucker Mr Cumberbatch (excellently done); then, at the other end, a second viewing of the Russell T Davis Dream (still have reservations). And in between, like the fancy filling in a Shakespeare sandwich, it was The Best Bottoms In The Land the set of TV programmes that recorded the process of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. These programmes were devised as part of the BBC’s 2016 Shakespeare Festival and set out to show the story of nine of the teams who auditioned, trained, rehearsed for and ultimately played the characters of the Rude Mechanicals in their local partner theatres as part of this mammoth enterprise. In case you’ve being paying close attention over the last year and have worked out that there were fourteen teams in all let me explain the discrepancy. Filming only took place in England (therefore, sadly, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast were not represented) and in both Stratford upon Avon and Newcastle only one of the two teams was featured. Each half hour film was made by the relevant regional BBC team. In a recent blog, overall series producer Ed Barlow explained how the BBC got involved (click here).

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Now, I know I’m relatively late to this particular party but at the time of the live broadcast I was just a little bit busy appearing on stage at the Barbican. I then deliberately let things settle for a week to put some distance between the live experience of being in the play and looking at the recording of our progress– for one thing I thought it would just stir up too many emotions to have sat down and watched a recording straightaway. Anyway, the BBC’s IPlayer  meant that I could now access all the different versions with relative ease. How best to approach them? Alphabetical? Numerical? The sensible route seemed to be to follow the order of the theatrical tour which would mean the added advantage of building up to and finishing with our own programme.

So first it was off to Stratford upon Avon. When we went and saw the show in Stratford we had seen the Bear Pit team so it was interesting seeing the same venue with a different set of players – the Nonentities. The recorded clips demonstrated how the Mechanicals scenes were, at once, both the same and yet different. Next it was Newcastle where perhaps the biggest dramatic moment took place – though not on stage. Graham Fewell of the Castle Players, playing Snug, broke a bone at the technical rehearsal and has still yet to get on stage. Blackpool and Bradford came next and reiterated the, by now, familiar scenario of amateurs overcoming obstacles to rise to the challenge of the professional world. As Ed Barlow admits in his blog: “The key to any successful story is conflict and jeopardy and at first it seemed we were going to struggle – everyone was having too good a time”. Well, sorry about that Ed but, and here I hope I speak on behalf of all the amateurs, we were focused on getting as much out of the process as possible and remaining positive and upbeat; who wouldn’t when such a wonderful prize was waiting at the finish line?

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Actor Sam West recording the voice over for the programme

Halfway through and the next programme, which featured Canterbury, was one in which I took particular interest as this was the version/venue I had visited in April. Heavily featured was the concern which Lisa Nightingale had about being the first woman to play Bottom for the RSC. As I can personally attest she had little to worry about. Norwich was next and I was suddenly surprised to see my name on screen when Owen Evans, the Common Lot’s Bottom, showed the camera the label inside his dungarees – which we evidently shared. Nottingham featured lady Bottom number 2 in Becky Morris and Truro the youngest Bottom in Pete Collett (our own programme tactfully – thankfully – neglected to mention that I was the oldest!). Eight versions in and I was struck by how diverse the groups were – I’d met all the Bottoms and a couple of the groups in full but (other than online) there were whole swathes of people I’d never been fortunate enough to encounter. What was patently clear though was that we were all united by the idea of helping to create the best version of the play possible, all passionate about what we were doing and fully aware of and grateful for the massive opportunity we had been given. If these were common themes I was pleasantly surprised to find a great deal of diversity in the actual content of the documentaries. I had expected a lot of repetition and shared footage to be used but the programmes took a rather more individual tack than that becoming more individualised as each one progressed.

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Oana and “crew” – final rehearsal day – Barbican rehearsal room

Finally it was time to watch our own London programme. I guess seeing yourself on screen is always a bit of a painful process (not that I’ve had that much experience, it has to be said) but the editing didn’t seem to paint me as a congenital idiot so that was a bonus. I was pleased to see my fellow players receive a good amount of coverage which I hadn’t felt was always the case with some of the other versions; despite the title of the programme what we had been through was very much a group experience and I was grateful that this had been acknowledged. What watching the programme certainly did was to provide a whole host of memories from the experience going right back to the beginning of the process. The auditions, the various tasks, workshops and online meetings we had participated in, the rehearsals at Clapham and the Barbican and the first night performance were all featured. All of this provides a very welcome souvenir of a very happy time.

The TV programme was always (in my mind anyway) very much a side show to the main event of the theatre production but it is great that someone took the time and trouble to record the event for posterity and my thanks go out to producer/director Andy Richards and journalist Oana Marocico who treated us with respect and patience and provided a true record of our fantastic journey. Andy had this to say about working with us:

 

Andy Richards
Programme producer/director Andy

I first became involved with the BBC’s ‘Best Bottoms in the Land’ project last September, when I was began filming the Tower team’s first workshops for ‘Dream 16’. During the months that followed, it was a real privilege to follow them so closely during the rehearsal process – as they shaped their characters into some truly memorable comic creations. I was struck by how much enjoyment the group got from the process of acting and rehearsing together, and how dedicated they were to creating the very best ensemble work that they could. All their hard work paid off with a tremendous opening night at the Barbican, which was great fun to film. I was rooting for them to bring the house down, and they duly obliged! The finished programme was very well received, and I hope that we succeeded in offering some real insights into what makes actors tick, as well as exploring the value of teamwork and the satisfactions of the creative process. I very much hope that I will be able to work with the Tower Theatre Company on other BBC projects in the future.

Andy, I hope so too.

To read reviews of Tower Theatre at the Barbican please click here


This week the  production is  at the Grand Opera House in Belfast– click on the image below to reveal full details.

Belfast

Bottoms on the box

Living The Dream: The Epilogue

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Curtain call     Photo by Steve Gray

(Other images in this blog post are backstage photos taken by Ruth Anthony on our final day at the Barbican)

No epilogue, I pray you, for your play needs no excuse.

Duke Theseus’s words at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are an attempt to head Bottom off at the pass before he starts yet another self-indulgent speech. At the risk of becoming over identified with the character I think an epilogue is in order and even Shakespeare himself ignores his character’s own advice by giving a closing speech to Puck. An epilogue tends to be something solemn and with a sense of finality about it neither of which I want to particularly want to bring to bear on the project A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation because a) it has never been solemn (though it has been serious) and b) because it isn’t actually over yet.

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That said I cannot let this moment pass without reflecting on the aftermath of such an intense week as detailed in my previous half dozen posts. The “comedown” or “post show blues” is I am afraid an inevitable consequence of the highs of the shows themselves. One of the benefits that the Tower Dreamteam has had is numbering a doctor among its makeup. Maria (Quince) tells me that the effects of massive amounts of adrenaline pumping through the body is bound to have repercussions – for every action there is a reaction type of thing (just about as far as my understanding of physics stretches). Therefore tiredness combined with inability to sleep, hunger accompanied by little desire to eat and lack of concentration interspersed with moments of extreme lucidity are all to be expected. The comedown after a more run of the mill show is usually intense so multiply that by about 250 and you’ll understand where I’m coming from. I’m indebted to OnStage website editor Chris Petersen’s article Post Show Blues and how to cure them for putting things in a bit more perspective. In particular I’m reassured that having these feelings is as a direct result of enjoying the show and the company of my fellows quite so much; as he says it’s better to feel like this than being glad the whole thing is over. As it is, at least this is another shared experience – both Barry (Bradford) and Lisa (Canterbury) warned me about the aftershock last week and I’ve already forewarned Steve (Cardiff). I found writing the last blog post quite cathartic and have been touched by some of the messages of support received from others. The overwhelmingly positive reviews have also been reassuring that the team was up to the mark. Most of these reviews have been of the online blog review type and so provide a real insight into the experience of paying audience members – it’s great to see that they had such a good time.

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So gradually things are getting back to “normal” and the memories that abide remain exceptionally happy ones. My immediate colleagues were great to be with, the pros and musicians were warm and collaborative, the RSC directors, stage management and backstage staff were towers of strength, the pupils of Beam and Eastbury were a joy to work with, the Barbican was awesome to play and very welcoming to us and the audiences were just amazing. As a bonus I’m pleased to have been able to share the events of last week with so many blog readers old and new, whether they could make it to the show or not.

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It’s been a tonic to see that the show has successfully rolled on to Cardiff and is hotly anticipated in Belfast. Also it won’t be long before we start gearing up again for our encore performances at Stratford upon Avon in July (11th and 12th if you’re passing by that way). Beyond that I’ve still got the treat of watching the TV programmes “The Best Bottoms In The Land” to come – I felt it would be best to put some space between production week and viewing these. All the indications from my colleagues across the country are that here is something else of which we can all feel proud. Above all there is the very comforting feeling that we have conquered a mountain (of sorts) and that all our lives have been enriched by it.

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So no sombre epilogue here. Though Theseus denies Bottom the chance to make another speech he does encourage him and the other Mechanicals to perform the Bergomask – a dance of celebration and release – and it is that sense of joy which I would like to hold on to. To finish with another quote, this time from one of our reviews:

This RSC Dream gets the one absolutely essential thing about the play absolutely right – it quickly establishes and never forgets that this is a happy, joyous, celebratory and just plain fun play. (Theatreguidelondon.co.uk)

To read further reviews of Tower Theatre at the Barbican please click here


This week the  production is  at the New Theatre in Cardiff– click on the image below to reveal full details.

Cardiff

Living The Dream: The Epilogue

Living The Dream: Act 5

I always knew this would be the hard one to write – the last day of performance week – and so it has turned out. A combination of extremely long days, euphoria, massive physical exertion, poor eating habits, lack of sleep and high levels of concentration have taken their toll, hence this last piece is a bit later than originally promised. Anyway, let’s to it and see if it doesn’t provide some sort of catharsis.

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Lucy and Maria helping out at the touch tour

The day began with yet another new experience as the RSC was offering a “touch tour” for those attending the matinee performance and who would be using the audio description facility. The tour gave audience members the opportunity to meet some of the cast, explore the set and handle some of the key costumes and props. This was a really interesting half hour and it was evident that to the patrons in attendance it would make all the difference to their appreciation of the play. I was asked to “model” the donkey ears and run through a few lines so that the sound of my voice would be familiar to our guests. They also posed some questions about how hot I got and how quickly I had to change. I explained that I had three people to get me into the ears (one for the headset, one for dabbing some red make up on and one to hold the torch by the light of which the others worked), that they were then removed by Puck onstage and that the makeup was removed in the wings by ASM Lindsey scrubbing my face with a wet cloth  – most invigorating!

After the regular warm ups it was more or less straight into the afternoon matinee which as well as being audio described was to be captioned – not that any of this would affect what we were doing in the slightest. The performance is probably best described as a game of two halves. Things seemed a bit nervy in the first half (though personally I felt less so than on the previous evening) and there was a definite blip in our second scene which, fortunately, was able to be very quickly rescued. David came round to the dressing rooms at half time to give us a pep talk and this seemed to liven us up and provide a better second half. By the time we got to Pyramus and Thisbe things were swimming along very nicely again and this last scene, as ever, went down a storm.

In between shows it was time to start clearing up, gathering together greetings cards and presents and getting things ready for a later departure (not something I wanted to think about, believe me, but it had to be done). Various messages about the clear up procedures came from stage manager Jenny and company manager Suzi; as in everything else they are absolute models of efficiency but all done in a kindly and friendly manner. A quick meal in the Barbican’s Green Room with pros Alex, Ben and Jack revealed that they too were thinking about the immediate future and the journey up to the next venue in Cardiff. A definite feeling of finality was starting to set in. Back up in dressing room F3, dresser Jen appeared with our freshly laundered costumes (don’t know how they turn things round so quickly) and it was time to get ready for the final show.

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Final notes and encouragement from AD Kim     Photo by Ruth Anthony

I’m pleased to report that we went out on a high. From the moment we first came on I could feel that the audience were with us and as it was a now or never situation I decided to use all my reserves to give them a good night. There’s a fine balance, of course, and we had been warned about overpushing or becoming self indulgent; I think we managed to stay on the right side of this particular concern. A little extra bounce, a little extra swagger, a slightly more playful grin with Ayesha and just a hint more of audience engagement and I think it was possibly the best performance of the week – running a close neck and neck with Thursday evening. There were several emotional moments in the last half hour (mostly offstage but see the last paragraph below) but generally the trend was upbeat and celebratory. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the Bergomask section in the early days but over the final week had found myself carrying it out with more abandon – if perhaps slightly less polish each night. For this final time I was doing it for myself and I couldn’t have cared less who (or if anyone) was watching. As Adam and I swung into our final pose a little voice whispered “You did it! You really did it!”. There was one more final extraordinary and very touching moment. At the curtain call the professionals went down on one knee and applauded us; that really finished me off!

Our visitors
Our visitors from all over Dreamland

Things moved apace after that. A swift get out in which I managed to leave my gifts of Dream Tour and Barbican T shirts behind – since located and set to one side for later collection – was effected. It was most unusual of course to not be going through the wearying process of striking the set and clearing the stage; every am drammer’s bugbear on the last night. For once there was a professional crew (I counted about 20 people) swiftly deconstructing the scenery and loading it onto a huge waiting van outside. I, for one, was mightily relieved. There were a few more well-wishers at the stage door and I reflected on how so many of our fellows had put in an appearance to cheer us on. Respect to the Canterbury Players team, Peter Cockerill from up north, the ever lovely Bradford Barry, Amelia from just down the road and part of Norwich’s Common Lot, Dorothy all the way from Cornwall and especially Graham for stop 12 on his tour of all venues; we thank you from the heart of our Bottoms. Just time for a brief celebration (glass of water for me as I got to the bar past last orders), lots (and I mean lots) of fond farewells and then the last train home.

As I fell into bed I reflected on a key moment that evening and one aspect of the play that was definitely different in performance. This was the “I have had a most rare vision” monologue towards the “latter end of the play”. Alone on stage for this section it is Bottom’s (and if I’m honest my) big moment. That night as I spoke the words they seemed to have a new resonance encapsulating not only what had taken place for Bottom but also what had happened on a personal level over the last year and a half:

I have had a most rare vision. I had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream.

Gentle reader, the words were Shakespeare’s, the feelings were Bottom’s but the very real tears were mine.

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Our last team photo backstage at The Barbican     Photo by Ruth Anthony

This week the  production is  at the New Theatre in Cardiff– click on the image below to reveal full details.

Cardiff

 

Living The Dream: Act 5