A roundel and a fairy song

Week 6, the final full week of formal rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation, in many ways arrived all too soon. There is something about rehearsals and the ongoing discoveries made during the process that lie at the very heart of what actors do. Finally setting things and then opening to public scrutiny is, of course, what any theatre company aims for; without an audience there really cannot be a play as they are an integral part of the whole live experience. But there can be a slight sense of “something lost” as things leave the comparative safety of the rehearsal room and move out into the great wide world.

The production in its entirety had, by now, literally moved from Clapham to the RSC’s home in Stratford upon Avon. So for us here in London it was back to using our own rehearsal space. I, for one, recognise that we have been incredibly lucky over the last few weeks to be able to make use of the RSC facilities so a big thank you to people like Jenny and Suzi who made it all possible. But the reality check didn’t stop us from working and we were soon running through our own versions of the scenes again, polishing and tidying as we went. The last two rehearsal broadcasts came from the still to be reopened Other Place, the company’s studio theatre complex. Unbelievably, given all that she has had to do, this is another of the RSC’s projects on which Erica leads; it completely boggles the mind as to where she finds the time. The formal rehearsal process finished with the second full run through of the production in which the two Stratford teams played in alternate Mechanicals’ scenes. When we had carried out the earlier run through our scenes were configured for the proscenium arch stage; this version gave us a much better idea of how things would look on the thrust stage when we go up to the RST in July. As 10 o’clock approached the final lines of the play were spoken by Lucy/Puck and Erica stepped forward to say a few closing words. This was actually an emotional moment as it suddenly hit home that what we had been doing for several weeks was going to become a reality in theatres up and down the country.

Erica addresses the amateur companies as rehearsals conclude

And so to rehearsals of quite a different sort – fairy school. As regular readers will know the production will be making use of the talents of 580 schoolchildren as it travels around the country and it was a real privilege to join RSC Education’s Miles Tandy for two days as he worked with the pupils of Eastbury Community School in Barking and Beam Primary School in Dagenham. Twenty Year 7 pupils from the former and ten Year 5 pupils from the latter will be forming the three teams who will play Titania’s fairy train at our Barbican performances in May. The day’s work was designed to help the young people understand their part in the greater world of the play in general and to give them dedicated rehearsal time to prepare for their roles on stage.

Eastbury Community Scool

Standards for the RSC are, of course, very high and it was good to see that this was to apply to this younger section of the cast too. That said there was never any suggestion that they were “just a bunch of kids” – quite the reverse; they were treated (as indeed we amateurs have been) as full and professional members of the cast. Thus they are expected to remain focused at all times, have confidence in what they are doing and to take responsibility for themselves. As Miles explained, the cardinal onstage sin is to lose your professionalism by telling another actor what to do or remind them with a surreptitious or not so surreptitious nudge, thus drawing unwonted attention to an error.

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Beam Primary School, Dagenham

Needless to say the children were delightful. They really picked things up quickly especially when it came to the movement/dance they have to do (quite a significant feature of their role) and put my efforts firmly in the shade. I spotted a couple of budding Billy Elliott’s, others had a natural grace about them or beautiful tones in their speaking voices and the general level of concentration would put some adults to shame – a real pleasure to watch and work with them. We all practiced cupping the morning dew in our hands, keeping our attention fixed on an angry Oberon and playing a game of fairy tag. Their part in the Bergomask dance was broken down on a video created by Sian and Tarek (movement and music directors) and they tackled this with confidence and a great sense of fun. Finally we had a brief Q and A session so they could ask me about what the amateurs had been up to and (most popular question) how I was going to be transformed into a donkey; I was just pleased that they thought a transformation was actually necessary!

The children are, naturally, very excited by the prospect of performing on a big stage in London even though it is still many weeks away. I can only guess at the levels of expectation that the Stratford children must be feeling as the big day approaches for them very soon. From what I have seen so far their families and their teachers will see something of which they can be very proud and which will provide the youngsters with some fabulous memories in years to come.

Front Row
Radio 4’s Front Row featured a number of Bottoms

The week was also one of heightened media activity; not surprising given the proximity of the first performances. First off the mark was a BBC Breakfast article which revealed Bottom’s ears to the world for the first time; actually they are still the rehearsal ones so the full effect has yet to be seen. (Click here) Some of the ITV regions also carried a packaged piece along similar lines. (Click here) On Friday evening it was Radio 4’s turn with a piece on their arts programme Front Row. (Click here) I’m not sure for how long each of these clips will be available but they provide a good insight into the project and how the rehearsal process worked.

So – nearly there. Just a few more days of rehearsal left before the first audience members arrive to see the finished result. If you still need your appetite whetted, take a look at this just released trailer. Then book your tickets quickly before they are all gone. It’s going to be epic!

Please click the image below for full tour details

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A roundel and a fairy song