Living The Dream: The Epilogue

13217058_10208412879473075_5028436492530968064_o
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.

RA_Dream16_04

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.

RA_Dream16_09

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.

RA_Dream16_06

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.

RA_Dream16_02.JPG

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

Advertisements
Living The Dream: The Epilogue

Living The Dream: Act 3

D16 Call Thursday 19th May

The thing about “show week” is that everything goes out of the window – eating habits, sleeping patterns, household chores….work! If that has proved true in the past then it is doubly so with A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. The work aspect is relatively easily dealt with – we knew we’d be doing this for over a year and that taking holiday would be essential. The household chores can be put into suspended animation for a week. But the eating and the sleeping? They are pretty vital for keeping on top of the game and yet mine seem to have gone to pot. Ah well – you have to suffer for your art.

20160520_125318

So it was that Thursday morning dawned (literally) very early. At least this gave me an opportunity to answer some of the well-wishing messages which had been flooding in over the earlier part of the week. After another quick natter with Bradford Barry (see yesterday) he took himself off for a meet up with Lucy before travelling home. A thoroughly delightful and undemanding house guest – see you in Stratford, Barry. Then it was off to the theatre. Within moments of arriving two more “firsts” for me. First time being asked for an autograph from an audience member who had seen the show the previous night and now had picked up a ticket for another look on the following day (thanks glutton for punishment) and first time for flowers at the stage door (thanks family)

20160514_104400
The auditorium – soon to be filled with 1,000+ people (twice!)

It was a double fun day on Thursday with two performances to give. This meant another relatively early call as the matinee start time was at 1.00. The afternoon performance had a number of school parties in and we had been warned to be on our toes. All I can say is that the children in the audience were impeccably behaved – a credit to their schools and teachers and fully immersed in what was going on. They loved Pyramus and Thisbe – plenty of visual humour there, of course and one particular move I made nearly brought the house down.

In the post show (or pre show – depending how you look at it) lull I had an interview with Holly Williams of The Independent. The questions were pretty much par for the course and I enjoyed talking about the project. At the same time I was being a little wary of preserving my voice. We have actually had little by way of press coverage/reviews on the London leg. The national press (quite rightly) covered the opening in Stratford some weeks ago and local papers as such, have not continued in the capital as they have in other areas of the country. There was a piece in Time Out but this somewhat oddly took the view that the project wasn’t a success because the amateurs were too good – go figure! Other than this there have been a small handful of online blog reviews but nothing of any great significance.

20160517_124033
A view from the wings

The evening performance soon came round and this one really seemed to fly. Sometimes the rapport between audience and actors is so instant that a real bond is formed; everyone is there to have a damn good time and nothing is going to stop them. Al took a serious tumble in the chase sequence but seems not to have done any permanent damage and I got a bit too close to Maria’s eye when I connected with her cheek while I was wrestling the sword from Adam but otherwise it was fun all the way. I felt really comfortable with the Titania scenes – Ayesha boosted my confidence no end by making some very complimentary remarks just before we went on. And as for Pyramus and Thisbe –I think a couple of minutes must have got added on to the running time because of the howls of laughter; I nearly found myself corpsing (unintentionally breaking character by laughing) myself at one point and had to employ the well-worn “biting the inside of the cheeks” methodology to prevent this. What an absolute joy to hear about 1,000 people so enjoying themselves. The curtain calls brought yet more tears to the eye (“I will move storms!”)

13312808_10156986670675026_5219140566692446574_n
Post show Q & A

Post show there was a Q and A session led by producer Ian Wainwright. Mercy and Lucy from the pro company, Miles from the RSC education department and Erica joined us on stage for half an hour of discussion. There was a particularly moving statement from David Dickson the Head of Eastbury school whose pupils had been on stage at the two performances that day. He spoke eloquently about the effect that the project has had on raising his school’s literacy levels not only for those directly involved but for the other pupils too; truly great to hear. If anyone still doubts the need to take Shakespeare out from behind the desk then there is your answer. And on that heartwarrming note the day was just about over – time to catch up on all that missing sleep!


This week the  production is  at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.

London

Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May

Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st

The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican

Living The Dream: Act 3

Living The Dream: Act 2

D16 Call Wednesday 18th May

The emotional effects of a big experience shouldn’t be underestimated especially when you are recalling events through the written word. Thus I finished yesterday’s post in a bit of an emotional state. Fortunately the mood shifted fairly rapidly when David sent me some photos among which was an “interesting” snap of me in a onsie worn as part of the Pyramus outfit. As the pose struck might loosely be termed “provocative” I won’t inflict it on you – you might have recently eaten. My other discovery of the morning was that I had, apparently, broken Pyramus’ sword onstage in full view. I had absolutely zero recall of this and nobody had said anything after the show. It only came to light when I got a friend’s message asking how the breakage had been stage managed.

20160518_153216
Looks like I’m not the only tired one – would you believe these people are actually having the time of their lives?

So it was off to the Barbican late in the morning wondering how I was going to explain myself and whether a suitable substitute was available. The Dreamteam gathered first for notes with AD Kim which, as we have come to expect were both encouraging but also thorough. For me I needed to tighten some cues and take a little more time with some other aspects. I was reminded to give the audience credit for being able to work some things out for themselves and get more enjoyment out of it whilst doing so. No mention of the sword so I bit the bullet and asked. As it turned out I was in the clear – it had actually been broken completely accidentally and not even by me. Stage management had with customary efficiency effected a repair. Phew! They were about to let me loose on the Barbican stage again after all. The professional cast had arrived by this point and were also given notes. I was struck that they were asked for their reactions to the first night performance (actually for them the 84th) rather than the other way round. Most of their concerns centred round the way they were playing the “new space”.

20160518_151940
Caroline and Lucy at the BSL tech rehearsal

We were then introduced to the rather wonderful Caroline Ryan who was to be the interpreter at the British Sign Language performance that evening. I’m ashamed to say I thought this would mean someone standing at the side of the stage and being rather distracting but this was to be a semi integrated performance with Caroline actually dressed as a character (an extra fairy) and joining the action to explain the story and sign the dialogue. Hence we had another technical rehearsal to ensure that everything would run smoothly and so that Caroline could work out where she was going to be at any given point. She had already sat in the audience the previous night and had carried out similar interpretation duties at other venues on the tour so had a pretty good idea of what was what. Here you can see Caroline at work (NB – The video shows our colleagues from the Bear Pit in Stratford upon Avon)

This rehearsal lasted well into the afternoon but at least we had a chance to run through our scenes and put into practice the notes we had been given earlier. This was followed by the arrival of a new group of children from Eastbury school who needed to be drilled into the show. This gave us some time out but before the day ended everyone joined together to practice the Bergomask. Suddenly it was 5.00 pm; being inside a theatre by definition means you don’t have a view of the outside world and time can have a tendency to run away. With consummate timing our official performance photographs became available (they have to be sanctioned by Erica/RSC first) and so over supper we were able to browse through these making suitably ribald comments.

Photos by  Topher McGrillis © RSC

A physical warm up with Laura (H) and a vocal warm up with Tarek told us that the performance was drawing near so time to get into costume and await “beginners”. The mood in the dressing room was a little more tranquil than the previous evening partly because we no longer had the BBC with us filming and partly because we’d come through largely unscathed the night before. That said there was still an air of anticipation.

Shortly after the performance begins Lucy appears to give us the “Puck report”. This is handy as it prewarns us about audience numbers and what we might need to do to draw the spectators in. If audience numbers were a little down on the previous evening it hardly showed – once again the warmth and the rapport came rolling back to us behind the footlights (and in this, albeit modern, production there are actual footlights). Our scenes felt strong and secure bolstered by the earlier notes and, as during the day, time seemed to whizz by. Dresser Jen and I had now got the costume changes down to a fine art. There’s an extraordinary moment when I need to get the ass head on and I have no less than three people “prepping” me while I just stand there and let it all happen. No scrambling around sorting yourself out as in amdram land and good practice for the way Bottom is pampered after the interval.

It was fascinating working with Caroline as part of the cast and I was in awe of her energy – she was, after all, onstage the whole time. I barely noticed she was there except as another character in the play; a tribute to her thorough professionalism and she deservedly received a huge round of applause at the end. This is yet another aspect of drama work that I could never have imagined being involved in without being part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation – the gift that keeps on giving.

image1
A rose between two thorns (or a Puck between two Bottoms)

Post show I met up with Barry, my Bradford opposite number, who had travelled up to London to see the show. We’d arranged that he would stay with me for the night before heading back north the following day so it was great to compare notes and swap anecdotes of our experiences (a little too) late into the night. As his group have already had their turn it was also helpful to get his experience of the need to pace yourself and get some hints of what was still to come. One of the huge bonuses of the whole project has been getting to know like minded people around the country; what a truly phenomenal experience this is.

So that’s about it for Wednesday except to say that I had been following the traffic to the blog off and on through the day and was amazed to find that the number of views had shot up exponentially. It was very gratifying to see how many people were accessing the site and finding out what we were up to – you’re adding to that number right now – so thanks, folks, for taking an interest and hopefully it’s provided a bit of a window into Tower Dreamteam’s remarkable experience if you haven’t been able to get to a performance. There’s still time!


This week the  production is  at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.

London

Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May

Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st

The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican

Living The Dream: Act 2

Living The Dream: Act 1

12 hours

D16 Call Tuesday 17th May

20160517_095140
The stage is set

An early call meant setting out in the rush hour and manipulating a bag full of stuff on the Tube. In the normal course of events (though not really sure what “normal” is any more) this would have meant costumes, make up, towels and a whole raft of other bits and pieces. But of course when you’re working with the RSC that’s all laid on. So the aforementioned bag was actually full of first night prezzies – more of which anon.

20160516_135954
Our costume rail – mine on the left

First job after signing in this morning was to get into costume. I actually have a degree of choice here with alternative versions of a 1940’s working man’s garb. Thus there’s a coat, for instance, which I can wear or not as the mood takes me. Apparently few of my colleagues have opted for this which I presume is in order to keep heat levels tolerable and, after all the play is A MidSUMMER Night’s Dream so I’ll probably follow their lead (I did!).

20160517_095153
The pros and the ams gather

We were introduced to the Barbican staff and given a Health and Safety briefing after which the rest of the day was taken up rehearsing. This was a bit of an odd hybrid. The professionals have, by now, many weeks of experience behind them so for them it was a cue to cue tech (passing over sections of dialogue when nothing technical is happening). However, when it was our scenes or the scenes involving the children (today from Eastbury) these were run in full – and sometimes rerun – and sometimes rerun again. Adjustments were often minute but always telling. The process took almost the whole day with the only diversion being a press call around midday. This involved running a couple of scenes with Ayesha so the press photographers could get some shots (as in photos – we weren’t that bad!)

Once the rehearsal was over the anticipation of the first night began to sink in. There were company vocal and physical warm ups to attend and then presents to exchange. One of the most touching parts of this was the relay gift from our buddies down in Cornwall – some proper Cornish fairings (look it up) and the actual fairy baton – ours for the week. For my own gifts I had struck lucky. A random internet search several months ago for “Rude Mechanicals” had turned up an Australian wine collective who produced a frizzante – couldn’t have been more perfect if it tried!

20160517_193124
Al and Adam check Twitter support

Almost before we knew it the first calls of the evening were being given and it was time to really concentrate on the job in hand. The BBC was still filming for the “Best Bottoms” documentary and followed the process of us getting ourselves ready. And then came the big moment – “Beginners to the stage”. Our first scene is about 20 minutes in but I wanted to be near the action so headed down to the stage. This involved quite a few stairs as our dressing room is four floors above the backstage pass. I took everything I would need with me as I didn’t fancy trooping up and down. There is a lift but we’re all banned from using it for an hour and a half before performance just in case it breaks down with us in it!

 

20160517_102813
The props table

The wings/backstage space at the Barbican is huge so plenty of room for some anxious pacing – except that wasn’t the case. I felt surprisingly serene about the whole thing and was confident we could do a decent job. Laura (Helena) went into the final speech of Scene1, the green light lit up and suddenly we were on. I must admit to a nervous flutter about three speeches in; that’s about par for the course so it’s just (JUST!) a matter of gripping the baton a little more firmly until the moment passes. The next two and a bit hours were just the most thrilling thing you can imagine. Lines flowed with ease, movement came naturally – the whole thing just barrelled along with its own momentum and the audience seemed to be loving it. No, actually they WERE loving it – the warmth coming back was palpable. The most magical part of all was Pyramus and Thisbe. Strange, all your life you try to avoid ham acting and then suddenly that’s what you’re called upon to do and everyone gives you a huge thumbs up for it.

And so to the curtain call – another huge wave of emotion crashed over us as the applause and cheering just went on and on. And when I found out later that one of those people was Sir Ian McKelllen oh my oh my oh my! And the children – they looked just so thrilled with the hugest grins. And the oh so generous professionals happy to let us have our moment – they truly are the best of people and they are deserves to be huge stars in the acting firmament. And the BBC cameras capturing it all. And the tears in Erica and Kim’s eyes when they came backstage afterwards and said the most moving things. And David – just like a proud parent. And Maria and Adam and Tom and Peta and Al – the best damn bunch of Mechanicals/mates in the whole land. And the generous and supportive comments afterwards at the Barbican hosted reception from friends, colleagues and even complete strangers….And I’m filling up – have to stop! Sorry!


This week the  production is  at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.

London

Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May

Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st

The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican

Living The Dream: Act 1

Living The Dream: The Prologue

D16 Call Monday 16th May

Walking through the stage door of The Barbican theatre at 10.30 am and signing in for the day is the first action of a desperate man – desperate to get things right that is. The RSC have devoted so much time and support to this project and it has been going so well so far that none of us want to go down in infamy as the one who “mucked up”. So it’s a deep breath and then down into the bowels of the Barbican to the rehearsal room. We’re in the rehearsal room because up above us the stage is being fitted up ready for the performances to start the following day.

20160516_142424

It’s just the Tower Dreamteam in the morning with Erica and Kim. Voice guru Michael is feeling unwell and we hope he can return to the fold really soon; I have a feeling I may be needing his talents ere long. We start, naturally enough, with our opening scene which I could by now recite in my sleep – and possibly do/will. We skip past the second scene as this requires Lucy (Puck) who won’t arrive until later and then move into the short transition scene in Act IV. The work is intense but still highly enjoyable, especially when we discover yet more new things hidden away in the text. A first go at Pyramus and Thisbe comes before a visit to the stage to see the set going up. There are boxes of materials everywhere; it looks like chaos but I’m certain that it is far from it. The visit serves as a very timely reminder of the sheer scale in which we will be working. I actually found sitting in the auditorium and looking back at the stage even more daunting as we contemplated what lay ahead. Meanwhile all of the morning’s events were being filmed by the BBC documentary team and a brief interview session with them finished the morning.

There was actually little time for lunch (well not for me at least) but some fruit on the terrace and some fresh air was very welcome; the Barbican backstage can be an airless place with few windows on the outside world. I had to return below ground fairly swiftly to work with Ayesha on our scenes – cue happy moments of reunion both with her and the other adult fairies. Ayesha as ever kept me on my toes with fresh approaches and new ideas and I was reminded that Bottom has a whole other side to his character (other than the rather loud blustering which passes for acting the rest of the time).

20160516_132708
The three wise men

Next it was time for the schoolchildren’s session; the Beam and Eastbury pupils were intelligent and alert and Kim in particular worked her socks off to get through so much in a short space of time. It was great to see all the enthusiastic, eager faces again and it is clear that they and their teachers have been doing a lot of work on their scenes. Finally we all got to do the Bergomask several times before the youngsters and their chaperones headed off home and we took a meal break. There’s a nice canteen (called the Green Room) for the artists and the Barbican staff which we are being allowed to use. Then there was just time to pay a visit to our allocated dressing rooms – the male contingent of the Tower team are all together in one space while Maria is sharing with Lucy. The dressing rooms are much swisher than many I have seen – individual stations, organised and spacious clothes rails and shoe storage, lockers for ordinary clothes, a shower, a sofa and even our own fridge – very snazzy. The room comes complete with our very own Jen– our dresser who helps us to sort everything out and keep things in good order. It’s all a far cry from the often cramped muddle of am dram world.

20160517_090324

The evening session was spent working on the rehearsal in the forest scene; Lucy joined us for this and added some inventive business with Puck’s mischief making based on what we were doing. We also did the second half of Pyramus and Thisbe. Tiredness was definitely setting in by now and I was having to play in a rather lower key than earlier. The directors were happy to allow this as they knew that when it came to actual performance the adrenaline would kick in and Doctor Theatre would work his magic. A last glance to see how the set was coming along (well, since you ask) and it was off home to get some rest so we could do it all again soon. Tomorrow is even longer and more intense but also contains THE big moment. Crikey!


This week the  production is  at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.

London

Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May

Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st

The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican

Living The Dream: The Prologue

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.

12705247_10100253760626202_572674757036005383_n
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.

download
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.

download (1)
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

Social media header - general

A roundel and a fairy song

A crew of patches met together to rehearse a play

Week 3 of rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation and the pace is now picking up. For Tower Theatre it meant much time spent south of the river Thames and an increasing familiarity with the environs of Clapham as we journeyed there to practice our scenes.

20160119_195859
The amateurs watching the pros rehearse

On Tuesday we were treated to watching the professionals at work as Erica explored the possibilities thrown up by the start of Act V. This last act is when the play within a play gets performed by the Mechanicals so it was extremely helpful to have the pros putting it into context for us. What struck me most forcibly were the number of possibilities which they found within the text and the relish with which they explored them. This section formed the broadcast which went out to the groups throughout the country. Then it was our turn and we worked with Assistant Director Kim on Quince’s two prologues in which the plot and characters of Pyramus and Thisbe are introduced to the Duke’s court. This meant the bulk of the work fell squarely upon Maria’s shoulders while the rest of us had some fun experimenting with our roles in dumb show. Several versions later we felt we had definitely got somewhere with it. One significant practical difference between pro and amateur rehearsals quickly manifested itself when the stage management team produced a number of props for use in the scene and we were invited to make selections – I, for instance, was offered a choice of four (FOUR!) different swords. I can remember doing productions in the past where key props just about managed to appear by dress rehearsal, never mind in the early stages of practising. RSC – you’re just spoiling us now!

On Wednesday evening another first was attempted as there was “a three way” hook up between London, Blackpool and Stratford so that scenes could be tried out in various configurations. Although most of the venues have proscenium arches, Stratford itself has a thrust stage and they are all, of course, different widths and depths. The Barbican (our venue) has one of – if not the – widest performance areas so it was good to find that one of the rooms in Clapham has been marked out with that particular configuration for us to practice in. This is the aptly named Bottom rehearsal room (as in top, middle and…but a nice piece of serendipity all the same).

20160121_142253
Nice of the RSC to personalise the rehearsal space

Thursday was an extended day for me as I took the opportunity to go in early and observe the professionals rehearsing the lover’s scenes. While they only interact with the Mechanicals at the very end of the play it was very interesting to see how another key aspect of the piece has been developing. Laura, Mercy, Jack and Chris (who play the four roles) worked intensely with Erica trying a myriad of variations until hitting on combinations of interpretation with which they all felt comfortable. What occurred to me was i) the fun they had in trying out various combinations and ii) the amount of discussion and thought that went into proceedings. In “amateurland” time pressures often take their toll and far from having all day to get a scene right it is often a case of cramming in a couple of hours after a full working day. In the afternoon the rehearsal continued with Sian the movement director and AD Kim. Having more or less blocked the scenes in the morning, the afternoon was all about finessing and nuancing. The day finished with the arrival of several other professionals to rehearse the Bergomask (the dance which happens just before the play concludes). Great fun to watch – especially Kim busting moves as a stand-in Bottom.

20160121_171415
The young lovers

Then, in the evening the Tower team gathered in the aforementioned Bottom rehearsal room to try two of the Mechanicals’ scenes – one of which we had never tackled before. Inspired by what I had seen earlier, I found it much easier to let go of any set notions about how a scene should look and be played and tried out a number of variations of what we were doing. Meanwhile upstairs another tri-cornered broadcast between Truro, Kidderminster and London was going ahead with the Mechanicals’ professional understudies in attendance. If you’re wondering why we weren’t watching, this was a conscious decision – sometimes it’s better to just get on and do. In any case the recordings of the broadcasts are being made available for us online to watch at our convenience. Alongside these recordings we are also due to have access to a number of digital lessons. So far we have had examples of a vocal warm up, how to sing Bottom’s song and the choreography for the Bergomask dance. I’m just waiting for the one that teaches the ancient art of braying like a donkey!

BH1
A posterior of Bottoms (and a rogue Quince!)

The last rehearsal of the week was the Saturday Bottom hub and what a gathering it proved to be. Nine Bottoms in the same room (plus one at the other end of a camera in Cornwall) at once may seem like overkill but as someone pointed out “You can never really have too many Bottoms”. Ayesha seemed to take this all in her stride, one minute acting opposite Stratford Bottom (David), the next with Canterbury Bottom (Lisa) before turning her attention to Norwich Bottom (Owen) and Cardiff Bottom (Steven). She even managed a brief scene with Truro Bottom (Peter) through the magic of the Internet. At one point everyone in the room attempted the Bergomask dance (see above) for the first time; I need to take my time with something like this so will definitely be studying the digital lesson carefully.

And that was it for Week 3 – halfway through rehearsals already! A slightly scary thought especially, I suspect, for the groups who are early on in the tour run.

20160121_084531

As a footnote there was one other highly enjoyable aspect to the week which was connected to the Dream2016 project. This was being invited to Broadcasting House for the BBC Press Launch of their Shakespeare 2016 season due to start on April 23rd. Seeing clips of the forthcoming programmes along with live turns from the Horrible Histories troupe, Hip Hop Shakespeare and an interview with David Tennant was a very enjoyable way to spend a morning. Greg Doran (commander in chief) introduced the RSC’s 2016 programme highlighting the Dream tour as its flagship production. This was followed by ten pupils from Eastbury school (one of the schools we will be working with) and some of the adult cast performing Titania’s lullaby from the show. Apparently they had had only one brief rehearsal – and they were utterly brilliant. My personal highlight was when Erica introduced me to Simon Russell Beale who will be returning to the RSC to play Prospero in a unique and highly technological take on The Tempest at the end of the year. He was lovely to talk to and he was particularly interested and intrigued by the Dream project. However, if I was hoping for any tips it was to prove disappointing. Despite extensive experience in Shakespeare’s work and the fact that it would seem ideal casting, SRB has never played Bottom or, indeed, been in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So then, Dream2016 Bottoms – 1: SRB – Nil!

A crew of patches met together to rehearse a play