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)