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

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

The last hurrah!

And suddenly, there it was – gone! July 16th 2016 – the absolutely final day of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. The evening needed to be a little bit special and fortunately it was. This had been such a big theatrical event that some form of closure was absolutely essential if there weren’t to be dozens of gibbering wrecks around the country.

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Many of the amateur teams had been finished for some time but our performances had only been at the beginning of the same week; so we hardly had time to draw breath before the end was upon us. Our previous “ending” at the Barbican had produced a massive comedown and while this one wasn’t quite so severe (there being only two performances for us to give at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre) the pangs were still quite sharp and lasted a couple of days. The real “downer” (for me anyway) was in the days immediately following the last night at Stratford but as I don’t want to dwell on the negatives let’s concentrate on the upside of our final Dream day.

On this last Saturday our team all made its way back separately to Stratford. I had been having a couple of days r and r in a wonderful country house hotel quite nearby so I was back in Stratford by lunchtime. I had thought about getting a ticket for the Swan Theatre to see a performance – after all I had nearly inadvertently appeared there a few nights previously – but, of course, this is Stratford upon Avon on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of the tourist season so there really wasn’t a ghost of a chance. Instead I headed for HandlebardsThe Dell the RSC’s outside performance space and scene of the fairy portal camp/flashmob a few weeks previously. Playing here was group called the Handlebards (sic) a group of four peripatetic young women (there is an equivalent all male group too). Their USP is that they are cycling from London to Fife between July and September stopping off and giving performances of Romeo and Juliet and The Taming of The Shrew en route carrying with them “all of the necessary set, props and costume to perform extremely energetic, charmingly chaotic and environmentally sustainable Shakespeare plays”.

Well this sounded like fun and indeed it was. I expected a highly truncated version of Romeo and Juliet but not a bit of it. Most of the dialogue was intact though it tended to be played for comedy rather than any lasting seriousness; that’s not a criticism, as on a rare hot afternoon this was far more suitable for the casual audience who lounged on the grass in front of the rudimentary stage. Best described as “rough theatre” some of the staging was quite delightful. Instead of swords, bicycle pumps were utilised and the costumes were suggestive of character rather than attempts to provide anything full on. I was often reminded of the Rude Mechanicals’ attempts to mount a serious version of Pyramus and Thisbe only for them to find it falling apart around them. The cast worked extremely hard covering nineteen roles between them. They all had their moments but I was particularly taken by Lotte Tickner as a bawdy Nurse, a lisping Prince, a meowing Tybalt (“king of cats”), and a water spray wielding Friar John (long story – don’t ask). The performance finished only fifty minutes before they were due to do it all again (and then Shrew twice on the Sunday). They must be physically very fit but I suppose if you’re cycling all that way between shows then you probably will be.

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One last selfie in front of the theatre

After a last group meal at the Dirty Duck with most of the rest of the Tower team, it was time for that momentous last performance which was to feature Belfast’s Belvoir Players. As well as ourselves there were a goodly number from quite a few of the other amateur companies in the audience and for those unable to get a ticket the local Bear Pit group was hosting a pre after show party (!) at their theatre. It was strange to listen to all the lines slipping away one by one – never to be spoken again as part of this particular production – especially those of the Mechanicals. That’s the nature of theatre though, it is immediate and in the moment and needs the live audience element to really make it work (I confess to having some ambivalence towards cinema showings of “live” productions, though have certainly used them to see things I might otherwise have missed). It was particularly joyous to see the children in this last performance as they were from a local Special School. Here was the RSC really demonstrating inclusivity and, of course, just a couple of days earlier they had given their first Shakespearian “relaxed” performance for an audience including people with an Autism Spectrum Condition, sensory and communication disorders, or a learning disability.

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I call this one – ‘The rest is silence’ (witty, huh?)

The last few minutes of the play definitely brought a lump to the throat and the final lines (delivered by Lucy Ellinson as Puck) were particularly pertinent calling, as they do, for audience approval; it can certainly be claimed that the project as a whole achieved that. There was a burst of fervid applause, the performers took their last curtain call, flowers were thrown on to the stage and then suddenly the houselights were up and the show was over not for just that night or even that week but for ever. I confess I stayed in my seat for some minutes gathering my thoughts and contemplating what a fantastic journey we (the amateurs, the pros, the schoolchildren, the directors, the creative, technical and support staff) had all been on. Unbelievable, truly remarkable and absolutely unique.

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And so to that traditional staple – the after show party. This was somewhat bigger (250 people plus) than the customary am dram affair, which is often squeezed in during the small hours after a backbreaking period of set striking and theatre clearing. None of that for us this time so it was straight off to the RSC’s studio theatre The Other Place which had been cleared for the occasion. It was a lively noisy affair populated by a myriad of Mechanicals as well as the professionals and everyone else associated with the production. RSC Artistic Director Greg Doran said a few heartfelt words about the project’s beginnings, the RSC’s hopes about what would come to pass and their huge delight at what had been achieved. Then he handed over to Erica who spoke with her customary charm and eloquence about what the project had meant to her and how she hoped it had touched all of our lives – don’t worry about that, it definitely has. She also speculated on what the future might bring and how although the Dream project really could not, would not and even should not be repeated the elements that made up its constituent parts should be encouraged to thrive and prosper. The project was declared officially over, Chris Nyak (Demetrius) presented Erica with a huge framed picture containing images of every adult who had appeared on stage in the run and then a short video featuring the amateurs was shown in which Erica and her team were thanked through the rewritten words of the song “Time Of Our Lives”. This was the videoing referred to in the last post and was co-ordinated by Nottingham’s Becky  Morris; it was a bit of fun but I also thought it was entirely in the spirit of the early rehearsals in which all shared via the medium of video.

After that it was eating, drinking, dancing, anecdote swapping, photo taking and general revelry until the small hours.

 

Eventually I found myself back at the Falcon hotel wondering how anything could top the experience we had all been through. I’ve met so many wonderful people over the last year – brilliant Bottoms, fantastic Flutes, sensational Snugs, superb Snouts, superlative Starvelings, quite awseome Quinces and dazzling directors. Not to mention the preeminent professionals, the terrific technicals, commendable creatives, a stupendous support team and everyone else connected with this truly magnificent project. Above all these people, however, sits one courageous and life affirming individual – all hail Erica Whyman and her “most rare vision.”

That’s nearly it for this blog, folks. Just one or two more posts and that will be another Dream over. In case I forget to say it later – thanks for keeping me company


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.

The last hurrah!

Encore Encore

D16 Call Tuesday 12th July

How can you sum up an experience like this? Although it was intention to try and do so in this post I really don’t think I can at the moment, especially as I’ve been struggling with it for over 36 hours and have had to publish a stopgap post in between. I think there needs to be a little distance in place first in order to fully appreciate the sheer scale of what we have been involved with and what we have achieved. Best, perhaps, to stick to an account of our last day and come back to an overview later. I say this simply so that you don’t regard what follows as a somewhat workmanlike (Mechanical!) narrative but I think if I take any other tack it will be a long while before this piece gets written. In reality, if this were being composed with pen/quill and ink the latter would be rather blotchy and probably running down the page by now. So … to the narrative

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The Tower Dreamteam with AD Kim

In theory we had a quiet time in store for us on our last day on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. There were no more rehearsals and it was only necessary to turn up at the theatre mid afternoon, get some notes and give our final performance. That was the theory. In reality the nervous energy and adrenaline were still in the ascendant and relaxing with the paper or a good book just wasn’t going to happen. I felt absolutely

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Pyramus & Thisbe twitter away

ravenous so after a very hearty breakfast I tried to focus by settling down to write the previous day’s blog post and started to organise some of the many (many many)photos we have acquired. Adam and I were also attempting another Twitter takeover as we had at the Barbican – this time as a Pyramus and Thisbe double act (see here). And if that wasn’t enough to be going on with the Tower Dreamteam also took the opportunity to get some important videoing done (more of this in a later post).

And then a very nice interlude. Adam and I had been invited by the RSC’s Education Department to join a small group taking part in a Q and A session about the production at King Edward VI School; this is sometimes referred to as “Shakespeare’s School” as it is almost certain that he attended there. Lucy (Puck), Mercy (Hermia) and Sophie (AD) also came along. The boys from Year 7 had seen the play the previous week and had obviously given a lot of thought to their questions.

They wanted to know how the project  worked, what our favourite moments were, were there any other Shakespearean parts that we would like to play (I said Falstaff if there are any casting directors reading this), how we learned lines and how we had all got into acting. There was a good deal of laughter as we regaled the boys with anecdotes of our time with the RSC though I’m not sure Adam should have “treated” them to a picture of me in my Pyramus “onesie”. That must have broken some law or other…or at the very least a school rule. The boys are, apparently, working on their own production of the play so hopefully what we had to tell them will be of practical use. I wonder if the youngsters are really aware of just how lucky they are to have the RSC literally just down the road from their school and what a wonderful resource they have at their disposal.

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Notes with Kim

Next it was time for our final set of notes with AD Kim – as ever so kind, so thoughtful, so encouraging. It’s fascinating that even at this (very) late stage there was a striving for absolute perfection, a desire to enhance the audience experience (and our own) just that little bit more. I was pleased to have already spotted a number of the points Kim raised about my own performance and resolved to put them into practice that very evening – a distinct case of now or never.

 

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David’s picture      Composite of photos by Topher McGrillis RSC

This session finished with a special little presentation. I think we were all conscious as a group that there we were every night up on stage, getting all the plaudits and listening to the thunderous applause and that really there should have been a seventh member of the Tower team up there with us. David, our director, did such a massively important job in getting us organised and into the project in the first place. It can’t have been easy spending eighteen months of your life “herding cats” (it has to be said that we were, sometimes, a somewhat unruly bunch) and we didn’t want the moment to pass without some recognition. So we’d organised a framed photo collage of ourselves to remind David of what a special thing he had done for all of us, for the Tower company and for the am dram world in general. He’s a project manager by profession and I hope he will look back on this experience as one of his greatest achievements – he certainly should do so.

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After a short supper break in the theatre’s Green Room café (sorry folks, only available to members of the RSC workforce) it was on to our final warm up sessions. The pro cast had held a farewell party the previous evening and there were plenty of ribald references to a “paper plate awards ceremony” which had formed part of proceedings. Then it was time for another piece of RSC tradition to be fulfilled. The pass at the back of the stage (the walkway from one side of the stage to the other) looks like a massive wall of graffiti but when you look more closely it contains the signatures of all the actors who have appeared at the theatre. In common with colleagues in all the other amateur groups we were invited to leave our monikers, so there we are enshrined for eternity or until they revamp the theatre again, whichever comes first.

And so to the final performance. Horrible word “final” isn’t it? It’s so…well….final, really. But let’s not dwell on the down side. The performance had such drive and energy that it would be quite wrong to emphasise any negatives. There were, thankfully, no wardrobe malfunctions or side trips to The Swan to distract me as on the previous evening and I tried to bear in mind Erica and Michael Corbidge’s injunctions to savour the moment and “juice” the words.

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Thisbe, Wall & Pyramus bring the house down

As I’ve said several times now everything builds to Pyramus and Thisbe and this time round it was really something special. The words came out crisply, the moves were full of dynamic energy and the timing just seemed to hit the sweet spot that’s important for a great comedy moment. The “kiss” through the wall was an absolute riot – if only someone could capture that feeling of unrestrained joy and bottle it they would make a fortune. Minutes later as I lay “dead” on stage hearing Thisbe’s moving rendition of the eulogy over Pyramus’s body I could feel myself welling up which, of course, wouldn’t do at all.  To distract myself I ran through my last line and then stood to deliver it with as much force as I could muster. Then into the dance (fantastic), the group hug (this one was for real – I distinctly heard Maria say “We did it!”) and a race backstage to prepare for the curtain call. This capped everything that had gone before and …..well, as Bottom says when emotions get the better of his thought processes – “No more words!”

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Post warm up/pre show

As on the previous night I can’t really recall much about after the show. There seemed to be a never ending procession of positive comments, backslapping and smiling faces. A huge cheer erupted as I came through the stage door from all the parents waiting to pick up the children. I recall meeting and chatting with some of the incoming Cardiff team though think I just kept repeating how wonderful it all was. I didn’t know whether I was hot or cold, aching or physically alert, wide awake or fast asleep and dreaming. However amongst the melee one last moment of pride and pleasure occurred which is worthy of record. In the Dirty Duck, in the Snug (naturally), was a team photo of us hanging by the fireplace. The other amateur teams have been featuring there throughout the month’s run but for a brief moment it was our turn on this wall of fame just below a picture of a young Hugh Bonneville and just along from the photo of Laurence Olivier. Magic!

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Starry eyed and bleary eyed

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Encore Encore

Encore

D16 Call Monday 11th July

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Well that was something else, it really was. If I’m being honest I think that after appearing at the Barbican earlier this year I may have been a little blasé about our dates at Stratford. After all we’d proved that we could do it and take an audience with us, hadn’t we? The critical reception had been highly positive and the team had bonded as a real unit, hadn’t they? How could anything possibly surpass that? Well something could and it did. And that was our first night on the RST stage a place of real wonder and enchantment. What a playing space, what a wonderful set up, what a fantastic audience, what an experience.

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The day began at 9.00 with a tour of the building which I found quite confusing simply because there weren’t many windows on the outside world which, personally, I find disorientating. However there were plenty of signs showing where everything was so that would be alright, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it? We were taken to the dressing rooms which were very nicely situated overlooking the River Avon and with a balcony on which to relax.

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Then it was down to the stage to get on with the day’s work with directing supremo Erica. There was masses to do as the thrust staging meant reconfiguring much of what we had been used to. But of course the RSC is a very well-oiled machine and had already put eleven other teams through their paces earlier in the run so all we had to do was listen carefully and put into practice what they had already established would work. There was also the opportunity to do some last minute refining of the way scenes were played which would, inevitably, help to keep the production and our performances sharp and focused.

Next the pro cast started arriving which led to some emotional moments of reunion and there was a new troupe of schoolchildren to welcome – this time from Christ Church Primary. We spent some time on the last ten minutes of the play and I was instantly reminded what a joyous finale it is. A brief break and it was back on stage for our warm up vocal and physical work with the stunningly good Michael Corbidge and Polly Bennett. Eventually the rest of the cast appeared for the full company warm up with exercises from the “old favourites “ box and then it was time to get changed and await the big moment.

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As I had at the Barbican, I felt quite surprisingly relaxed before going on – this turned out to be misplaced. On my second line I went to move forward only to find my ankles hobbled by my workman’s apron which had somehow come adrift and fallen to the ground. Great – my first time on the Stratford stage and I was the victim of a wardrobe malfunction! Nothing daunted I hauled it back into place and went through the rest of the scene with one hand firmly clamped on the offending clothing and hoping that nobody in the 1,000 strong audience had noticed – fat chance! Strangely enough the incident sharpened me up mentally and made my delivery more focused and crisper than it had possibly ever been. I knew I only had two chances at this and wanted to make them count.

However that was not an end to the potential horrors that awaited. There had been a significant number of changes with regards to entrance and exits, particularly for me. After the apron business I didn’t want anything else to go wrong.  So I immediately started to think ahead to where I was next going to appear. Having experienced some disorientation earlier I thought I’d actually better make my way physically to the vom entrance to assure myself I knew where it was and where I would be going twenty minutes hence. There’s a plethora of signs backstage “Stage Left” “Stage Right etc. One pointed to “the Voms” and so I followed the arrows, through a couple of pass doors until I could hear actor’s voices. The problem is they weren’t saying anything I recognised as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then I heard the word Mephistopheles….but that’s a character in Dr Faustus…..which the RSC are doing in the Swan Theatre! Somehow I’d wandered into the backstage area of the second RSC stage and was in imminent danger of making an unscheduled appearance in two different productions on the same night. Fortunately I was able to retrace my steps to where I’d started without further incident. When I ‘fessed up later to Erica and Kim, I’m not sure whether they felt like laughing or crying but it did make for another memorable moment in this amazing project.

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Very nearly appeared in this too!

Fortunately, after this, things went an upward curve as I motored through the scenes with Ayesha and the fairies – indeed the bower scene seemed to go down better than ever before. And then of course the comic highlight that is Pyramus and Thisbe which, as we have always found, went down a storm. Erica had made some minor adjustments to the actual playing which helped to build the laughs and the Bergomask was a joy. You can really see everyone in the RST audience (no seat is more than 15 metres from the playing area) and it was a real thrill to see the looks of pleasure on so many smiling faces.

The aftershow was a bit of a whirl with a drinks reception in the Swan bar. A number of old and dear friends had travelled to Stratford and I was touched by their enthusiasm and positive comments. Leanne from the Barbican had come up to see the show so it was lovely to see her again. Sam Redford’s father, himself a professional actor, paid us some very sincere compliments. Producers Ian and Claire were full of justified pride at the theatrical coup they had pulled off. To be honest it all became a bit too much and I had to step aside for a few minutes to regain my composure.

So one more show to go. One more last thrilling moment before it’s finally time to wake up. Let’s make it the best Dream ever!

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Current production

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                     The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company                                at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th July at 7.15

Encore

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 the 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)