Back to 2016
May 19, 2016 night – The RSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation
Barbican Theatre, London
and again May 20 matinee and night
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play For The Nation” is a play I enjoyed a lot, it got plenty of wonderful characters, music, colors and an amazing set design. I always imagined it to be like that, reading my book. I was just a bit worried that listening to all the rhymes in dialogues could be boring, but I was wrong. Midsummer is poetic and so exhilarating that I cried for laughter all the time and at the end I got belly and cheeks sore! I can talk for the whole audience: I saw people who were “suffering” on their seats. It’s definitely a play that must be seen in a theatre rather than on screen.
I follow Dream 2016 steps since their first announcement on Twitter and I immediately got curious and excited. I also follow the interesting blog by John Chapman, one of the many Bottoms who succeed in the role, which is such a precious source of memorabilia about auditions, rehearsals and going live.
Reading each time new details about it has been so intriguing! Not only because Midsummer was going to be a new RSC’s project (how much I loved their previous play Oppenheimer!!!), celebrating Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death. Also, I hadn’t seen that play on stage before, so I though the celebration could be a good occasion to see it in a theatre, finally.
The cast, announced some time later, was a fantastic bonus. Especially a female Puck, then Ayesha Dharker, who I found lovely in the series The Indian Doctor, and finally Jack Holden, one member of my beloved Oppenheimer, whose Robert Wilson is still in my heart. I couldn’t miss it!
The Dream 2016 UK Tour started in Stratford-Upon-Avon and will be back there for one last month from 15 June to 16 July. Despite I was tempted to see the play in an UK venue I hadn’t visited, yet, at the end the easiest one to reach from Italy was the Barbican Centre in London, so I booked for three performances there. I’m trying to resist to go to Stratford in June for a self birthday present…
Dream 2016 is an ambitious project, really, and I’m grateful to Erica Whyman for it. Her idea was to bring amateur companies and students of schools around UK to perform “the nation’s most loved Shakespeare play”. And this show works and entertains, I’m sure both adults and children enjoy it.
I immediately liked the idea of a staging between the ruins of the XX Century’s Forties, instead a classic version taking place in a medieval forest. There was no need of painting real trees on the background: red bands descending from the ceiling give the idea of a wood. Red roses petals all around complete the magic.
The cruel ancient law of Athens could sound dated in the ’40s, but in Mediterranean countries still fathers had claims on daughters’ life. It’s great that Shakespeare didn’t turn the story in a tragedy!
With this play William Shakespeare wanted to show us his skills for comedy and to make a fool of actors, introducing what maybe is the worst company in the story of Britain. But, actually, through them he paid homage to the world of Theatre, because these naïve mechanicals have a real passion for what they do and get excited performing in a court. For this reason, bringing to stage all these amateur groups and schools makes sense. These amateur actors play bad actors brilliantly (ops, that’s sounds like one Quince’s phrase!).
And the Bard made a fool of Love, too, mixing together some bizzarre love stories, where even a god is jealous and teases a goddess with a spell, like if he was a brat, and a woman humiliates herself despite her unrequited love is hopeless, but later she runs away from two men who say they’re in love with her.
The many hilarious moments work in the play thanks to the sympathy of a well assembled cast. It seems to me that the RSC like to put together large cast of excellent actors.
I’m quite sure all the amateur companies are good, but I can say that the Tower Theatre company performing at the Barbican were a real surprise!
Bottom, played by John Chapman, is really good and full of energy! I like the way he emphasizes the “r” and how he flatters himself pretending to play every role Quince announces. And then, he’s amusing with donkey’s ears, flattered again by Titania’s compliments!
Flute’s a very funny character, a young man who dreams of playing brave characters, but gets to play a woman instead, despite his upcoming beard. Adam Moulder fits the role, the expression of sorrow on his face playing Thisbe is priceless.
Maria Waters as Quince makes an energetic and enthusiastic performance, like when she makes her confused speech to the court and corrects the pronunciation of a name the company keeps telling wrong.
Snout, played by Al Freeman, is in one of the most funny scenes, playing the wall that divides the two lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, wincing and trembling when they want to kiss “through his hole”.
Snug, played by Peta Barker is dressed with colors that remind of a real lion colors, a curly wig and when he roars weakly is exhilarating, he reminds me of The Wizard Of Oz’s lion.
Starveling, played by Tom Tillery, needs so few elements to be very funny as Moonshine, holding just a lantern on one hand, a branch on the other and carring a puppet dog on wheels and showing a resentful expression on his face.
The amateur actors clearly enjoy themselves, but the acting is done with dedication, the voices and the movements are well controlled, you feel the passion for what they do.
There are plenty of exhilarating scenes, starting from the beginning, when Puck interrupts the virtuoso pianist to play the notes of “Chopsticks”, ending up on his knees! And who said women can’t play comic roles? Lucy Ellinson makes an amusing, physical performance, with a total control of her body. It’s funny to see Puck completely dressed but barefoot, wearing a top hat which hides a blond crest. The scenes where she’s naughty are some of the most funny ones. She’s cheeky even with Oberon, but afraid of being castigated by him (“I go! See how I go!” Hahaha!). She gives Bottom long donkey’s ears and in one scene she even blocks Lysander on the ground keeping him by his backpack, while Demetrius tries to block Hermia.
It’s also funny to see, in the play, that the mortals are unaware of gods and fairies around them and look surprised about the strange things that happen all around.
I disagree with a review that says Chu Omambala and Ayesha Dharker are “a bit understated”. Their appearance makes impact: his Oberon descends the stair dressed in a white suit, looking like a music star, and got a good chemistry with Puck. And then he looks upset and surprised listening to a desperate Helena. Titania looks like a wonderful Indian goddess, surrounded by her children, and when she falls in love with Bottom she is funny and tender. I love the scene when she falls asleep with Bottom inside the piano full of rose petals.
I love the fairies singing in the forest, too! Aimee Gray, Lila Clements, Ben Goffe, Mari Izzard, Theo St. Claire dance with grace, dressed in beautiful costumes. And the nice, bold Ben Goffe/Mustardseed takes his revenge on Lysander, who has just called Hermia a dwarf, running on him and giving him a punch on his leg!
The “Enid Blyton’s Famous Five” citation in a review about the four lovers spot on! The four actors Mercy Ojelade, Laura Riseborough, Chris Nayak and Jack Holden go really well together. Their infantile fight is one of the most funny moments I ever saw on stage. Hermia and Helena, who looked like friends before the magic was done, start a cat-fight, where Helena is harmless and unable to defend herself. Lysander jumps to reach her and the audience explode laughing out loud. The boys try to make the most virile voice they can, pretending to defend Helena from Hermia’s anger. In their fight and chasing each other, Lysander with his backpack upside down and Demetrius with a tie around his head and a shoe in his hand are exhilarating. The same when the boys push Hermia away.
Lysander is particularly funny, looking like a student with his waistcoat and backpack, making a shrill voice but later trying to turn it manly. Holden makes another very phisical performance and he can play so well the romantic hero!
Not forgetting the hilarious scene at the court, when the company is performing “Pyramus and Thisbe“, and Theseus – and in another occasion Hippolyta – passes the lost sword to Flute/Thisbe for the last scene. I got tears in my eyes! Actors of the court, Peter Hamilton Dyer, Sam Redford and Laura Harding, are convincing, too.
Musicians help making the magic. Some are at the two sides of the stage, while others, aka Jamie Cameron, Jon Trenchard, Alex Tomkins and Tarek Merchant, play music together with the fairies using tools, like a handsaw, as instruments.
Appreciation for the young students, too, who joined the cast, and their families for their commitment, taking their children to stage every day.
I greatly suggest this play to those who love “physical” theatre with many tics and expressions (each actor should be observed accurately). Some details are a stroke of genius.
It’s sad that after July we are not going to see Dream 2016 again. This “Play For The Nation” should really go farther! I hope there’s a recording, at least.
I am perfectly aware that this report does not return entirely the idea of how funny the show is. So you should really go and see it live until you can!
Some notes about the set design and costumes.
The antique frame with gilding that surrounds the stage reminds of an ancient reign. Instead of a forest, there’s a courtyard with ruins.
There’s an old piano at the centre of the stage, filled with red rose petals, which I found wonderful. (They were pieces of red velvet actually. I have been naughty: I couldn’t help stealing one which had fallen from the stage, for my theatrical collection, at the end of the show.)
Stairs on wheels help the action, they are not only used as proper stairs for the higher level, but going around they make the characters who jump on them looking like if they were flying.
I loved the costumes: characters of the court are finely dressed, while the mechanicals got yellow, grey and brownish rough clothes. Oberon is completely in white, while Titania is in red with a beautiful golden makeup on her skin. The fairies got colored dresses black, red, grey and white.
Some photos I took myself:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream now shares the first place with The Tempest, in my ‘Shakespeare favorite plays’ list. And at the end of the story, my favorite characters are Puck, Bottom and Lysander. I think I will dedicate to them a proper page on my website, like I did with Ariel and Mercutio.
© Royal Shakespeare Company – Photographers: Zuleika Henry, Geraint Lewis, Topher McGrillis, Tristram Kenton for The Guardian, Donald Cooper for Photostage and reviews.
Other clips with rehearsals, interviews and scenes on the RSC’s Youtube channel.
Now, if you want to read further….
Cast and Creatives and their Twitter accounts:
ACTORS (roles in alphabetical order)
Demetrius Chris Nayak @Chrisnayak
Egeus, father to Hermia Peter Hamilton Dyer
Hermia Mercy Ojelade @MercyOjelade
Hippolyta Laura Harding @MsLauraHarding
Lysander Jack Holden @1JackHolden
Philostrate Jon Trenchard @Jon_Trenchard
Theseus, Duke of Athens Sam Redford @samredford7
Cobweb Aimee Gray @aimee732
Mustardseed Ben Goffe @ben_goffe
Oberon, King of Fairies Chu Omambala
Peaseblossom Mari Izzard @MariIzzard
Puck, or Robin Goodfellow Lucy Ellinson L_e @Llifo
Titania’s First Fairy Theo St. Claire @t3philla
Titania, Queen of Fairies Ayesha Dharker
Music performed live by Oberon’s Fairies:
Cello Jamie Cameron @jamiecams
Guitar Alex Tomkins @tomkins_alex
The Amateur of the Tower Theatre Company
Bottom, a weaver John Chapman @johnchapman398
Flute, a bellows-mender Adam Moulder @adammoulder
Quince, a carpenter Maria Waters
Snout, a tinker Al Freeman
Snug, a joiner Peta Barker
Starveling, a tailor Tom Tillery
Glasgow The Citizens Dream Players at the Citizens Theatre
Blackpool Poulton Drama @PoultonDrama
Bradford Leeds Arts Centre @leedsartscentre
Notthingham LovelaceTheatreGroup @lovelace_group
Cardiff Everyman Theatre @everymancdf
Belfast Belvoir Players @BelvoirPlayers
Director Erica Whyman @EricaWhyman
Designer Tom Piper @tompiperdesign
Composer sam kenyon @ogleforth
Music Director Tarek Merchant @tarekmerchant
See the list with other related to Dream 2016 on Twitter
The Venues (in order of time)
17 February-5 March 2016 Stratford-Upon-Avon Royal Shakespeare Theatre
16-26 March 2016 Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Northern Stage @northernstage
29 March-2 April 2016 Glasgow Citizens Theatre @citizenstheatre
5-9 April 2016 Blackpool Grand Theatre @Grand_Theatre
12-16 April Bradford Bradford Theatres @BradfordTheatre
19-23 April 2016 Canterbury The Marlowe Theatre @marlowetheatre
26-30 April 2016 Norwich TheatreRoyalNorwich @TheatreRNorwich
3-7 May 2016 Nottingham TRCH @RoyalNottingham
10-14 May 2016 Truro Hall for Cornwall @HallforCornwall
17-21 May 2016 London Barbican Centre @BarbicanCentre
24-28 May 2016 Cardiff New Theatre, Cardiff @New_Theatre
31 May-4 June 2016 Belfast Grand Opera House NI @GrandOperaHouse
15 June-16 July 2016 Stratford-Upon-Avon Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Dream 2016 official account @RSCdream2016
The Royal Shakespeare Company official account The RSC @TheRSC
LINKS & SOURCES
Dream 2016 official site dream2016.org.uk with other venues of the tour
Page on RSC site: rsc.org.uk/a-midsummer-nights-dream
Page on Barbican Centre’s site: barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=18708
Page on Tower Theatre’s site: towertheatre.org.uk/rsc_dream.htm
Bottom’s Blog: bottomdream16.wordpress.com