Play: A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play for the Nation by William Shakespeare
Performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon and directed by Erica Whyman
This play has been a centrepiece of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death. Styled as 'A Play for the Nation', it has toured the UK for the past year and has involved local communities as never before. The parts of the Mechanicals have been played by regional amateur theatre groups and local school children have been included as 'The Fairy Train'. This alliance of amateur and professional actors seemed to give the performance real energy and exuberance. Now back in Stratford upon Avon, each of the amateur groups have been given performances in the main theatre. When we saw the play, it was the turn of The Belvoir Players from Belfast in Northern Ireland. They brought out all the humour you would expect. It was the schoolchildren who made the performance for me. Primary Schools of all shapes and sizes have had their turn but on our night, we saw Welcombe Hills Special School. It was great to see the children, included just as the mainstream children had been, and given their chance to shine. Confidence building, learning co-operation and social interaction - it was all there.
Set in a 1940's post war torn world, the stark stage transformed from a cabaret inspired setting with grand piano and broken staircases and doors going to nowhere, into the magical forest shot through with red, and took the audience with it. I particularly enjoyed the exuberant Robin Goodfellow, Puck, dressed as a blend of the Artful Dodger and a Second World War spiv. There was just the right blend of mischief and spontaneity kept in check by having to carry out Oberon's wishes. The schoolchildren, Titania's Fairy Train were dressed as evacuees, which seemed appropriate, as if they were escaping from a bleak reality.
The live music added to the atmosphere, especially in establishing a dream like context with the fairies and also at the end when the whole cast were on the stage together. The pairs of lovers were believable and on occasions had great comic timing, particularly the men. The prize for the best death must of course go to Bottom, who died in heroic over the top fashion. An amateur group playing an amateur group who are hamming it up, takes some doing. There was sincerity in each and every performance and for me, the play deserved its standing ovation.
In short: A Play for the Nation
If we shadows have offended.
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream.
My earlier post relating to my visit to Stratford upon Avon can be viewed here.