The Royal Shakespeare Company’s special project to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death on 23 April 1616 is now well under way, and will soon be heading for Norwich.
Its nationwide tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation opened in Stratford-upon-Avon in mid-February and will travel to 12 different venues across the UK, arriving at Norwich Theatre Royal from April 26th-30th. It will return to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford with the entire company in June.
In an inspirational staging, the RSC’s 18-strong professional cast is appearing alongside 84 amateur actors from 14 different amateur theatre companies, and 583 schoolchildren who will make up the Fairy Train.
In Norwich, Norfolk’s local amateurs The Common Lot continue their preparations to take their turn on stage as the six ‘rustic mechanicals’, which includes one of Shakespeare’s most loved characters, Bottom.
Local rehearsal schedules have included workshops led by RSC practitioners, live link-ups with other amateur groups around the country to develop specific scenes, and a ‘Bottoms School’ in London for the 14 different actors playing the role, including Norwich’s Owen Evans, giving them the opportunity to rehearse with RSC professional actress Ayesha Dharker who plays Titania, Queen of the Fairies.
The theatre, television and film actress will also share a number of her scenes on the Theatre Royal stage with the pupils from Sprowston High School who will play her Fairy Train.
“Rehearsing with people all over the country has been a challenge but it has been made easy by the huge team that enables it to happen.”
She described the experience as:
“Wonderful and a bit scary”
“This production differs from anything I have ever been in because of the many layers of complexity and madness that go with it! The idea of working with fourteen different people playing one character (Bottom) is unusual.
“He is the person with whom I have almost all significant scenes, so that is terrifying and exciting. All the actors who play Bottom are so talented, distinct and bold in their choices that it will change things a lot for me from one week to the next.”
And she added:
“This does not feel as strange as it sounds because Erica Whyman, the production’s director, makes all this seem normal and possible.”
Ayesha, who played the role of Emilia in the RSC’s critically acclaimed production of Othello, and Scheherazade in Arabian Nights, has West End and Broadway theatre credits to her name as well as film appearances in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and The Mistress of Spices, and television appearances in Arabian Nights, Doctor Who, The Indian Doctor and Waterloo Road.
She said she was delighted to now be playing Titania:
“I have fallen in love with the RSC because every project I have done with them involves strong women and magical stories with ancient roots – from Scheherazade to Titania.”
“This is a play I knew pretty well and remembered, and the main reason for doing it was just the opportunity to be surrounded by those words every night. Titania is a lot of fun to play because, though she is a powerful creature, she is forced to reckon with things that she cannot control.”
Ayesha is joined by RSC actors Chu Omambala as Oberon, Lucy Ellinson as Puck, Laura Harding as Hippolyta, Jack Holden as Lysander, Chris Nayak as Demetrius, Mercy Ojelade as Hermia, Sam Redford as Theseus and Laura Riseborough as Helena. Jon Trenchard, who is known to regular Norwich theatre-goers as a member of the Propeller Theatre Company, is Philostrate.
Director, Erica Whyman said:
“It should be a lot of fun.”
“There will be magic, music and dancing, but also a cracking story with suspense and excitement. We are setting the play in a world that looks like Britain in the 1940s, a time of change and optimism after the war, so there will be some fabulous frocks!”
She also hinted that Puck and the Fairies were
“Particularly naughty in this production! You want to look out for the mischief they can cause with a miniature piano.”
The production is designed by Tom Piper who is most well-known for his collaboration with Paul Cummins and The Tower of London on the stunning commemorative poppy installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ in 2014.
The lighting is designed by Charles Balfour; the composer is Samuel Kenyon (who both worked with Erica Whyman on the 2014 production of The Christmas Truce); movement is by Siân Williams and associate directors are Kimberley Sykes and Sophie Ivatts.
The Common Lot are representing the East of England with the role of Bottom played by Owen Evans, while Daniel Fridd will be playing Flute, Amelia Hursey is Quince, Eve Pandolfi is Snug, Victoria Stone is Snout and Emma Trindall is Starveling.
The BBC has been capturing the preparations for the tour in ‘The Best Bottoms In the Land’ which follows the RSC’s journey, showing the pressures and pitfalls of such a project and culminating in the opening night of each region’s local performance. The 30-minute documentaries will air on BBC One.
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A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation, runs at Norwich Theatre Royal from April 26th-30th.
News about the production is also available at www.dream2016.org.uk