Next month, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will arrive at our theatre. Here we hear from the play’s director Erica Whyman (who’s also the Deputy Artistic Director of the RSC), about this unusual production.
Why is your production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ‘a play for the nation’?
We are making the show with a unique combination of participants from all over the country: 18 fabulous professional actors, 84 amateur actors from 14 different amateur theatre companies, and 583 schoolchildren. And, we will open the show in Stratford and tour it to 12 venues across the UK.
Why was A Midsummer Night’s Dream the right play to take on tour across the UK in this way?
It is a play about falling in love, loving the wrong person, and having wild and wonderful dreams, so it about things which everyone has experienced. It also suggests that our dreams can widen our horizons, show us new and thrilling worlds, so it is an exciting, inspiring play, as well as being very funny! The language is pretty easy to follow, and the characters are entertaining, moving and familiar. Everyone will recognise something of themselves in the play.
What challenges come with staging a project as ambitious as this?
It is quite exhausting rehearsing so many people at the same time! I obviously can’t actually be in two places at once, so trusting my brilliant associate directors, all the amateur directors and all our teachers to understand my vision for the production, and get everyone ready, can be quite hard. And not wanting to let anyone down – it means so much to the amateur casts and the children, and I really want to make a show which honours their talents and their courage.
The play is being staged 400 years after Shakespeare’s death. What makes Shakespeare’s plays still so popular after so many years?
His plays are about all of us – he writes about young and old, working people, and Kings and Queens, men, women and characters whose gender is harder to pin down! He is fascinated by what happens when worlds collide, so all this time later it is as if he knows what drama human beings will keep getting themselves into. He is so insightful, it is as if he knows our secrets. For instance about love, he knows it makes us behave badly, say things we don’t mean, lose our minds and break our hearts. He writes about extreme moments in life, love, war, fear, new beginnings, like no other writer.
What can audiences expect from A Midsummer Night’s Dream when they come to see the production?
It will 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!
Can you share any sneaky peeks with us about the show?
Puck and the Fairies are particularly naughty in this production, and you want to look out for the mischief they can cause with a miniature piano.