We speak to Ayesha Dharkar, who will be playing Titania, the Fairy Queen, in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will be with us next month.
How does this production differ from other Shakespeare plays you’ve previously performed in?
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 14 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. I think I have had about one session with each Bottom so far. This does not feel as strange as it sounds because Erica Whyman, the production’s director, makes all this seem normal and possible.
What attracted you to the role of 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. She is seeing all her world fall apart because of her fight with Oberon, and is unable to stop it without his help. When she is enchanted by Oberon and falls in love with Bottom, she loves him in a way that she could never love anyone in a normal state. There is a huge freedom in that, and I think it changes her relationship with Oberon when she emerges from her dream, and he, in turn, is changed by what he has seen.
The tour brings together amateur and professional performers from all across the UK – how do you rehearse?
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. There is a lot of work that has to happen very quickly and intensely as the Bottoms are only free on Saturdays to travel to us to rehearse. Those days seem to fly and we have to work pretty quickly but the rest of the week feels more or less like a normal rehearsal.
How are you feeling about playing Titania opposite 14 different amateur Bottoms?
It is wonderful and a bit scary. They are all very different from each other and really talented. The only thing that the Bottoms seem to have in common is huge passion for the project. I have never mixed anyone up because they are so specific. I have to admit that doing a scene with one Bottom, while up to nine other Bottoms could be watching, is awkward. Also, I thought falling in love with 14 different Bottoms and Oberon would be difficult but it is actually far too much fun. Erica describes Titania’s fairies as having a very short attention span – as if they live in some perpetual present. In this sense they are different to Oberon’s fairies and Titania and Oberon. They are also an extension of Titania and adore Bottom almost as much as she does.
How do these unique circumstances affect the way you prepare your character? Will Titania be different depending on which Bottom she’s with?
I think that is inevitable because every actor I work with has a different physicality and rhythm and are just very different people to each other. Two of the Bottoms are played by women, and the scenes are very different when Bottom is a woman. The scenes are very intimate, but have to be so in different ways, because it is not just lust but love that Titania feels, and that involves falling for the individual qualities of each person. I have also really loved working with the music in this production. The music has really changed the way I see the play and colours the way I play Titania.
What are you looking forward to most about the production?
The fact that like any play it will really form when it is put in front of an audience, and until then all we can do is guess at what it will become. Unlike any other play I have ever done this play involves a new cast of mechanicals, a new venue every week, and a new set of children every two shows, so there is a sense of leaping into the void but I am more excited than scared!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Tuesday 19 -Saturday 23 April. Book here.