In a few weeks time, the Royal Shakespeare Company will be back on our stage with their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But in this unique production, it won’t just be professional RSC actors up there – they’ll be joined by local amateurs from The Canterbury Players, who will take on the roles of the ‘mechanicals’ – who are themselves a group of amateur actors. Playing the key role of Bottom is local government worker Lisa Nightingale, who here gives us an insight into the experience.
My search engine history has been interesting the last few months; how to be a weaver, what people wore in the 1940’s, how to bray like a donkey, how to fall in love like a donkey… yeah, OK, the last one was a step too far! But all these searches have been in preparation of my new role as Bottom in the RCS’s tour of A Midsummer Nights Dream.
I was informed early on that I will be the first woman to play the part of Bottom for the Royal Shakespeare Company – no pressure there then! But along with Beckey Morris from Nottingham (a later stop in the tour) the only other female to be cast as Bottom, I accepted the challenge and was quite literally running with it!
The first challenge and perhaps the hardest are seeing Bottom as female. Traditionally, in fact almost exclusively, the part of Bottom has been played by men.
I felt the need to justify my Bottom being female, and if I’m honest I think I fell out of love with the play as this point. Yes, Lisa Nightingale is a woman and she has been cast in a man’s part! The worry and pressure of this, of being judged, of disappointing the traditionalists became all consuming. But the more I read the script the more I could see ‘female’ humour in it. Yes, some jokes would be lost; but that was OK, because there is a wealth of humour to be had at the fact that I was a female. If you want to know more you shall have to come and see it!!
If I knew one thing about my Bottom, it was that she was to definitely be feminine, not (and I hate this expression) a Tom Boy. I wanted heels, hair and a waist. So imagine how pleased I was to find out that the play was to be set in the late 1940’s to early 1950’s, a time when women really took pride in their looks, beautiful hair, red lips and pinched in waists!
Ah. Wait a second. Bottom is a weaver, you work in a factory, a dirty factory, or so I thought…
I turned to the internet (as most of us do these days) for research into the role of the weaver in the late 1940’s. The Kent weaving industry actually disappeared in the 1500’s so there was little research to be done there. I then turned to weaving in Kent around the war years. Bingo! Kent played a big part in producing camouflage nets for covering tanks, vehicles and air craft standing on and around the coast line awaiting deployment. Women also ‘adopted’ a soldier and sent them knitted socks, some women sent whole outfits. I know my Bottom definitely adopted a soldier, perhaps more than one!
The back story for Bottom was vital, not only in developing her as a character but for the relationship she then goes on to have with Titania. Sadly, I think Bottom was a woman of the time, the love of her life went to war and never returned, she is caught in a time where a vast proportion of the male population never came home, leaving many women on their own. Bottom believes she will never hear the words ‘I love you’ ever again, so when Titania utters those very words, she is reminded of the life she could have had and lost.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 April. You can book here.