Earlier this week, more than one hundred local school children took part in a very unusual performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Margate, produced by The Marlowe Theatre in partnership with King Ethelbert School and The Royal Shakespeare Company. We look back on an unusual day by the seaside.
It’s midsummer in Margate, and some strange solstice magic is stirring… There are fairies by the sea front, and runaway lovers hiding in the dodgems of Dreamland…
This could have been the most unusual productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream ever staged. All of the children who took part are pupils at schools who are part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Learning and Participation Network (RSC LPN to those in the know). We’re their regional theatre partner, working closely with two ‘clusters’ of schools. The first group, led by Canterbury High School, performed their version of Midsummer Night’s Dream, called The Dream:Met By Moonlight, in our auditorium back in March . This week’s performance was a chance for the second cluster, led by King Ethelbert School in Birchington, to show off what they’ve been working towards for the last year.
The performances started at the Turner Contemporary (whose forecourt did a remarkably good job of standing in for the palace of Theseus, Duke of Athens). The action then moved to two sights on the King’s Steps, before continuing in several parts of the town’s famous Dreamland amusement park. At each site, a different school performed a key scene from the play. So, as well as the court of Athens outside Turner, we also witnessed the craftsmen of Athens (the play’s famous ‘rude mechanicals’) planning their play to entertain their Duke, the four runaway lovers and their encounters with Puck in the dodgems of Dreamland, and the Fairy Queen Titania holding court at the bottom of the helter-skelter!
The enthusiasm of the students was very clear, and their complete mastery of Shakespeare’s language impressed all of their audiences (including the accidental ones who’d thought they were having an ordinary day out in Margate!).
But – other than a day out of school – what benefits has this whole experience had for those involved. Felicity Henson, a teacher at one of the participating schools, St Mary’s Catholic Primary, says of her pupils: “They’ve really enjoyed it, they’ve had such good fun. The confidence as well, in some of them who maybe haven’t done this kind of thing before. They’ve really come out of their shells some of them. They’re now really used to using Shakespeare’s language and they were really unsure to begin.”
Now that, surely, really is magic.