RoughCast’s first outdoor tour was Shakespeare’s magical story of love, comedy and magic. The tour included St Aigulin and Bourdeilles in the Dordogne region of France. Set in the 1800s, colour, magic and bumbling of the highest order filled the stage with original music composed by Jon Hart. In the UK, we performed during July 2003 at Dunwich Ship Inn, Wingfield Priory, Bateman’s Barn (near Bungay), Low House in Laxfield, Bressingham Gardens, and Barn Meadow in Stradbroke.
I’ve seen countless productions of ‘The Dream’ over the years. I’ve seen it performed traditionally, seen Edwardian, 1930s, post Second World War, 1960s hippy, as well as mod and rockers versions; I’ve seen the musical too! I’ve seen it done with dainty, childlike fairies and occasionally with dark, disturbing fairies who you really wouldn’t want to think were at the bottom of your garden; there have been alternative life style fairies and traveller fairies, complete with dog. I’ve seen versions which concentrate on humour; others the ‘love angle’ (with, or without a heightened sex content), whilst others are centred on the magical, ethereal world of the spirits.
Each, as always, has its strengths, and its attractions. Having directed a modern day ‘Measure for Measure’ and a modern day ‘Tempest’, co-directed a traditionally set ‘Macbeth’, I thought long and hard before setting (only a little loosely) this production in Dickensian times / late 1800’s. There is much about the period that attracted: the autocratic, very hierarchical, class obsessed society appeared relevant to Theseus, Hippolyta, Egeus and the young nobles. Penalties for breaking rules were (at least by modern standards) harsh. It was a period where town and country were vastly different – swathes of countryside were beginning to be swallowed up by towns and industry. Already, however, there was industrial dereliction; such was the pace of change.
Working men knew their place; skills were very important, but changing through industrialisation: it was the heyday of Brunel and countless others. It was also, however, a period of imaginative and romantic literature (e.g. Carroll and Lear). The adventures of Alice can be seen alongside the adventures of, amongst others, Bottom and the young lovers. On the outside of society, as always, there were numerous groups (e.g. gypsy, Romany, diddycoy). Superstition and old wives tales were told, believed in and popular. Stories of Robin Goodfellow may well have abounded.
So, the mid to late 1800’s is when we have set our play. Where?: well that is up to you. Is it Athens (according to the text)? Is it a forest in Victorian England? Does it matter?
Having seen so many productions, it is always difficult to know whether, subconsciously, one has used ideas from other productions. We have tried to produce our own, fresh, RoughCast version and the cast have all contributed to this. There is, however, one thing I have knowingly pinched from a performance I saw at the Globe last year and it concerns Snug, the joiner! I hope that you enjoyed our version of ‘The Dream’ and feel it gave you something to remember; to ponder on; and to debate.
Let Your Imagination Run Wild
Welcome to ‘The Woods’ this summers day. Close your eyes and let your imagination run riot.
We have madcap fairies, magic in abundance and confusion galore.
My favourite passage in this most lyrical of plays is Titania’s railing against her husband Oberon. She recounts how Oberon, in revenge for his wife’s refusal to give him her “changeling boy”, has turned the seasons and the weather upside down, reeking havoc amongst the “human mortals”.
In this “mazed world” Robin Goodfellow, Oberon’s chief agent of mischief, creates pandemonium with his invisible presence amongst the eloping lovers and the “rude mechanicals”.
The play is like a kaleidoscope heavily shaped. Each production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ admits a new interpretation. I hope that you awoke smiling from RoughCast’s dream.
More About the Play
‘Lovers and madman have such seething brains’ (Theseus Vi)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most poetic of plays, full of comedy, magic and quotable passages. A form of fairytale it tells the stories, the discords and the harmonies, between several pairs of lovers: Theseus and his Amazon Queen, Hippolyta who he won with his sword; two pairs of confused, young lovers abroad in the wood, and; the warring Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies (‘Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania!’ IIi).
The carnival spirit, underpinning much of the action is a levelling force; it changes perception, the accepted order, questioning status based on birth and education. Are those entering the wood ever the same again? What makes Theseus relent in his treatment of Hermia: has Hippolta persuaded him; has ‘the wood’ influenced him? When he returns to Athens, will his rule be as before?
‘The course of true love never did run smooth’ (Lysander Ii)
As for those that take themselves too seriously; maybe they deserve to be laughed at. Shakespeare, time and again (Hamlet, The Tempest, etc) throws the spotlight upon theatre itself and in the marvellously written Pyramus and Thisbe ‘sketch’, the ridiculous antics of the ‘hard handed men’ mirror the sentimentalised and idealised love oft expressed by the young lovers; their supposed betters and critics! Who is really laughing at (or with) whom?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play that questions reality and perceptions of what is real and what is not. The fairies are the extreme version of this. We have no gadgets to propel the actors across the stage as in Victorian times; nor can we find actors who can fit into acorn cups. So, all we ask is for your suspension of disbelief as you visit our version of The Dream.
‘I’ll put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes!’ (Puck IIi)
‘Reason and love keep little company together nowadays’ (Bottom IIIi)