‘A group of Americans came to see the show in Stratford and invited us to join them for drinks.‘ says Amanda Bellamy — Hermia in the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s touring production ofA Midsummer Night’s Dream. ‘We were all getting ready to go when we found that they‘d only invited people with named parts. It was anathema to this production — we couldn‘t possibly think of going to a function without the whole team.‘
Under the democratic direction of John Caird. it seems one ofour great theatrical institutions is developing into a happy egalitarian commune. Bellamy cannot rave enough about the positive company spirit and how everyone from understudy to fairy has made an equal contribution to the show. Fellow actor and stage lover. Stephen Simms. doesn‘t disagree. ‘lt‘s a great comedy.‘ he says. ‘and we have such fun doing it. The audiences have a great time and that‘s a real boost. There are other really heavy plays in the repertoire
and you can move from something like Dr Faustus, where we‘re all souls in torment in the afternoon. to an evening‘s fun. It‘s something to look forward to.‘
This may come as a surprise given Shakespeare‘s tale of mis-matched romance is perhaps the most commonly performed of all his plays. After a healthy and well-received run in Stratford and a national tour already under way. it is a rare production that can sustain so much enthusiasm for so long. But Bellamy and Simms are resolute. ‘Funnily enough the last play I did before I joined the RSC wasA Midsummer Night‘s Dream with llull Truck.‘ says Bellany. countering my scepticism.
‘I played Helena. the other female lover. but it‘s such a lovely play it‘s been a pleasure to work on it again. Ifyou start the show feeling a little bit weary or down. you can‘t possibly finish like that. It perks everybody up.
Simms. playing Lysander. one of the two men besotted with l-lermia. agrees. ‘l‘d never been in it. but I‘d seen it several times. The most recent one I‘d seen was by (‘heek By Jowl in which the lovers were really sloaney. That was quite vivid in my mind. but when you come to look at
As the Royal Shakespeare Company romp into Scotland for just five nights in Edinburgh With yet another Midsummer Night’s Dream. two of the cast tell Mark Fisher what‘s special about this one.
the play. you‘re always inﬂuenced by the other actors working with you and by that director and it always gives it a different feeling.‘
Part ofwhat gives this production its special appeal is Sue Blane‘s punchy. contemporary design which kits everyone out in Doctor Martins and has the young lovers stranded in their pyjamas for much of the play. ‘The fairies are not ethereal beings.‘ says Bellamy. ‘they live very much as human beings. but they live in the trees. So they do have beds. alarm-clocks and wardrobes. 'I‘hev dogetdirtytraipsingroundthe ' forest. Their costumes are a combination oftraditional fairy things— wings and tutus— and Doc Martin boots. practical for the forest.‘
‘lt‘s given a real edge to the play.‘ Simms adds. ‘lt‘s stopped it being too light and romanticised and it
gives it a modernity that makes it exciting and accessible. The fairies all have an attitude to what they do. Even purists enjoy the new light it throws on the language. With the lovers the design‘s really wonderful because we‘re so free. We‘re all in pyjamas so we‘ve got no real restrictions on movement.‘
Boot-boy toughness is all very well.
but doesn‘t having four bright young things dashing about in their nightwear give rise to highly-charged sexual overtones? ‘Inevitably it does.‘ says Simms. ‘when you‘ve got people talking about love and they‘re running round in their nighties and pyjamas. At times they all become a little bit lust-crazed. but when they wake up in the morning they find an innocence again and the images still work. Not just the sexual. but the little lost boys rather like in Peter Pan. You can pull your
pyjama top open and try and be sexy and the next minute you‘re looking like a little lost boy.‘
The off-beat design has also informed the texture and character of the delivery. ‘lt‘s very down to earth.‘ says Bellamy. ‘We haven‘t taken a lovely. lovely RSC approach to the language. There are some wonderful bits ofpoetry. but we’ve got a muscular. earthy approach. We make it all as clear as possible. but it‘s not a romantic Midsummer Night‘s Dream at all.‘ Perhaps not, but in a play where virtually every other line uses the word ‘love‘, it is difficult not to be soft-hearted about it. “You can‘t really perform it without loving the play.‘ Simms concedes. ‘but it‘s a very physical production. It feels like you‘ve done a hard job when you‘ve finished.‘
Both actors agree that the play is like a journey. The overbearing gooeyness of the early scenes is
‘wings and tutus’
replaced by vehemence and hate after Oberon has worked his interfering magic. and only at the end. once the spells have worn off. do they become more balanced, mature characters. There‘s more to them than love-struck youngsters. ‘Lysander is so lovey-dovey it‘s unbearable.‘ says Simms. ‘so when the other side appears it‘s a relief that he can show the opposite passion.‘ Bellamy has a similar experience of l-Iermia. ‘One sees the effect.‘ she says. ‘ofa little spoilt person suddenly being alone for the first time in a very frightening forest and when she does finally find her friends. they‘ve all fallen out oflove with her.‘
So now the happy ensemble‘s boots are reverberating on stages across the country as the RSC tours a main stage production for the first time in sixteen years. It will be Bellamy‘s first trip to Edinburgh since a spell on the Fringe before she went to drama school. but its one ofa small number oftowns on the tour to which Simms has never been. ‘There are places I used to go to see pop groups when l was younger.‘ he says. ‘and now I‘m going to go to those same theatres with Doc Martins and a pair ofpyjamas.‘
A Midsummer Nights Dream is at The King‘s Theatre, Edinburgh. 19—23 Sept.
ﬁhe l_.ist l5 — 28 September 198‘)