Andrew Pulver welcomes the return to Britain of Footsbarn Theatre Company with a multi-cultural Midsummer Night's Dream complete with a Russian Puck.
After a short stint in llighbury Fields as part ofthe London lnternationl Festival of'I‘heatre 1991. the Footsbarn Theatre Company is heading northwards to pitch its tent on Glasgow Green. This highly respected company travels like a circus. caravans and children complete. and turns out a distinctive brand oftheatre antithetical to what is regarded as mainstream or conventional. In its refusal to stick to the contemporary touring circuit of repertory theatre. Footsbarn‘s rebellion is ironically anti-modern. a deliberate return to the gypsyish nature of travelling players. Its Mir/summers" Night Dream is a fascinating experience. not least in the organisation that makes it happen. and is performed with a panache. an imagination and an inventive comic bravura that many companies can only dream of.
Footsbarn's identity as a travelling performance family is central to its theatrical approach. as performer Paddy Hayter explains. ‘Footsbarn is a co-operative of actors who have been together for the best part of twenty years. We started in a rural area of England. in Cornwall. where there was no theatre. so we developed a style ofour own with the local people. We have always been storytellers — that‘s the basis of Footsbarn — and in the early days we used (‘ornish legends. stories about the region. Later on we turned to the classics. the universal stories that still are relevant. Being a collective we don‘t have a director. so we have to go through a long process — once we‘ve chosen our theme it‘s down to discussions. improvisations. discussions again. argument. disagreement. and coming finally to point of agreement about how the story should function.‘
The kind of images that Footsbarn invokes are not entirely unpredictable. given the travelling nature of their life. The conscious archaism of their lifestyle is matched in the conscious archaism they apply to Shakespeare; processions of animal heads. for example. mummer costume. an abundance of fairy bells. But Hayter is convinced that their form ofstaging is as appropriate to Shakespeare as the gleaming. arid versions served up in the national theatres. ‘His plays are such fantastic stories — if you‘re a storyteller his stories are as rich as any material you could find. He worked with a group of actors all his life: it‘s my theory he actually observed improvisations. then would write and rewrite again and again. We onlv lack a writer when we play Shakespeare. but he ‘
LISTINGS: THEATRE 52 CABARET 53 DANCE 54
Footsbarn's visually enthralling Midsummer Night’s Dream
suits us and I hope we suit him. His stories are emotional — we‘re emotional people. we‘re not intellectuals in any way. Maybe this is why we are attacked in the press— we just don‘t have any desire to go for an ‘interpretation.‘
Their atmospheric. and often hilarious staging of The Dream is in its own way the product ofone kind of underground activity in the post-hippy 70s world. and clearly the holistic nature of their theatre is the most remarkable manifestation of this. ‘The people who came together were no
mmanrng lor lissom English accents will be disappointed.
longer interested in the conventional form.‘ says Hayter. ‘we all worked in the theatre and in the end it just didn‘t attract us. and the travelling idea did. lfyou travel you meet. you confront. you are excited by other things. I was fortunate to go to the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris — theatre on a different level entirely. much more linked to the gut and to the human. His theory is that if the body is engaged the word comes out correctly anyway. I‘d rather believe that than believe you have to
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analyse every little bit. People can be too frightened to feel and fantasise.‘
As a result ofartistic interference by funding bodies at the end of the 70s. Footsbarn made a shift to Europe. finding a more receptive welcome in France and the rest of the continent. The consequently cosmopolitan nature of Footsbarn‘s personnel means that anyone hoping for the lissom English accents beloved of the mainstream stage will be disappointed. ‘You should pull from all sorts of places — we have a Russian Puck. He can‘t speak English. but he gives an image that relates to the character— you can lose the poetry but gain something else. Its the same in Brook‘s Tempest; he has Japanese people speaking a simple French version of Shakespeare — he also believes that if the character is in place. that is the important
thing. not the tiny detail of this word upon that.
That way ofdoing things is a myth. it‘s dead; Shakespeare‘s not.‘
While the Footsbarn children and their school-in-a-bus have exerted a fascination of their own over the media. it is hard to consider the performance devoid of its travellers‘ context. The many inﬂuences that pepper the exhuberant stage—work. from Chinese gongs to olde-English rooster collars. demonstrate the lively imaginations at work in Footsbarn. not the least Hayter himselfwhose performance of Bottom the Weaver is a comic delight. Footsbarn tends to polarise opinion. but its humantiy and accessibility cannot be denied. ‘For me. there are two ways for this poetry: you can read Shakespeare in your chair. but to do it on the stage is not the same — you have to take it offthe page and pass it on to the public. and the public should be anyone.‘
A Midsummer Night '5 Dream. Glasgow Fair, Glasgow Green. F rt 12— Tue 16 Jul.
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The List 12~ ZSJuly 199149