Midsummer mindwarp

The key to a fantasy play like A Midsummer Night ’3 Dream is in the familiar, reckons RSC director Adrian Noble. Neil Cooper tunes in

and turns on.

Back when the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s current artistic director Adrian Noble was but a lad. he was packed off to C hichester to see an amateur production of A Midsummer Ni ght's Dream. A few years on. in I970. a back-packing theatre-junkie student returning from his annual Edinburgh Festival overdose. Noble innocently stopped off at Stratford. There. he had his mind blown by Peter Brook‘s seminal. tripped-out take on Shakespeare‘s most mind-expandineg blissed-out and loved-up work.

Both experiences left Noble wide-eyed with wonder and possibilities as only the converted can be and it‘s this sense of wonder that. some 26 years later, informs his new RSC production. ‘I tried to find a child-like view. imagining how things might look to a nine-year-old. and i asked the actors to try and imagine events from that perspective.‘ says Noble. ‘I was striving to create that feeling of wonder that comes from seeing things for the first time.‘

The audience should also get something of a kick from the surreal. Magritte-like onstage world. as multi-coloured umbrellas keep the rain offthe mechanicals before magicking into flying machines

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for fairies. Doors (of perception?) appear from nowhere. to allow characters to pass from one world to the next. ‘l‘d always been unhappy with productions that begin in a court set and then suddenly change to a stage covered with trees and grassy banks. in a desperate attempt to create the forest or fairyland.‘ he argues. ‘It seemed to me it should be all one world and the two places should be mirrors of one another. This led to doubling the actors not just Titania with Hippolyta and Theseus with Oberon. but also Philostrate with Puck and the mechanicals with the fairies. I asked myself questions about dreams and fantasies. and realised they‘re almost always about our own world. with familiar people popping up in extraordinary situations.‘ Nor.

never the same again

It sounds very much like a I940s cartoon in this way far more than kids‘ stuff. and clearly under the influence of something more than the smell of ink. But Noble also went back to Shakespeare's other plays via a Lear-like. ‘crashingly big. fuck-off storrn'. and even the opening scene of Brook‘s production. the weight of which prevented Noble from tackling the play till now. Yet there are also influences rooted solidly in the term firma of Noble's own rnonai background. The scout but where the mechanicals shelter from the storm to rehearse their own play. is based on just such a hut lit by a single hanging bulb Noble knows near Stratford. There are lots of hanging bulbs in this production.

‘I asked myself questions about dreams and fantasies, and realised they’re almost always about our own world, with familiar people popping up in extraordinary situations.’

One must never lose sight of the fact. either. that A Midsummer Nights Dream is Shakespeare at his most accessible. at play that deals with the blind folly of young love frustrated at the whim of their elders and betters. This too is an area where Noble can draw on his own experiences with the benefit of hindsight. ‘I remember when l was seventeen I desperately wanted to marry this girl. but my Mum wouldn‘t let me. and l was distraught.‘ he recalls wrily.

After a heavy year in which Noble directed a triple- whammy of great Shakespearian tragedies K ing Lear. Macbeth and Hamlet such a frivolous exercise of the imagination is light relief. ‘I wanted to do something about young people. about happy people who want to find love and get married.‘ Dream on. Adrian. Dream on.

A Midsummer Night '3‘ Dream. Royal Shakespeare Cmnpany. [Edinburgh Festival Theatre. Tue 26 -.S'at 30

Hit by the Mark

Mark Thomas is the son of a builder and a midwife. lie grew up in South london and studied at a drama school in Yorkshire. ‘I wanted to be a stand- up since the age of eighteen,’ he says. ‘It’s just what I wanted to do.’

To some it might seem Thomas has come from nowhere to take the comedy scene by storm. ilothing could be further from the truth, though. He’s been performing for twelve years. liadio credits include The Mary Whitehouse Experience, loose Ends and hosting a show on Radio 5 live. (in television, he appeared on Viva cabaret and Saturday Zoo.

Making himself useful: Mark Thomas

But this has definitely been Thomas’s year. In the spring he fronted Channel 4’s already IegendaryMartr Thomas Comedy Product; and he’s been touring major venues all year. The Comedy Product saw Thomas’s stand-up punctuated with some astonishing pranks at the expense of MPs and hefty corporate types. For example, he disguised a tank as an ice-cream van and tried to get a licence to export it to Iraq. lie also took a busload of Japanese tourists on a trip round Tory sex- scandal hotspots in london (visiting the home of David Mellor, among others).

‘Ifie had a very firm vision of what we wanted to do - to make a show which was original and exciting,’ he says. ‘What normally happens with stand-ups is they write crap sketches or have songs. Y’know: “Ladies and gentlemen . . . lisa Stansfield!” Fuck off - it’s wallpaper.

‘One of the aims we had was to say, “This is what you can get away with. You can do so much.” Just to encourage that is a good thing, I think.’

The format certainly seems to have captured the public’s imagination. ‘People have been really supportive,’ says Thomas. ‘They come to us and say things like “Lambeth Council are trying to shut our schools down - is there anything you can do?” So we’ve been working with these people on campaigns to keep the schools open. It’s nice to feel that you’re doing something of value.’

And the stand-up? ‘Oh, filth, politics, sex, tenderness - all human life is there,’ he laughs. ‘I do love stand-up. Frankly, I hope I’ll be doing it until the day I die.’ (Scott Montgomery)

Mark Thomas, Queen’s Ifall, Edinburgh, Mon 18 Ilov; Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Wed 20 No v.

The List l5-28 Nov I996