The natural unspoilt setting of Wylds Farm created an accessible, immersive production for all ages, with storytelling at its core. The versatile cast of eight led audiences on a magical promenade up the hill to be immersed in an enchanted world with warring fairies, sparring lovers and a group of wannabe actors who are putting on a play…
|Albert de Jongh
|Helena/Snug the Joiner/Moth
|Clare Glancy and Lucy Hollis
|Amanda Lee Gardner
|Company Stage Manager
|Deputy Stage Manager
|Front of House Manager
|Box Office Manager
|Schools’ Workshop Leader
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Theseus, Duke of Athens, has won Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, in battle. He intends to marry her, but his celebrations are interrupted: Egeus wants his rebellious daughter Hermia to marry Demetrius but Hermia refuses, because she’s in love with Lysander. The Duke orders Hermia to obey her father or, according to Athenian law, she must either face the death penalty or become a nun.
Hermia and Lysander decide to elope that night. They confide in their friend Helena. However, she’s secretly in love with Demetrius so, hoping to win his affection, she tells him of Hermia’s plan. That night, all four lovers set out into the woods.
Meanwhile, a group of Athenians (known as “the Mechanicals”, because of their manual jobs), are planning to perform a play in celebration of the Duke’s wedding. Led by Peter Quince, they plan to rehearse The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, secretly, in the same wood.
Elsewhere, the fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania, argue over Titania’s refusal to give up her page-boy to Oberon. He sends his servant Puck to find a magic plant to cast a spell on Titania in revenge. The juice of the plant, when squeezed onto the eyes of someone asleep, causes them to fall in love with the first creature they see when they wake up. Oberon uses the juice on Titania as she sleeps in her bower.
Puck finds the Mechanicals rehearsing. He magically transforms Bottom’s head into that of an ass. The others are terrified and flee the forest. When Titania wakes, the first creature she sees is Bottom and she falls rapturously in love with him.
Helena chases Demetrius through the forest and their fighting disturbs Oberon. He tells Puck to use part of the magic plant on Demetrius, so that he will fall in love with Helena. However, Puck mixes up the two Athenian men and uses it on Lysander instead, who promptly falls in love with Helena. Now, with both men chasing a confused Helena, chaos reigns. Hermia furiously attacks her friend Helena for disloyalty and turning everyone against her.
Before the men can come to blows, Puck lulls the exhausted lovers to sleep, and Oberon lifts all the enchantments to restore order. Upon waking, Titania is horrified that she’s been “enamoured of an ass” and is reconciled with Oberon.
On the morning of their wedding, Theseus and Hippolyta come across the sleeping lovers, who decide the night’s events must have all been a dream. Lysander and Hermia are back to normal, and Demetrius admits he does love Helena after all. So the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta becomes a triple celebration, as the other couples marry too. The Mechanicals’ play is chosen as royal entertainment and a fairly amateur version of Pyramus and Thisbe amuses the royal couple.
As all the newly-weds retire to bed, Oberon gathers with the fairies to bless the palace, the couples and their future children.
Director’s Note: Three Weddings & No Funeral
We all love a good wedding. Many comedies end with one. In 1994 Richard Curtis realised the schmaltz and comic potential of this tried-&-tested formula and greedily crammed in four, including one at the very beginning of his film. Shakespeare promises one at the start of the “Dream’ – admittedly more of a political or “arranged” one than a love match – but from the moment when either the mortals (Egeus) or the fairies (Puck) put their oar in…well, basically you know it’s all going to go Titanias-up!
It’s most likely that Shakespeare’s play was first performed before aristocratic guests in a great hall as a tribute to, or celebration of, a wealthy patron’s marriage. The opening and closing scenes in “the hall of Duke Theseus’ Palace” would have required no “set” as such; and where we have the genuine article, the trees of the Elizabethan players’ “wood” could easily be imagined in the tapestries of hunting scenes decorating the hall. From those more deferential and specific motives, over the last four centuries the play has exploded across the globe into every kind of venue, language, medium and culture.
The basic underlying ingredients of a wedding have changed little from Elizabethan times to our oh-so-sophisticated (and expensive?!) versions today. Apart from maybe a little less solemnity, they both probably feature(d): romance, high expectation (often leading to tension, and potential comedy). A feast, or at least some kind of catering. And dance. (Plus, sometimes: injury). Sexual tension. Family tensions, within or across both sides of the church. All fuelled by alcohol. What could go wrong? Hopefully nothing for your own ‘special day’, but in comedy plot terms: pretty much (hopefully) everything! Shakespeare is more abstemious: he does without the alcohol, but a) he quickly takes proceedings out of the palace (or for us, maybe a hotel or village hall) plonking the bemused mortals in a wood and b) he gives some of them drugs. The wood is already by turns confusing, scary, sexy, liberating. Especially if you’re a visitor from the city. With a mind-altering “love potion” aboard, the rules are even more blurred. The fairies don’t abide by them, and Puck’s whole raison d’etre is to flout and twist them. The mortals are trying to play neat classical 4/4 time; the fairies are all over them, riffing, improvising jazz.
That’s partly why our Dream is set in the woods, at the aptly named Wylds Farm in a Festival vibe. Cue chaos, music and celebration. A wedding may or may not happen; there’s a lot of “stuff” to wade through before that luxury or final destination. The beauty of Shakespeare’s version is his conductor-like mastery and mixing of all the themes and elements in the build-up to that event: court characters, ordinary working-class folk (with their own dream of being picked for the equivalent of “Greece’s Got Talent”), and Fairies. This last unlikely group is what raises the play from the realms of simple comedy to something more magical, less every day. Where one world collides with another is what produces the flashes and sparks. For despite our sophistication, something under the surface – be it curiosity, respect or even fear of the natural world with its mythological associations and country folk lore – still resonates. Besides the Greek names, most of Shakespeare’s references are quintessentially English: the Mechanicals could happily step into an episode of “The Vicar of Dibley” or a play by Alan Ayckbourn. But the fairies live on the same fine line created by Pemberton & Shearsmith in “Inside No. 9”. Kind of English-ish, and yet a bit unnerving, unfamiliar and exotic: like a post-war foreign holiday before cheap airline travel. And funny. The fairies laugh at mortals in the way that one nation stereotypes another for comic effect; “Johnny Foreigner” has always mined comedy gold.
In 1970 in Stratford the legendary director Peter Brooks set the play in a white box. To produce magic and poetry from such a blank canvas takes pure genius (and months of rehearsal!). We have only ten days, but we do have a wood. And hopefully an audience itching to escape their houses – and lockdown – with the enthusiasm of the Mechanicals leaving Athens to rehearse their play in secret. So, we’re going to let the play and the wood do their thing. Along with your imaginations, of course. As Theseus says:
“Or in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is a bush supposed a bear?”
Thanks for providing that vital, magical ingredient.
And, after an extraordinary year and a half: thank you for coming!
“It was completely magical with a full moon rising on cue towards the end. The production was so professional, slick and funny, clearly enunciated, just perfect. “