Night at the Grand is a dream come true

Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

A little bit of magic and a smidgeon of mischief were in the air as the Royal Shakespeare Company, Poulton Drama and children from Larkholme School took to the stage on Tuesday at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre in Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation. This ground breaking production, directed by the RSC Deputy Artistic Director, Erica Whyman, saw a company of 18 professional actors working alongside amateurs, who played the Mechanicals and local school children playing Titania’s Fairy Train.  The performance, which celebrates Shakespeare’s timeless legacy in the 400th anniversary of 1616, the year when the bard took his extraordinary talents to the grave, has been in the planning for the past eighteen months.

Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC
Midsummer Night’s Dream Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an endearing, charming story, full of mischief and fun.  But, it is also about community, overcoming prejudice, looking to new horizons and coming together from all walks of life in the name of peace and joy.  The sense of community has been apparent from the onset of this ambitious project, which has seen professionals, amateurs and children from across the country come together in celebration of the bard’s anniversary.  From the opening night in February, until the tour ends in July, a massive 685 people have come together to take part in the show.  When it returns to Stratford in June, each of the amateur casts will again join the RSC to perform at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Probably the best known and loved of Shakespeare’s comedies, Midsummer Night’s Dream, tells the tale of love between four young Athenians. Unusually for a Shakespeare comedy, marriage comes well before the end of the play, but, before this happens, complication and confusion abound leading to the timeless line uttered by Lysander “The course of true love never did run smooth”. Which is certainly the case for the four young Athenians in the story.

Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC
Midsummer Night’s Dream Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

Demetrius loves Hermia but Hermia loves Lysander. Thwarted in their love by Hermia’s father, the pair plan to escape and marry.  Meanwhile, Hermia tells her friend Helena of their plans. Helena, was once engaged to Demitrius but was jilted by him when he fell in love with Hermia, nonetheless, she is still in love with him. They depart for the woods where a band of fairies dwell. Oberon, King of the Fairies and his Queen, Titania are at loggerheads over a young Indian prince whom Titania dotes on, much to Oberon’s consternation. Oberon sends his servant Puck to acquire a magical flower, the juice of which, when smeared onto the eyelids of someone who is sleeping, causes them to fall in love with the first thing they see upon wakening. Oberon plans to put the juice onto Titania’s eyelids, but also instructs Puck to put some of it onto Demitrius’s. In true comedic style, Puck confuses the young men and puts the juice onto Lysander’s eyelids. When Lysander awakens he sees Helena and falls in love with her instead.

Midsummer Night's Dream Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC
Midsummer Night’s Dream Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC

Meanwhile, after an hilarious episode with the mechanicals rehearsing a play for the Duke’s wedding, Bottom, an egotistical character, has his head turned into that of an ass by the mischievous Puck. Titania awakens and sees Bottom and is enchanted by him. Eventually, the love potion is spread correctly, Demitrius loves Helena and Lysander loves Hermia. The wedding takes place and The Mechanicals perform their play for the audience. The fairies then emerge to bless the couples leaving Puck to ask the audience to remember the play as though it had been a dream.

With sterling performances by all involved, not least by the members of Poulton Drama, who appeared to be anything but amateur, and the charm of the children of Larkholme school, it may have been April rather than midsummer, but this was most definitely a most magical evening.

There are still three more chances to see Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation at the Grand Theatre Blackpool which runs until Saturday. For more information or to book tickets call the Grand Theatre box office on 01253 290190 or visit blackpoolgrand.co.uk

Images by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC.

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