Midsummer Night’s Dream performed at Shakespeare Schools Festival
Students from Harrogate Grammar School took part in Shakespeare Schools Festival; a nationwide festival that celebrates the works of Shakespeare through the performance of various 30 minute plays. Our performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream took place on Tuesday 4th November at 7pm at the Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds. This was a fantastic opportunity for students to read and perform Shakespeare as well as work with industry professionals in order to realise the performance in a professional theatre space.
The following is a review of the performance itself by Tom Sheriff, year 13 student
“How do you turn a masterful literary work into a thirty minute play? How can you retain the essence of one of the world’s most loved writings in a performance the length of a sitcom episode?
These were the conundrums facing the cast and crew of the Harrogate Grammar School Performing Arts faculty, as they undertook the challenge of performing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a mere half hour. In just five weeks, the team created a playful, funny adaptation of the classic play which managed to channel the wit and intelligence of the original text.
Limited to thirty minutes, the show couldn’t afford to waste time on anything extraneous. The result: a performance where both plot and humour came thick and fast. As it happens, this version of Shakespeare – stripped down to the bones – highlights one of the main delights of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the genius way it ties in broad humour with its wonderfully twisting story. There is no tacked-on subplot to provide cheap laughs, and in recognising this, the team could use Shakespeare’s strength to their advantage, by turning his play into a manic ride brimming with comedy, romance and insight into the nature of love.
And what superb tools the directors had at their disposal. The weak members of the cast were nonexistent – more than this, however, the actors were perfectly chosen; Amelie Roch, Maya Edwards and Callum Brown were well suited to the larger-than-life personas of the fairy world, and the mortals (including Imogen Broughton, Harry Pritchard, David McCabe and Hannah Mason) were always compelling and showed impressive comedic chops – there was a steady stream of chuckling from the audience throughout.
This humour provided a backbone to the play. Watching it, there was rarely a moment when a smile wasn’t on my face, which made for an incredibly enjoyable experience. Even without the scope and depth present in all Shakespeare plays, the experience of sitting in a seat and laughing every few moments was worth the half hour. The most broadly comedic aspect of the play, as always, was the bumbling troupe of actors, with Bottom at the forefront of the humour. Played by Tom Jensen, who left no scenery unchewed, the character brought a blast of energy and drive to every scene he featured in – even the younger members of the audience, to whom much of Shakespeare seems complex beyond comprehension, found laughter in the pompous self-love of Bottom (and of course his famous transformation into an ass). The ability to draw audience members under ten into Shakespeare shows formidable talent for comedy and acting on a whole.
This was not just down to Bottom, however. The whole cast brought a buzz to the show such that I spent the entire thirty minutes on the edge of my seat, and I certainly wasn’t the only one. Also contributing to the excitement were the interesting arrangements of the set; spare and minimal, reflecting the streamlining of the play, the set allowed for clever interplay between mortals and immortals. Adding to the atmosphere of each scene was the impressively diverse music provided by Year 12 music students, which was either used for comedic effect or helped the shifts to the more sinister aspects of the story.
And A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be sinister. Oberon in particular has questionable morals; tapping into this trait, Callum Brown’s performance remained always slightly unsettling. With some thought, Shakespeare’s play becomes a darkly comic look at the whimsy of love – there are several levels on which it can be enjoyed. What made the performance such a success was that it retained this deeper, subtler and darker aspects whilst keeping the play moving at such a pace and with such fun that it could be enjoyed as just a superb exercise in comedy.
By marrying the play’s humorous and dark themes, the team managed to create a performance which was simultaneously hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking. After all, how can we know that our passions aren’t controlled by immortal beings with magic flowers (who turn out to be just as petty as ourselves)?”
Helena and Lysander
Oberon and Puck
Thisbe and Wall