New version of the Dream takes audiences back to the classroom
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of his most popular plays – but even this charming and fantastical comedy can seem difficult to young audiences.
London-based company Custom/Practice have attracted rave reviews for their own production which begins in a bleak inner-city school detention room and moves to the fantastical world of princes and lovers, forests and fairies.
This fast-paced, beautiful and inventive production of the Dream was originally commissioned as part of a youth theatre project at the Almeida Festival in Summer 2012 and played to enthusiastic audience's at last year's Edinburgh Festival.
The play is directed by Rae McKen, founder of Custom/Practice, a company set up with the belief that anybody, whatever their class or education, can create, access and enjoy theatre of the highest quality.
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Rae is in Truro this week as the play begins its national tour at the Hall for Cornwall.
Coming back to A Midsummer Night's Dream after several months has been interesting, says Rae.
"It's the first time I've done it like this with a big break. It's nice to bring some freshness to it, and we do have a couple of new cast members. It's fun seeing the little differences."
Beginning the story in a school detention room will help the play be accessible to young audiences, Rae believes. "The Dream is really about the idea of young people having to find themselves in the world. I think it's very relevant at the moment. Where is the place for young people? They're really not being listened to.
"We have Puck as the central character, as a supply teacher, and he leads them into the play and draws them into that fantastical world.
"I wanted this play to be magical. It's all about the fairies. The set design [by Rosa Maggiora] is really simple but beautiful – with poles turned into trees.
"It's such a fun play. The Mechanicals are generally quite funny characters. We've treated them a bit like a WI amateur drama group in a village hall – lots of different people from all walks of life doing something that they love. So they are not all the same.
"The cast is completely representative of modern 21st century Britain. And they're all really passionate about theatre."
The passion for theatre is something that drives Rae and the company. At a time when arts organisations are fighting cuts, Custom/Practice are flying the flag for live drama.
"There are constraints. We know that we only have a maximum number of actors, but you then immediately start thinking about the concept.
"Theatre is such an amazing art form," says Rae. "It's a shame so many young people don't engage with it. We are taking plays that people consider to be in that big European tradition and saying to people that it's perfectly understandable. We can all enjoy it and take from it.
"These are the same stories you hear the world over. It's fundamentally about the essence of what it's like to be a human being."
Rae seems someone driven by a love of theatre, so I shouldn't really have been surprised by her own experience of seeing Shakespeare.
"I saw my first Shakespeare play on stage at the age of ten and by the time I was 22, I'd seen them all. Funnily enough, it was A Midsummer Night's Dream and I just fell in love with it. I made my mum take me back five times."
A Midsummer Night's Dream is at the Hall for Cornwall, Truro (01872 262466) today and tomorrow, and Exeter Northcott (01392 493 493) from January 29 to February 2.