Custom/Practice are staging a slickly-edited, contemporary take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream for this summer’s Almeida Festival. Artistic Director Rae Macken recently took a few minutes to chat with us about the cast, the setting and why those elements make this production of Dream unique.
Why did you choose A Midsummer Night’s Dream for this year’s Almeida Festival?
We definitely wanted to do a comedy, and we knew we wanted to do Shakespeare, and it’s summer, so you know, we thought, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We also needed something you can manage with a smaller cast, and because the characters exist in such separate worlds, it’s easy to double – it’s only in the last scene there’s any sort of crossover at all.
Dream is usually quite long, but this production will only be two hours with an interval. How did you make the editing choices?
There are a lot of descriptive passages in Shakespeare, and sometimes those are repetitive. When you think about the time in which his plays were produced, they were to noisy, outdoor spaces with no lighting or sound, so everything was about the spoken word.
Now, we can get away with cutting some of that repetition, and we can create atmosphere with sound and lighting, so the audience still get the sense of the environment.
We’ve cut some of the fairies – I’ve seen 12 Dreams, but never one where they look at all fairy-like. It’s hard to have substantial characters on stage who still look quite magical, and a little is still said about them in our version, but it’ll be more sound and lights rather than people.
Oberon, Titania and Puck are still in, though?
Of course! It wouldn’t be Dream without them.
And Puck is the teacher running the after-school detention where the play begins.
Yeah, it seemed to make the most sense because he’s the one who finishes the play.
He’s the one teaching the students about growing up – they’re all kids on the cusp of adulthood, and he’s the one who, within the Dream world, does things wrong and gets things wrong, and they’re the ones who have to work out how to fix it.
There are echoes of that in the play with the lovers going into the forest, the freedom of getting away from the city… kids today go from their iPod to their laptop to their phone, but my friends who have kids, even teenagers, say they all still love running around outdoors when they get the chance. The story is about getting away from some of that.
You’ve seen versions of this play at least a dozen times. What is special about this production?
Well, it’s Dream – it’s magical, it’s fun, it’s sexy – but everyone can say that about their Dream.
This one has quite a young cast, and quite a mixed cast, and that immediately makes a difference. Not everyone comes from the same starting point in terms of their view of the world, and I think audiences will all see something different in that—and respond to it in different ways.
We also don’t follow traditional ideas of how people assume Shakespeare’s characters speak; the cast all use their own accents.
It’s a chance to change people’s ideas about who does Shakespeare and who Shakespeare belongs to.