Q&A with director of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Lynne Parker, Artistic Director of Rough Magic, is directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Kilkenny Arts Festival this August. She talks about staging an open-air production, why Shakespeare is relevant today, and how this show reminds us “we’ve all been eejits in love”.
What attracted you to this text?
I was seduced by the beauty of the language at a very early age. Then when I directed a production as a student at Trinity I found so much more – the comedy, the insight into passion and jealously, the darkness, the melodrama, the glorious energy of the action… it just seemed very rich in every sense.
The Kilkenny Arts Festival promises this show will “offer outrageous proof that Shakespeare is for life, not just for the Leaving Cert.” How will you make A Midsummer Night’s Dream exciting and relevant to today?
Titiania’s great speech gives us the direct link to our own concerns – the upheaval of the natural world that we have so recklessly endangered. So climate change, which she describes, is one theme that needs no updating. Equally the crazy headwreck that is adolescent love, which speaks as vividly today as it did when Shakespeare experienced it himself. But all plays exist in the present – so the trick is to make the audience feel that the people we are watching are as real as ourselves, and that their situation – however bizarre or absurd or unlikely – is one we can imagine finding ourselves in, right here, right now.
Why do you think audiences continue to love this play?
Partly because the characters are so iconic and at the same time so completely recognisable in ourselves – we’ve all been eejits in love and we’ve all been a bit pompous and petty and self-absorbed… But these characters are immensely likeable, attractive people – whether they are spirits or mortals. And the action is mesmerisingly charged and energised, ending in one of the great set pieces of world theatre – the mechanicals’ play, one of the funniest things ever written.
What are the challenges in working on Shakespeare?
The dark shadow of British territorial ownership (I jest!)
What I mean is the assumption, that we all grew up with, that the English have the key to Shakespeare, and that only they know how to speak it properly. What we proved with our previous production of The Taming of the Shrew is that the Irish idiom is a hugely successful vehicle for Shakespeare’s language, which was minted at a time well before the modern English ‘RP’ was invented. It’s the situation of the play, and the characters who speak it, that you have to drill into; and fortunately he gives you rich territory to excavate.
The aim – which we achieved with Shrew – is to have people think that the actors are speaking their own thoughts, however heightened the poetry. That gives every moment immediacy and energy.
How do you approach an open-air production?
The acoustic of the Castle Yard is excellent, so much of the time the actors will speak normally. Sometimes, when the moment requires a very nuanced delivery, I’d like to use amplification so that the actor can speak quietly – we have sound designer Denis Clohessy working on the show, and the idea is to allow the language its full dynamic range, from a whisper to a roar. We also want to stage it in a way that really uses the space in the round and doesn’t in any way attempt to create indoor theatre conditions. The lighting designer Sarah Jane Shiels and I went down to Kilkenny recently to watch the effect of the fading light in the space – for much of the show it’s that wonderful, blue, twilight state, the ‘witching hour’ which is half-in half-out of light. Really magical.
And then there’s the weather. Our approach is that in this topsy turvy world the weather is as unpredictable as the action of the play and that the cast might never be dressed appropriately; certainly I find myself in that state pretty frequently these days… Katie Davenport will design costumes that respond imaginatively to all conditions.
What will the rehearsal process be like?
We have five weeks, which is essential for Shakespeare. The first few weeks will be focused on language, situation and character; once we have the spade-work done we can start to play in earnest. But we have put together an extraordinary group of people, who have seriously impressive skills and are very, very funny. Part of my job will be to unleash their creativity and allow them to invent.
At the end of each week, whatever state we’re in, I like to do a run of the whole play, however rough. You can disappear down a rabbit-hole when you focus intensely on individual scenes, so taking a view of the complete picture is very useful – and occasionally these rough runs yield ideas that end up in the final cut.
Having such an eclectic, talented team of people – cast, designers, production team – to get to know and to watch grow as an ensemble. Rehearsing in Trinity, where the company started, will be a joy; and the fortnight in Kilkenny, working with the Festival team, will be a lot of fun. It’s a real collaboration.
What are you most looking forward to while working on this show? What excites you about working with this new ensemble?
Rough Magic started as an ensemble of seven, so in many ways this is a return to our original structure. This year we have some of the most exciting young talents on the current scene, who will be working as a unit for nearly five months over two shows (the second is a new version of A Portrait of The Artist As a Young Man, which tours Ireland up until November). So we want the ensemble to become more than the sum of its parts, and we’re very interested in ideas they may bring to the table. It’s an ensemble of leading actors – which sounds like trouble, but is actually a lot of fun, because the people have been chosen for their generosity of spirit and approach, as much as for their very impressive acting skills. And we also have an astonishing design team who will help us create the world of the play – both plays, in fact.
What should audience member expect in the Kilkenny Castle Yard on opening night?
We want our audiences to join us in this adventure. They’ll have a great night out, they’ll have new ideas and new people to play with – they’ll have a lot of fun. But they will also get a sense of what can be achieved by an eclectic collusion, with unity of purpose, wicked humour and magical imagination; and proof that collective energy is a very powerful force for good. They should expect the unexpected.