This weekend I joined a cast in a drama – at St Mark’s Church in Leamington Spa – which I think Shakespeare would have loved. Why? because we were rather like the little band of local workmen in that Athenian wood in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
But we were not playing “Pyramus and Thisbe”. Instead, without rehearsal, and with hastily gathered together props, we were ambitiously – and creatively – portraying the entire story of Joseph, (but not with Lloyd Webber music and lyrics).
I must admit I’d been wondering how I’d pan out as the Butler/Servant, with my son Jamie as the older Joseph. I was a little concerned beforehand about the large number of props, and the extent to which I’d need to rely on several other actors simultaneously doing the right thing – not to mention a question about whether there was going to be any kind of stage management i.e. people in charge of making sure microphones and props were in the right hands at the right times.
And it was more fun and more memorable than a slick performance by professionals would have been.
It occurred to me Shakespeare would have loved it. Even his Rude Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream couldn’t have bettered our organised chaos.
For anything that could possibly go wrong in such a set-up, did.
The two narrators doubled up as stage manager and director.
Some of the performers behaved as if they’d only been cast that morning and had never seen the script before.
I was convinced others were working to different scripts than the one I had, and I wondered whether it had been revised since I was given my copy.
The narrators forgot some of their lines thus depriving actors of cues they’d been relying on.
The one hand-held mic was being passed frantically from actor to actor.
A prop (whistle) was given to me as the Servant/Butler, which I was to blow every time Joseph gave the instruction for someone to be arrested or released from jail, to alert the jailer. But then the director whipped it away unexpectedly from me and gave it to Potiphar – who didn’t even know he had to use it and spoke his lines without using it. The director intervened and grabbed the whistle and gave it to him. Having used it, Potiphar then put it down somewhere where I, the Servant, couldn’t see it. So in the end I was unable to use it. And since my whistle had disappeared, Joseph’s brother Simeon was never let out of jail.
The actor who played the aforesaid jailer wore shorts and a helmet which was too small for him and he looked like an English policeman on holiday in Egypt.
The whole drama was like a test case for what happens when a troop of unrehearsed amateur actors get together – exactly as Shakespeare envisaged it with his Rude Mechanicals, with Wall and Moonshine and the chink and Bottom deciding he was going to get up after his character had died and tell the audience it was all right, he was alive really.
And all this fired up my imagination as I thought how it was going to feed into my new novel – my follow-up to A Passionate Spirit – which features a cast of actors filming A Midsummer Night’s Dream in some south east London woods….