Go behind the scenes of Red Rose Chain’s Theatre in the Forest show A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Red Rose Chain's Theatre in the Forest show A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo Bill Jackson

Red Rose Chain's Theatre in the Forest show A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo Bill Jackson - Credit: Archant

Red Rose Chain venture back into the forest with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Director Joanna Carrick takes entertainment writer Wayne Savage behind the scenes

Red Rose Chain's Theatre in the Forest show A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo Bill Jackson

Red Rose Chain's Theatre in the Forest show A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo Bill Jackson - Credit: Archant

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, like many of Shakespeare’s plays, can be confusing to follow. Especially when actors are playing two, in some cases three, different parts. Luckily, director Joanna Carrick has a secret weapon - 10-year-old son Ted.

“He came into rehearsal a couple of weeks ago and watched the first scene. I said ‘what’s going on’ and he said ‘I don’t know’ and it was brilliant. The cast worked on it for a couple of hours, came back and he got it. It was really powerful, I keep telling them ‘you’ve got to spell it out, you’ve got to be clear’ and they’re ‘oh they’ll get it’.”

The finished article is as true to the original text as she can make it.

“I don’t cheapen it or lessen it (but) my God you have to work hard at making the story clear (and) have loads of fun with it. That’s what I do (and) that’s what he (Shakespeare) did. His audiences were incredibly varied, he had to see the tickets (sell), it had to be popular. He was a popular writer not an elitist one.”

Red Rose Chain's Theatre in the Forest show A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo: Bill Jackson

Red Rose Chain's Theatre in the Forest show A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo: Bill Jackson - Credit: Archant

While popular with families, she wishes she could convince more to join them at Jimmy’s Farm.

“Eleanor (Cotton-Soares) who’s in the show this year, she’s been coming since she was eight. She’s really passionate about it. I believe that by coming, they will really enhance their lives,” says Carrick, who remembers the effect watching the late Roger Rees in the RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby had on her as a child.

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“It was utterly amazing and enchanting, things like that change you forever. If we could do that for somebody - and we do, because people come back and tell us years later they still remember stuff - it means the world to me.”

The power of theatre, she adds, has no limits; recalling a very recent funeral.

“People were really upset but said how much they were looking forward to coming (to Theatre in the Forest) and how important it’s going to be for them as a family. A lot of the time I look at audiences and I don’t know what they’re are all going through, but (sometimes) people need (to get away). That’s what I’m into, transporting people somewhere else; playing with time and opening up an infinite world within an hour or two.”

Carrick’s still extremely, passionately vocational about the show and watching audiences lose themselves in the experience year after year. It’s become almost spiritual for all involved. It’s a lot of hard work though.

Ultra-organised and further ahead production-wise than ever before, it’s a big show with lots to constantly think about. That intense pressure never gets any easier, although reverting to one play instead of last year’s two helped.

“(It’s) the most sensible decision I’ve made this year,” she laughs. “I loved doing two shows last year... We opened The Avenue this year, I’ve been (working on) back to back productions. We just thought let’s do one, keep it simple’ and I’m so glad I did.”

This is the fourth time Red Rose Chain have staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which sees Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena lost in the woods. They and some tradesmen rehearsing a play soon find themselves in the middle of a row between fairies Titania and Oberon.

People who have seen snippets so far say it’s totally different to what’s come before.

“It (has to) feel fresh and new, it’s important it’s not the same production over and over. I didn’t militantly set out for it to be different,” she says, describing the look and feel of the Mechanicals (the theatre troupe caught up in the fairies’ in-fighting) which I won’t spoil here.

“Their play at the end is completely outrageous. The mechanicals were incredibly hard work, I just hammered and hammered and hammered them because if they’re not funny you may as well not bother with this play as far as I’m concerned - and comedy is quite a serious business.”

Carrick is full of praise for her, albeit slightly naughty, edgy, wild new cast; adding naughty sums the play up perfectly. Again, I won’t spoil the specifics. Just keep your eye on the fairies’ Reliant Robin at the end of the first half.

“I found Adam (Wilson) who plays Puck, who – don’t tell him I said so – is absolutely brilliant, maverick, creative and I think the most wild Puck I’ve ever seen. When I went through the cut again there were things in there I put back because I could really imagine him doing it.

“He’s an incredibly important element in the show and one of the reasons this show is going to work so well is because we’ve got a brilliant Puck who everyone is going to love; the kids are going to love him because he’s so funny.”

Meanwhile, Laura Norman and some volunteers are busy transforming the area behind the seats into an enchanted fairyland for younger audiences when I stop by rehearsals.

Lights festoon the trees, yarn waits to be flung into their branches...

“Every show we’ll have little hidden things, there’s a treasure hunt, face-painting so they can be fairies themselves; we’re working with the community theatre to create some sounds. That tree over there will talk hopefully, if technology lets us. As night comes, there’ll probably be stuff appear you wouldn’t have seen in the daytime,” says The Avenue’s resident director.

“It’s about creating the (same) atmosphere the show is really. It’s perfect for kids to explore; hopefully it’ll be quite magical beforehand and during the interval.”

Atmosphere plays a large part in any production and Norman has been having fun with the sound.

“We’ve lots of silly sound effects, we have to reign it in sometimes because we could just go for it. Jo and I spent about two days putting the sound together; it’s totally my thing and she just really embraces it and understands its importance.”

There’s a distinct 1970s vibe to the musics. It matches the free and easy mood in the forest the characters find themselves compared to the strict, pompous world of Athens from which they come. There’s loads of live music in the show, played on everything from the tuba and clarinet to drums.

“I’ve looked at a lot of Woodstock artists, Ravi Shankar, Galt MacDermot who wrote the soundtrack to Hair, The Mamas and the Papas, William Onyeabor who’s this incredible funk artist from the 1970s... It’s a really funky soundtrack. You’ll recognise a lot of it but it’s just cool...

“The live music’s just hilarious, loads of original stuff which works really well with the music... The cast sing a song at the end which is a classic everyone will know, hopefully they’ll be waving their arms and singing.”

See for yourself at Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead, to August 30. See more pictures and read my review online later tonight.

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