Barrie Rutter’s Northern Broadsides production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream arrived at the Globe just after finishing a tour of Brazil, spent two hours rehearsing on the stage in front of an audience of builders and pleasantly surprised tourists, and less than an hour later, the company were putting on their single performance to a packed Globe house.
The company discovered how to exploit many of the space’s possibilities. Even within the few hours of rehearsal time, actors were moving through the auditorium to test acoustics and sightlines, and the rehearsal audience were brought into the exercise to play a major role.
Rutter would shout to a punter in the upper gallery: ‘Can you hear that?'; actors on the stage would try out lines to see how to embrace the whole auditorium. If something didn’t work – a blocking move, an exit, an entrance, Rutter would experiment to find other ways to play the scene.
The public rehearsal of this Dream was probably an object lesson in how a company of actors can find out how to get used to the Globe space. The Northern Broadsides company had toured this production in all kinds of spaces – from purpose built theatres to factories.
Asked whether he felt his approach to the rehearsal process would need to be any different from his usual approach – would you want, for example, actors to spend more time getting used to the space, the distinctive configuration of audience/actor of the new Globe? Rutter replies: ‘No and No – as we proved with just two hours’ familiarisation, then a party for sixteen hundred people courtesy of Will Shakespeare’.
The first half was played in their own clothes – mostly jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with the company logo, a boar’s head. Rutter had warned the audience before the play began that three cases of costumes had been lost somewhere between Rio and Heathrow, so that as with their rapid acclimatising to the stage and space, the players had to improvise to make up for the loss of any help from costume in their characterisation – no mean feat when you are a 14-stone workman transformed into a fairy with nothing but movement and voice to disguise you.
When Rutter walked on stage for the second half, dressed in a black coat festooned with rainbow-coloured favours, a splendid hat covered in flowers and sprouting tall, winking pheasant feathers, the audience – in the yard and in the galleries alike – gave a roar of applause.
The irony of course was now that Rutter was dressed in character, it was not Oberon the playgoers were applauding, but the actor who had had to play the part not dressed for it throughout the first half, as well as the costume itself. It provided yet another of the many examples in the Prologue Season when the combination of audience and actor in this roofless theatre produced such a potent blurring of the boundaries between the world of the play and the world of the playgoers.
One of the most remarkable moments of the whole Prologue Season was towards the end of the Dream performance when, appropriately enough, in a scene which celebrates the magical powers of the theatre, Rutter brought the whole production down to a whisper. Open to the sun-filled daylight; packed with highly visible bodies dressed in shorts and vests and summer frocks, with no sign of a lighting effect or a single scenic trick, the theatre became a spell-charmed circle.
The audience was ‘spell-stopp’d’ by the fiction.
“A Night to remember…..a refreshingly far cry from received pronunciation….the mechanicals are lovably observed and as authentic as I have seen.”
“..the rasp,relish and simplicity with which he (Rutter) stages the Dream make you hear it entirely afresh…I’ve never seen an angrier, more quarrelsome Dream.”
“The brisk, no-nonsense staging is a delight. This is a production that achieves a genuine rough magic.”
“Northern Broadsides are claiming Shakespeare for their own voice and as previously, they make their point. To hear ‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows’ in the scoops of Rutter’s Yorkshire is not an exciting novelty, it just sounds right.”
“This homely, good-hearted show brims with warmth and vitality.”