Poulton Drama Group team up with the RSC for A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Kim Sykes

Kim Sykes - Credit: Archant

Members of an amateur dramatic group from Poulton are preparing for the performance of their lives alongside professionals from the RSC.

Discussing the scenes and interpretations

Discussing the scenes and interpretations - Credit: Archant

Amateur dramatic groups are more used to rushed read-throughs than months of rehearsals, more familiar with sparse audiences than full houses and more likely to be found in draughty church halls than plush theatres. But a group from Poulton has been seeing how the other half live by working with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Members of Poulton Drama Group – including teachers, students, civil servants and some who have retired – spent much of the last year rehearsing with a director from the RSC and they will go on stage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool this month.

They will play the Mechanicals – the group of six working men in the play within a play who attempt to perform for royalty. And they will be appearing alongside professional actors from the RSC who held auditions to select a different amateur group to play the roles at each stop on their nationwide tour.

Tony Stone gave up acting with Poulton Drama to be the group’s director. He said: ‘We are all getting some of the finest training that money can’t buy and we are all discovering new things which are taking us out of our comfort zone. The RSC has really thought this process through and the feedback they give is really good, full of positive reinforcements, like when you train a dog - you reward its good behaviour. That’s what they do with us.’

Rehearsals took place in the studio theatre at the Grand once a week from September and three times a week since January and they gave the amateurs a rare opportunity to dig deep into the text and dissect the work.

Primary school teacher Huw Rose will play Snout the tinker. He said: ‘There’s usually a quick turn-around for us – we tend to do three shows a year and the usual process is that we get the script, learn the lines as best we can, then have a week on stage. To have the luxury of all this time and to be able to take the text apart and really study it is brilliant for us.’

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And Sarah-Jane Stone, Tony’s wife, who will be waiting in the wings as Titania’s understudy, added: ‘We all work and have families and we are at rehearsals after a full day but they are trying to get through to us to live that role more. The depth they study each character is really something.’

But the actor’s life isn’t new to all the members. Cathy Lloyd, who plays Peter Quince, is now the head of performing arts at a Blackpool high school and was previously a professional actor.

‘I dreamed of working at the RSC, it’s what you train for. So this is a real privilege,’ she said. ‘I was directing Grease at school while rehearsing for this and I learned things here that I could pass on to my classes.’

Ian Rowe, who will be Snug the joiner, is another ex-professional. The 74-year-old said: ‘I consider it a great honour to finally get to do something at this level because I shall probably never get the opportunity again.’

After the shows at the Grand – from April 5-9 – the group will reprise their roles at the home of the RSC in Stratford at the end of the tour and a coach load of friends and family will be there to see them.

Cathy Davies, the chair of the Poulton Group said: ‘When we first applied I don’t think we knew just how big it would be. This has been a fabulous experience for the group because to work closely with people from the RSC can only help us all. It will also help to raise our profile.’

The 11-date national tour is part of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and will see the story unfold in a bombed out pub in the late 1940s. The set has been designed by Tom Piper, who created the field of poppies at the Tower of London.

It is directed by Kim Sykes, an associate director at the RSC, who said: ‘I love this process. It has taken over my life. I have a colour-coordinated spreadsheet telling me where I need to be and what I need to be doing for every day. I couldn’t live without that.

‘I’ve never done Dream before. These are the best words ever written in the English language and it’s one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays so it is really hard to remove the preconceived ideas about how you have seen it done before.

‘I think there’s something about the Mechanicals about telling the truth, not trying to deceive each other with magic tricks or masks, about an innocence and honesty of story telling which I think is what Shakespeare was getting at. Enough of the rules, be a bit more fairy, be a bit more honest, fairies are married to truth, the only thing they care about is truth and they punish humans who lie.’

For performance times and tickets at the Grand, go to blackpoolgrand.co.uk or call the box office on 01253 290190.