Maddermarket ‘steampunk’ return to Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Credit: Archant

After a six year absence, Shakespeare returns to the Maddermarket Theatre next week with an innovative 'Steampunk' version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. SIMON PARKIN reports.

For over 90 years the Maddermarket Theatre has been home to live theatre — and the latest production balances both that history and forward-looking innovation.

Home to The Norwich Players, first established as a theatre company in 1911 by Nugent Monck (1877-1958), the Norwich theatre's fabulous Elizabethan-style stage is well suited to performing the plays of Shakespeare. However it has been six years since the last staging of a work by the Bard.

High time then for a welcome return to Shakespeare with a new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which begins its seven night run from next Thursday.

And the vision of highly talented director Chris Bealey brings an innovative take on Shakespeare's best loved comedy — so often staged outdoor in a very traditional manner.

Bealey's production begins in Starveling the Tailor's shop where a group of pseudo-Victorian mechanicals meet to rehearse a play for the wedding festivities of the Duke.

When Bottom falls asleep, fairies transform the shop into a Steampunk forest where lovers take refuge from the constraints of the city and we learn all is not well in the relationships of the forest folk. Magic leads to mayhem before order is finally restored.

Most Read

As the other characters leave the stage, one remains and the audience is asked to question whether what they have just experienced might be nothing but a dream.

Bealey, who directed Five Kinds of Silence at the Maddermarket to much acclaim in 2012, knows the play well having played the part of Puck in the last performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Maddermarket in June 1986, directed by Dave Harris.

The use of Steampunk aesthetic — a hugely popular sub-genre of sci-fi that images an alternative reality involving Victorian steam powered contraptions — certainly promises to give the production a unique look and feel with costumes that are described as a 'visual feast'.

'I can remember the 1986 production when Chris, our director, played Puck, all oiled up and in a loin cloth,' said Giles Conneely, who is playing Bottom and who joined the Maddermarket Youth Theatre in the late-1980s. 'It's great to re-visit this show and Chris has some great ideas for this production and has put together a solid cast and crew.

'Everyone is brimming with enthusiasm and there is a great group feel to rehearsals. The approach, as with many of the shows at the Maddermarket, is teamwork and everyone is welcome to contribute and bring forth ideas.'

In 1999 Giles won a scholarship to the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and upon graduating, worked as a professional actor for several years before going travelling and eventually settling back in Norwich.

'Playing Bottom is another tick on my 'to do list',' he adds. 'I think I have now been involved in over 40 shows with the Maddermarket. I ought to sit down and write out a list one day, although it might not be a good idea at the moment. As with all plays, one has to learn the lines and I always seem to find lots of things to do around the house whenever this particular nemesis arises.…'

Also in the cast is Tom Girvin, who is playing Lysander, Tom Snout, as Pete Sessions, and Laura Landamore, who has been cast as Puck, the third time she has been in A Midsummer Night's Dream; the first was at high school in 1997 and the second was at the Maddermarket in 2003.

The role of Oberon is being performed by Rob Tiffen. 'I auditioned for The Dream without any fixed idea of which part I might be suited to play,' he said. 'At the audition, Chris asked me to read 'I know a bank', and we joked that this is like asking an auditionee to deliver a halfway decent 'To be or not to be' at the drop of a hat. No pressure then!

'Everyone has an idea of their Oberon in their head, and Shakespeare gives you text as Oberon that you could play in a hundred different ways that would all be equally valid. The thing for me has been to find the way that I want to do it, and that we as a production want to do it, and to make sense of that, as much as a mortal can make sense of a character with the power of a God.

'Working with Chris to find our Oberon has been rewarding and exciting, as feeling like you are making your mark on such a well known part is thrilling. Opening up the imagery and the visceral quality of the poetry in workshop style exercises with Chris has helped me get away from feeling like a Victorian ham just reciting poetry and get towards something more real and active, with the poetry quite happily looking after itself!'

t A Midsummer Night's Dream, Maddermarket Theatre, March 21-30, £12-£8, 01603 620917,