Midsummer Night's Dream Birthday Party
✨ MARK DONALD
A few months ago I found myself arriving a little early to the Shangri-La hotel to perform one of our monthly residencies - Theatre in the Clouds. Freddie, Mel and Lucy were already there having a meeting in the suite's study. I slipped round the back to get ready for the evening performance but found myself called back to discuss a new event that had just come in. It was an exciting new commission of scenes from A Midsummer Night's Dream, for a Midsummer engagement. Of course my first reaction to anything that Revels in Hand say is always just "yes!" regardless of whether I'm free or what it's going to be. It's always such a joy to work with them that it would take something pretty major to stop me! Then we pulled out the diaries to check availability and I realised that the very first booking was on my birthday. What better way to celebrate my birthday than doing A Midsummer Night's Dream at a Midsummer party in the Cotswolds, where I'm actually from? So it was a return home for me.
As with all these new projects, I was excited and felt challenged. I always get a bit of an adrenaline rush at that first point of contact from the Revels team. I get an excited, bubbly feeling of anticipation; "this is new", I think, "and what's it going to be like?"
As this was a commission that we hadn't done before, the script (along with my casting) got sent out to me pretty soon after the decision to do it, so I had quite a while with the script to start learning the lines and working on the text. We arranged a number of rehearsals leading up to the first performance, working around other busy schedules, particularly that of Simon Evans, who was brought on to rehearse this particular piece but was also in the middle of creating a large immersive event for BMW! Rehearsals were very free and organic, because what was so unique about this up-and-coming piece was that absolutely none of us had seen the space. We really didn't know what it would look like, only a rough idea, so the blocking had to be very flexible. This actually made for a really lovely rehearsal experience, because it was just about making sure that the text was clear, the story-telling was there and everyone knew where their characters were coming from. The audience were getting such a condensed version of the play, the host having cherry picked three 10-minute sections, and we wanted to ensure that everything was clear and that the audience were going to get the most from these scenes.
The Day Itself
I awoke with that same adrenaline kick I always get from knowing there's a Revels gig that evening. It was of course my birthday as well! So I had some brief celebrations, then headed off to get the Oxford Tube with Mel and Lucy. We started line-running on the journey, just to refresh our minds, and arrived in Oxford to meet the rest of the team. We all had lunch together at Lucy's parents house, not far from the client's home, and you could really feel the adrenaline rising. We ran everything a couple of times to double check we were all happy, then costume checked and piled into 2 cars to head to the fabulous venue...
And this is the most exciting bit: when we arrive at a new venue for the first time knowing that in a couple of hours we will be performing.
This space was incredible, and I don't use that word lightly. Performing with Revels in Hand, I have a little list of the places we've performed which are the most outstandingly beautiful and incredibly insane places that I've been to in my entire life and have actually got to perform in, and this was one of them. An idyllic cottage in the Cotswolds with the most sumptuous garden that went down in steps and had ponds and water features and two beautiful marquees ready for the party. We met our hosts, who welcomed us very warmly and made sure we knew where we were going and had everything we needed. Then we launched into our rehearsals in the space. I always love this bit because you suddenly see how wonderfully the piece is going to work. We went through the 3 scenes in the 3 different spaces, and thrived on those moments of really fitting our work into this beautiful home. Revels is by its very nature a bespoke service in bringing things into people's houses, but this one really used the space to its maximum potential. We would be nipping in and around the guests and dancing through the tables and strolling along the walls of the garden, quite literally. Having finished the rehearsal, we retired to our dressing room, AKA the spare bedroom upstairs in the cottage! We hid ourselves away for about an hour, costumed ourselves, did hair and makeup and awaited the signal from our host that they were ready for the performance.
And then it was "Off we go!"
There's a wonderful feeling I adore that comes about 15 minutes before showtime at these events: everything is prepared, you're fully confident, you know exactly what you're doing... Then you hear the guests arrive, and the bubble of conversation is like standing in the wings just before a traditional show as the audience fill the auditorium, only the feeling is intensified because you are going to be so close to the audience, literally able to touch them. It's a very very intimate experience, which is incredible and unique (for them as well as us!) and it certainly intensifies that adrenaline. Well, we all rose up through that feeling and went into the performance buzzing. The first scene we did was a love scene between Bottom and Titania and we did it amongst the guests as they were sipping their champagne. It went wonderfully.
Then they went into dinner and later we burst into the marquee as the lovers arguing in the woods. We danced through their tables, shouting over their heads and hiding behind their chairs. The dinner marquee had been decked out like a forest. The centre pieces of the table were enormous leafy sculptures and the tables themselves were named after the characters of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which certainly added to the magic of the evening. Our final piece was meant to come at the end of the whole meal, but a jazz band were waiting and dinner was running behind, so like any brilliant one-off evening, plans had to change! Our last scene was shuffled to an earlier point than planned, just before dessert would be served, so we threw on our final costumes, ready to go. This closing scene was the infamous "play within a play" performed by the Mechanicals in Act 5 and Lucy was able to pull our host up to join us as part of the experience. Revels in Hand have often said they are intimate but not immersive, so this was a rare example of audience participation, but the host seemed ecstatic to be asked to participate (he stood to present a wall, much to the joy and hilarity of our hostess and all of the guests). It was another wonderful way to incorporate the uniqueness of this space and this special couple, making the hostess's birthday as joyfully memorable as possible.
We took our bows, mingled with the crowd with a glass of much-needed champagne and then departed into the starry Gloucestershire night, leaving the guests with a dreamlike memory of Shakespeare's characters.
"Think but this and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear"