Joining a revival is quite strange in a way, because you’re aware that a complete production has already been performed. But the great thing about this production is that Raz Shaw, the director, went through rehearsals like it was any other production.
Transcript of Podcast
Hello, I’m Louise Ford and I’m playing Helena in this revival of 2009’s touring A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Joining a revival is quite strange in a way, because you’re aware that a complete production has already been performed. But the great thing about this production is that Raz Shaw, the director, went through rehearsals like it was any other production. He was finding a lot of new things, and a lot of the staging was completely different as well. Three cast members are in it from last year, but the rest of us are new: the four lovers are all new cast members. Our journey through the play was very much there for us to discover together.
We only felt like we were in the shadow of last year’s production when we were rehearsing big iconic scenes, like the lovers’ fight in Act 3 Scene 2. You feel like you have to get that right because it’s such a funny scene and it can be so brilliant. But once you get a hold on it for yourself with the other actors it just feels like any other rehearsal process. There are some things that are already in place, like the design, and things that Raz knows will work: he’s only said “I promise you that if you do this…” a few times, but the detail he gives us are so bang-on you just think, why not!
I’ve seen quite a few productions of the play now, so before coming to rehearsals I felt quite a lot of pressure in my own head to play Helena well and to do it my own way. I’ve had to stop doing that because it’s not very healthy! She’s a difficult character: she’s very funny and dramatic, but as a performer you have to realise that she deeply loves Demetrius, and because she’s neurotic, bossy and a madam who wants her own way, so she will do absolutely what she believes in her heart is the right thing to do. Even if it’s going out into the woods to chase after him and beg him to stay! But it’s complicated playing that level of obsession and neurosis, because you have to make her likeable, and that’s difficult with her because she’s so self-serving and lives for herself and what she wants.
The other interesting thing about Helena is that she’s often portrayed as very bookish: Hermia’s the pretty one, she’s the gawky plain one. This is mainly because of what she says, such as “No, no, I am as ugly as a bear” (2.1.93). With this production things like that become very tongue-in-cheek: because her personality is vivacious and energetic I’ve moved her towards a sexy young woman who knows what she wants and will get it, come hell or high water! So I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with her in performance.
Which brings me to the stage – the stage is tiny! We arrived at Greenwich, it was really sunny, we were all really excited, and we got there and everyone went “is that it?” It’s a wooden trailer with a canvas canopy, which contains deckchairs, a drum kit and various musical instruments, and costume stuff hangs around the set. But being on it, you quickly learn how to deal with that lack of space. Raz is very conscious of making the symmetry of the staging spot-on: on such a tiny stage if you have more than three people it looks like a massive crowd! With the Globe stage you’ve got so much space that you feel very comfortable roaming around and doing what you like, but you can’t do that on the touring stage. It can actually be a very powerful space: performing monologues on that stage feels really great. You’re just there, everything else stripped away, and you can perform them as you like.
Towards the end of rehearsal Raz kept saying, “I promise you, what we need now is an audience, and I promise you’ll understand how this works when you get that audience.” For me realising the relationship that you have to have with the audience was the most astounding thing: you have to make eye contact and acknowledge people and deliver everything for them, really. It just becomes part of your overall performance, and with Greenwich that was the great thing, to suddenly have an audience, and for them to be so earnest as an audience, so happy to be there and so waiting to be entertained. There’s a kind of party atmosphere, of “bring your sandwiches and sit down and be entertained”, and I think that was very exciting. Even though it was rainy, everyone was very patient, and they all brought their rain macs. Hopefully we’ll have more audiences like that, and a heatwave for the rest of the tour!