Some of Shakespeare’s best loved characters, the ‘Mechanicals’ (including the iconic role of Bottom the Weaver) are an under-prepared, yet loveable bunch of craftsmen and women who put themselves forward to entertain royalty at the end of the play. In Bradford the roles will be played by: Tazmin Bennison (Quince); Rachel Brewin (Starveling); Ed Corbet (Snug); Fiona Galloway (Snout); Barry Green (Bottom); Ben Hopwood (Flute); Ken Taylor (Amateur group Director).
Leeds Arts Centre (a registered charity) formed in 1945 and their members range from ages 16 to 80. They produce four plays a year in their main home, the Carriage Works in Leeds. Barry Green has been with the Leeds Art Centre for 10 years and has been acting for 47 years. Barry will be reprising the role of Bottom having featured in A Midsummer Night’s Dream three times before as well as Macbeth, Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice.
Fiona Galloway has previously played feisty heroine Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Ed Corbet has performed in many of the Bard’s plays including Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest. For the newest members of the Leeds Arts Centre team, Tazmin Bennison and Ben Hopwood, this will be their first time performing Shakespeare.
The group will perform alongside a cast of 18 professional actors, and a professional creative team, led by RSC Deputy Artistic Director, Erica Whyman. Initially the amateur actors will rehearse in Leeds with their own amateur director, Ken Taylor also of Leeds Arts Centre. They will then rehearse with the RSC team from January 2016. Director Ken Taylor has been with the Leeds Arts Centre since 2012 but he has been acting for 35 years and directing for 14 years.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation will visit 12 theatres in each region and nation of the UK between 17 February and 4 June 2016, and will involve 14 different amateur theatre companies. In each theatre a different local amateur theatre company will play the Mechanicals*, and local school children will take part as Titania’s fairy train.
The production opens in Stratford-upon-Avon in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in February 2016. After the UK tour, it will return to Stratford-upon-Avon in June 2016, and each of the 14 amateur companies, including Leeds Arts Centre, will reprise their roles on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage.
Erica Whyman, RSC Deputy Artistic Director, and director of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation, said:
“I am absolutely thrilled to be directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For the Nation, as part of the RSC’s plans to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016. The experience of casting our amateur actors all around the UK has been inspiring and humbling. I have met so many wonderful people: talented, dedicated and brave. The standard has been tremendous, and the wonderful diversity of men and women who will be taking on these major roles is very exciting, and perhaps most importantly, they have really made us laugh! In every single region the cast we have chosen has a distinctive voice and a strong sense of connection to the place where they will perform. I think it will be a real treat for audiences everywhere to see Shakespeare’s most magical play with a properly local flavour.”
Talking specifically of Leeds Arts Centre Erica added: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy and Leeds Arts Centre did the most difficult thing of all - they properly made us laugh! They are an utter joy to work with. A company of very strong actors, Barry’s belting voice and the twinkle in his eye make him ideal for Bottom and Tazmin’s Quince is a charming young woman with a lot to give. We couldn’t take our eyes off them.”
Ken Taylor, the director for Leeds Arts Centre said:
“I have always believed that many of our actors could act alongside professionals and hold their own. Now we will get the chance, with this amazing opportunity given to us by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in the great Alhambra Theatre no less, one of the most beautiful theatres in the country. It is a ‘dream’ come true - a dream that we have worked hard for though. As with all directors, I’ll be watching from the dark in April 2016, where you might detect a little glow of pride.”
The BBC will be capturing all of the action in ‘The Best Bottoms In the Land’ (Title TBC), which will follow the RSC’s journey as they put on the production with both amateur and professional actors during the tour.
Overseen by BBC Birmingham, nine regional programmes will be produced by the BBC English Regions teams. The 30 minute documentaries will show the pressures and pitfalls of such a project, culminating in the opening night of each region’s local performance.
‘The Best Bottoms in the Land’ will follow individual stories from around the country and will air in spring 2016 on BBC One.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation is a co-production between the Royal Shakespeare Company and amateur theatre companies across the UK. This is an arrangement developed between the RSC and Equity.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play for the Nation is supported by Arts Council England Cross-Border Touring Fund