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					KEY STAGE 3 and 4 plus BTEC


Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not just a play. It’s also a play within a play, a theatrical
technique that has been used by playwrights for hundreds of years. We, the audience, will watch
professional actors during one scene performing as The Mechanicals’ in the play ‘Pyramus and
Thisbe’, ‘the play within a play’ and will require our good actors to become bad actors. You may also
look at it tomake playing a bad actor believable requires the skill of a very good actor.
The first documented incidence of this dramatic device takes place in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish
Tragedy. Written around 1587, the play is presented before two of the characters, who comment upon
the action in a form of mediation between the audience and the performance. One of the most famous
modern plays to adapt this is the British farce ‘Noises Off’ where the audience see the backstage
antics and the on stage performance of a play by a group of actors.
William Shakespeare used this device repeatedly – such as in Love's Labours Lost, and Hamlet. In
Hamlet the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet himself asks some strolling players to perform ‘The Murder of
Gonzago’ in an attempt to entrap his Uncle into confessing to the murder of Hamlet’s Father. The
action and characters in the play mirror some of the events from the play itself, and Prince Hamlet
writes additional material to emphasize this. Hamlet wishes to provoke his uncle and sums this up by
saying "the play's the thing/wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." Hamlet calls this new play
‘The Mouse-trap’ (a title which Agatha Christie later took for the long-running play The Mousetrap).
Almost the whole of The Taming of the Shrew is a play-within-a-play, presented to convince a drunken
beggar that he is a nobleman watching a private performance, but the device has no relevance to the
plot (unless Katharina's subservience to her "lord" in the last scene is intended to strengthen the
deception against the beggar) and is often dropped in modern productions.

The words box office meaning a place where you buy tickets comes from the Rose Theatre, Bankside
and it was in relation to a small box where the crowd dropped their coins into to enter the pit area of
that open air theatre. The box was sealed and taken and stored in a room at the side and opened up
after the performance and the proceeds given to the actors. The rule was all the money made from
people sitting on the seats (the wealthy) went to the theatre and the money from those standing in
the pit (the poor) went to the actors. It is where the theatrical term ‘Play to the crowd’ came from
as it was only the entrance money from those in the pit which the actors saw. So the actors often
directed their performances to those in the pit of standing area.

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The main problem for any director in staging ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is to first decide whether to
go along the route of thinking ‘out of the box’ in terms of staging, costumes and sets or go along the lines
of acceptable styles when performing Shakespeare. Having MND performed as a ballet or as an opera are
the two extremes which have become accepted in the past 100 years and to many audience members,
this is what they have come to witness and are hoping to see, a fresh interpretation each time they see
MND. Many others may prefer the more traditional take on the play and only wish to see it performed with
the costume and set in all its Elizabethan splendour.

I have been lucky to have directed four plays in the last two years at the world famous Rose Theatre
Bankside and so have built quite a knowledge on how plays were first performed by the likes of Shake-
speare and Marlowe and looking at the historical records of the time, we can see that one area where lots
of money was lavished was on costume. In fact Phillip Henslowe kept such accurate financial accounts of
all the plays performed at the Rose, although he often omitted non important matters such as the name of
the writer in his ledger. Henry V was first performed here as was Dr Faustus, both just had a small n next
to the name of the play meaning brand new and the takings from the production and no mention of either
Shakespeare or Marlowe . What was known was the amount often spent on costumes, a small fortune
even by today’s standards. From this we can work out that the traditionalists who like to see ‘A Midsummer
Night’s Dream’ performed by actors in Elizabethan costume are in fact the most radical type of audience
member. In truth it would have been costumed in the style of Ancient Greece and Greek Gods which were
well documented at the time and the costumes would have reflected this. It would never have been
performed in the Elizabethan fashion of the day and nor would the fairies have had small wings which was
in fact a Victorian image of what a fairy looked like, although this is still regarded as the correct way to
depict the fairies by many directors who wrongly try to maintain the true interpretation of MND.

As a director, my first thought was the audience and what I wanted them to get out of seeing this production
of MND. I am a massive fan of Brecht and looked at ways of breaking that forth wall between actor and
audience, be it in a sometimes very subtle and understated manner. This concept and process is not often
tried with Shakespeare in the ‘modern’ performance sense. My argument is that if you had seen this play
performed for the first time in Elizabethan times, there would have had to be a sense of disbelief as all the
female parts would have of course been played by men and boys. I wanted the audience to have a
reaction to this production and looked at the concept of ‘Fun’ with my actors. The buzz statement flying
around during our rehearsal is ‘play it for laughs’ and have fun with the text but without changing it or the
sense of the text is lost. In fact find the fun and laughter from the text. To that end casting a pro comedian
in the role of ‘Bottom’ was the perfect casting, which not only made the cast look at the text in a different
light but was actually an historically actuate piece of casting, as it would have been first performed by the
jester type in the troupe. I want the audience to experience the same as they would have experienced in
an Elizabethan theatre, which for many would in truth not actually being able to follow the language or even
have a grasp of some of the words, but would be captivated by the way in which they were said and the
meaning of those words from the emphasis of those words from the actors mouth. There is a saying that
‘Shakespeare said in twenty words which another playwright can say in one’ and if you break down the
language, underneath there is a very simple plot which is easy to follow. I for one attend more classical
productions then most theatre goers and admit my mind often just takes in the essence of what the
character is saying and from that I can build and understand the plot in my head. That for me is what most
theatre goers get from seeing their first Shakespeare play performed, the understanding of the plot from
certain key words or actions from the verse of Shakespeare’s text by the actors. My role as director is to
get not only the plot and the experience of seeing MND an enjoyable one, but to get each audience
member to laugh and go away with a smile on their face. This was written as a comedy, so let it be
performed as such.

Tinkering with cast, sets and of course the actual period the play is set is acceptable to many including
myself providing the language of Shakespeare remains intact. In 1970, Peter Brook caused a sensation
by doubling the roles of Theseus/Oberon and Hippolyta/Titania which I have long thought of as the way
Shakespeare intended it to be played as they mirror each other. I have taken it one step further and feel
that Puck/Philostrate, are one and the same and both serve their masters and therefore should be played
by the same actor.
For many directors this choice is solely to do with production costs, as I am lucky to be working with a
large talented cast, I took the decision based on its artistic merits. I was considering taking it further and
having the fairies double as the chorus of citizens at the feast as both provide the populous of both
worlds and opted out of this in favour of obtaining an extra smile on the faces of the audience during this
great celebration feast which I hope you all will appreciate.

Finally my setting, I have decided to make the setting and costumes have a military edge. I have long
been under the impression that the actual forest and the trees are the fairies and so have made these
characters match the set in costume and style of the way I have visualised the forest. Also the only trait
I wanted in my fairies was a sense of mischief combined with a certain sex appeal which can be used to
their advantage in dealing with Puck, the same sex appeal as between Theseus/Oberon and

 THINGS TO TRY                  Many Productions of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ have the fairies
                                played as pretty girls with tutus and wings which is a image not from
                                Shakespeare but from this famous Victorian picture. Santa Claus is of
                                course recognisable in the picture below it, but the image in our minds
                                of Santa was actually invented in the 1920’s by Coca Cola hence why
                                he is dressed in the same colours as a can of coke. It was a marketing
                                tool and it worked! Also who says ghosts wear sheets?

                                Look at the traits of the fairies in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
                                Describe in your words and mind how they should look, are they actually
                                female? Go on how they behave and interact in the play and not on the
                                Victorian image we all accept. How would they speak and move, would
                                they be likeable or evil? In small groups recreate the fairies and how
                                they could be played. Shakespeare remember never gave them wings!

                                          4. Which man does Hermia’s father
1. Who brings the complaint               want her to marry?
against Hermia to Theseus in Act I?       (A) Lysander
(A) Egeus                                 (B) Demetrius
(B) Bottom                                (C) Theseus
(C) Hippolyta                             (D) Philostrate
(D) Demetrius
                                          5. Where do Lysander and Hermia-
2. Who is chosen to play the lion in      plan to be married?
the Mechanicals’ play?                    (A) Theseus’s palace
(A) Bottom                                (B) Lysander’s aunt’s house
(B) Quince                                (C) The temple of Diana                      DID YOU KNOW?
(C) Peaseblossom                          (D) A forest glade
(D) Snug                                                                               No one today actually
                                   6. What does Oberon want that                       knows really what
3. Which of the young Athenians is Titania refuses to give him?                        Shakespeare looked
first affected by the love potion? (A) Her attendant, an Indian                        like and the paintings
(A) Lysander                       prince                                              of him are interpreta-
(B) Helena                         (B) Her magic wand                                  tions of a bad sketch
(C) Hermia                         (C) Her maid-in-waiting                             and a mould made
(D) Demetrius                      (D) Her love                                        and from only one
THINGS TO TRY - EGEUS - the father of Hermia
Egeus comes across as pompous, right-
eous, strict, a conformist and humourless       Full of vexation come I, with complaint
within this speech. Your job is to bring        Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
some humour into this speech (if you can).      Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
Use other actors playing Lysander and           This man hath my consent to marry her.
Demetrius even as simple props to just          Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke,
highlight some elements of the speech, The      This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child;
more pompous you can make him and the           Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
more he gets worked up, the funnier he          And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
becomes. Look at the first lot of highlighted   Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
words - why not point to some of these on       With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
Lysander, take items from him maybe to          And stolen the impression of her fantasy
prove as evidence. Maybe Lysander could         With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
do something when asked to stand forth          Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats,
which proves why he is so unsuitable in the     With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart,
eyes of Egeus.                                  Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me,
                                                To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke,
Look at the lovely line which includes the      Be it so she; will not here before your grace
word ‘Filch’d’. It simply translates as fart    Consent to marry with Demetrius,
so said with in a utter pompous manner          I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
becomes very silly anyway. Try saying the       As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
line with the emphasis on that word and it      Which shall be either to this gentleman
does become very funny.                         Or to her death, according to our law

99% of the time when this speech is performed, the final line is said in a way which underlines
Egeus stance and hardness towards Harmia and shows him as the purveyor of the law.
                             I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
                             As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
                             Which shall be either to this gentleman
                             Or to her death, according to our law
Let’s see it performed in a slightly different style which brings a second dimension to Egeus.
Maintain the pompous stance up until ‘Or to her Death’ then pause and reflect on what you have
just said and say ‘according to our law’ with the realisation that you may have to have your only
daughter put to death. Do it in such a way that it becomes an after thought.


Professional actors when faced with a long speech, break it down into sections and put a key word
either relating to each sentence or section on how it should be played ie sad, happy, mournful,
aggressive, dismissive hopeful etc. Try the whole speech but follow these keys words for each
section and perform it in that manner

Line 1 to 6 perform with the keyword ‘Regimented’ in your mind
Line 7 (Thou thou) to line 13 the keyword is ‘Anger’
Line 14 to halfway along line 16 including ‘To Stubborn Harshness’ the keyword is ‘Aggressive
Line 16 from ‘and my gracious duke’ to the final line ending with ‘or to her death’ the keyword is
The final part of the last line ‘according to our law’ the keyword is ‘Regretful’
 Acting the Action
‘The students should work out what their action is, and what they want to achieve from each line.

This exercise is designed to get you working in the same way that our professional actors do on the text.
1. Choose a short section of the play that you find interesting (there are some suggestions below).
2. With a partner, take a part each and read it through. Make sure you understand it all.
3. Now write down some possible actions for each line – this means thinking about exactly what you are
trying to achieve when you say it. We’ve put some examples below to get you started. It will always be a
verb, and describe something that you are doing. For example, when Theseus says ‘Hippolyta, I woo’d
thee with my sword’ he might be ‘adoring’ Hipployta, or he could be flirting with her, or trying to impress
her, and so on.
4. Now practice saying the lines with your partner, thinking about the action. Try some different actions
and see how that changes the way you say it. You can even try some slightly wackier or unexpected
verbs, to see what happens.
Suggested Actions
Here are just a few to get you started ...
Adore Rebel Chastise Flirt Seduce Humour Patronise Destroy Fight Confide Annoy Love Cherish
Organise Ridicule Humiliate Belittle Impress Argue Demonstrate Teach Influence Amuse Sympathise

1.                                                          2.
THESEUS                                                     LYSANDER
What say you, Hermia? be advis'd, fair                      Fair love, you faint with wandering in
maid: To you your father should be as a god;                the wood; And, to speak troth, I have forgot
One that compos'd your beauties: yea,                       our way; We'll rest us, Hermia, if you think
and one To whom you are but as a form in wax,               it
By him imprinted, and within his power                      good, And tarry for the comfort of the day.
To leave the figure, or disfigure it.
Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.                            HERMIA
                                                            Be it so, Lysander: find you out a bed, For I
HERMIA                                                      upon this bank will rest my head.
So is Lysander.
THESEUS                                                     One turf shall serve as pillow for us both;
In himself he is:But, in this kind, wanting                 One heart, one bed, two bosoms, and one
 your father's voice, The other must be held                troth.
the worthier.
HERMIA                                                      Nay, good Lysander; for my sake, my dear,
I would my father look'd but with my eyes.                  Lie farther off yet, do not lie so near.

Rather your eyes must with his judgment


Take the following characters - Quince, Puck, Bottom Oberon, Helena, Lysander, Egeus. Move around
the room in the style of one of these characters, all communication should be non verbal but the rest of the
group should be able to spot which character the student is playing by the walk and or mannerisms of the
character they are playing. Also look at their status and how they react to the other characters walking
around the room . Look at the speed and style of their movement, and their mood and if possible their
thoughts (all without voice or any sounds)
                                       An interview
                                      with ‘BOTTOM’

Bottom is played by 41 year old actor and stand up comedian, Harry Denford and who has also
written ten professional stage plays which are often performed around the UK.

Did you always want to become an actor? I had a unusual career path into acting, at school I loved drama
and did it to ‘A’ level and enjoyed being in school productions and even joined the Youth Theatre at The Old Vic on
Saturday mornings. I also fancied the idea of being a police officer and that won and I left school and went to police
training college. While serving as a police officer I leant to fly, just for a hobby at first and like that so much, I obtained
my commercial pilots licence and ended up being an airline pilot flying Boeing 737’s around Europe. (some would say
a glorified bus driver). I always loved watching stand up comedy and going to the theatre and as I had plenty of rest
days, went on a stand up comedy course and enjoyed doing stand up some evenings a week. I was made redundant
from the airline and took up being a comic full time and doing some flying instruction in the day. While performing one
night as a comic, I was seen by a BBC producer for a drama series and asked would I like to come and audition for
the role of the baddie in it. I got the part and decided I should get some formal acting training and went to drama school
in the day and worked as a comic in the evening. I did a lot of student films and unpaid fringe plays in London after
leaving drama school, and got an agent from which I obtained more paid TV and stage work. Being a stand up comic
was a big plus and I got some jobs because of that fact (this production is the perfect example).

What advice would you give to somebody who wants to work in the profession? Don’t put all
your eggs in one basket, many actors spend much of their lives out of work (resting) so have some transferable job
skills, so that you always have an income. Most drama schools now offer a degree at the end of three years training,
and if drama school is the route for you, do an extra year and obtain a teaching qualification and during the times you
are ‘resting’, you could be earning money working as a supply teacher at schools etc. While at school, join a local
theatre group or a amateur theatre and start doing productions with them. If drama school isn’t for you, attend evening
classes in acting or dance or in my case ‘do a stand up comedy course’. Have a clear goal of what you want to achieve
and a timescale. You must also find a trade which will allow you to act and part of your career path should be training
in that trade which often has nothing to do with acting or any form of performance. This could include attending
catering college, do a bricklaying course, get your nursery nurse qualification, do a accounting qualification or an IT
course. You never know when the next acting job is going to be and also how quickly you are needed when one comes
in, so careers in the above can often be done on a temp basis and you can get the time off to act. A commercial on
TV, often is in planning stages for months, however the actors are cast a few days before they shoot the commercial
and they do expect you to drop everything if you get the role. (an advert can pay thousands of pounds for just one
days work). Also get to the theatre as often as possible, try and read a full play each week from the local library and
find a number of monologues and learn them for auditions. Even get a friend to film some scenes and get used to
working in front of camera’s and if looking for a part time eve and weekend job, while at school, why not see if the local
theatre are looking for ushers. It’s also a great way to see productions for free.

What was the rehearsal process like for this production? As ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is a very
sectional play, we rehearse it in the same manner. All the actors first meet for a formal read of the play and then we
spend most of the time rehearsing just in our little teams, ie the mechanicals, the lovers etc and only in the last week
will it all come and fit into one big jigsaw and we rehearse it as a whole. Due to the director wanted to get as much
humour out of the play, we will spend many hours looking at the words on the page and finding an angle on them to
truly bring out the humour and this involves techniques such as improv, hot seating and at one stage playing another
character from the play but in the style of your character, which was a very interesting exercise for both actors as we
could also take things from that fresh interpretation. Finding the voice of the character was interesting as we all started
off from building it from the walk of the character and with the directors help and adding mannerisms and voice as we
went along and became more comfy with the character. The way ‘Bottom’ stands and moves meant the characters
natural voice would be very cockney geezer, a voice a long way from my own but works well for the piece. I am a big
fan of the Meisner technique which helped in putting the voice and actions into the character and I used to give an
angle on the famous ‘Bottoms’ dream speech. One aspect which was strange was that as it is a touring production,
we trained to always use the same size acting space, despite the size of the stage at the theatre and that means that
very little changes have to be made with each theatre we visit on tour.
Exercise in using the basics of Meisner to bring the words of Shakespeare alive!

This famous saying should be always referenced by actors when speaking lines from a script. True there are loads of ways to
say ‘I love you’ both verbally and with just actions. Meisner looked at the word on the page and without altering any words got
the actors to say the line in lots of differ ant ways, each then giving a differ ant meaning. He used a technique called
Repetition. He got actors in pairs to say a line and the other actor to respond to the line. It was a basic line and each actor
always had to say the same line

Actor 1
You look stupid in that hat

Actor 2
Well at least I ‘ve got a hat

In pairs each say the line and each time actor one says the line, get them to say it without changing the words in a different
manner. This could be with aggression, shock, horror, laughter, sadness, snobbery, thoughtful, embarrassed etc. The
second actor will then say their line in a manner which reflects the way the first actor delivers the line.

Example actor one delivers the line in an aggressive manner, actor two may respond aggressively when they say deliver their

So actor one says aggressively ‘You Look Stupid in that Hat!’ Actor two will respond also in an aggressive manner with
‘Well at least I have got a hat!

Actor one then says their line again in the same aggressive manner, but this time actor two responds in a different manner ie

Actor one on hearing this then delivers their line in an embarrassed manner and actor two responds in a sad manner.

Actor one on hearing the response in a sad manner says their line again while say laughing and actor 2 on hearing this
responds with their line done in a snobby way.

How many different ways can this lines be said without changing the words?

Now loom at these words said by Bottom as he awakes alone in the woods. Lets look at the highlighted words, get each
student to say these lines but with the highlighted words done in a number of ways

Each time the student repeats these lines the highlighted words should be done in the following ways -


                                      [Awaking] When my cue comes, call me
                                            Peter Quince! Flute, Snout,
                                    the tinker! Gods my life They have all stolen
                                           and left me asleep! Starveling!

Also it is a great way of learning lines, as each student has to say the same line over and over again, watch
how many start do do it from memory!


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