A fantastical journey into the community via Shakespeare and the 1970s.
Over the last three months I directed Physical Folk’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Davenham Players’ Theatre. The show was a huge success and was also preceded by nearly two years of shows, workshops, networking and research in the area. Here are some thoughts on what went on and what lies ahead for our company and this community.
When I was first involved in the theatre scene in Mid-Cheshire around ten years ago there was a real buzz within the ‘am-dram’ circuit. Plenty of press coverage, fierce rivalries and at least a couple of annual awards events to celebrate the previous 12 months artistic achievements.
While I am not necessarily a big advocate of the rivalries and dishing out of awards as it can send out mixed messages, it did create publicity and allow societies and groups to build momentum. This momentum could be used to try new things and reach out for new members and audiences.
Ten or so years on, having returned to the area I can’t help but notice that the sun has shifted slightly and now shines far more brightly on Mid-Cheshire/Weaver Vale’s thriving music scene. The music scene is very deserving and it is a thrill to see it go from strength to strength. The larger and more established theatre groups do seem to have maintained their membership and audience numbers, but some smaller or more rural groups seem to have found life more of an uphill struggle.
When we arrived at Davenham Theatre for the first time back in 2011 we wanted to find something exciting and challenging particularly for the female members of the group. Who would have thought that within a couple of years we would be casting 15 people in a Shakespeare play with 10 of those being women (and mostly playing parts originally written for men!?).
It has been an absolute pleasure to bring in and develop Physical Folk with such an appreciative selection of people as those we have worked with at Davenham. With Ed Green and Tin Shed we first worked on material that was accessible and would capture the audience’s imagination. We have produced classical and contemporary work and made audiences laugh and cry.
I am delighted to say that all this work has culminated in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Shakespeare play that has filled the theatre every night, brought in new members, had rave reviews, allowed amateurs and professionals to work side by side and brought over 200 people from the community together. I must give real credit to those who took such brave steps during this project, either stepping into the community for the first time or being willing to try a lot of new things and challenge old habits.
So why are these community, amateur or ‘am-dram’ projects and productions so important?
I thought about this a lot during the run of this production. There are things that are obvious to all in attendance: the sense of community, people being challenged and learning new skills and so many people thoroughly enjoying a night of live theatre, and Shakespeare too! But there was something else that occurred to me that is rarely spoken about. We often talk of the ‘cutting edge’,’high end’ or ‘professional’ theatre in the cities like Manchester and London. But if it it wasn’t for groups like those in Davenham, Moulton, Northwich and across the country, then theatre in this country would eventually die. It would possibly last a few years but eventually the participants and audiences would run out, and without them there is nothing. This is something that should never be forgotten at any level or in any corner of our wonderful ‘industry’ we know as theatre.
Finally I thank the team at Davenham and Physical Folk for their wonderful work. Thank you for the laughs (there are always many), the music and for sharing your talents and skills.
“I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was”
Artistic Director – Physical Folk