Under the stars

As part of Oxford Festival of the Arts, MCS is currently putting on a magical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the idyllic setting of School Field, on the banks of the Cherwell.

James Methven's director's notes below give an insight into the journey involved in getting the special production onto the stage:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in such a short space of time is a feat Theseus and Hippolyta and other heroic warrior figures named in the script would baulk at. The last time MCS staged the show was in 1982 (and before that in 1958). From a review in the Lily of the time, the 1982 production was a Junior School play with the choristers the stars of the show singing the roles of the fairies. If anyone has any memories of this production (or the one from 1958), please contact the OW office. Our strength in 2017 has come from a shared sense of comic fun at the sheer silliness of the situations and the words, as well as marvelling at the beautiful structure of the play. It has been possible / necessary to approach the text in the manner of a military campaign, driving skewers through the three-fold plotlines and then passing the established scenes to the Assistant Directors for further work. Rehearsals then perform a giddily rotating factory line of whichever scene is in front of me, alongside three or four other groups configured in equivalent theatre spaces with a section of fence as their back wall. It makes for an exhilarating process, though at times as scenes spiralled around me, I found myself humming, ‘Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle…’

The cast and crew are very diverse, drawn from the Third Form to the Upper Sixth. Many pupils are making their first outing for MSC drama (one lad is on stage because his father bribed him a fiver to audition and another fiver when he got a part – or so the rumour goes), and a very large number are taking part in the field play for the first time. It’s a delight to bring established and new talent together and discover who is most likely to steal a scene. Watch out, especially if sitting in the front row or in an aisle seat. Working with such a wide range of intelligent and athletic pupils on such a rich text elicits a wonderful array of responses to the actions and words. It also means that when I say we are all at clown school and everyone needs to perfect their falling over routines, chaos ensues. Some pratfalls remain on stage. A large number of comic avatars has been invoked as possible models for the business that makes it on to stage. I’ve been intrigued to see what comedy is a la mode for youths right now, and I’m hoping the ad libs you hear each night will be roughly in keeping with the overall tone adopted in the directorial approach. It’s really encouraging to see more Sixth Formers than ever before take up Assistant Director roles, both running scenes in development and mentoring those with the bigger parts to be off book in time. We have original music composed by Richard Woods-Rogan in the Upper Sixth and James Gant (Fifth Form) acting as apprentice under his aegis. Once again, I’m really pleased to have Leo Fordham adding a drum back-drop to the show. Set and costume has been handed to a team of Sixth Form girls. So what you see is a truly collaborative process, theatre made by a company of amazing young people aged 12 to 18. Having a broad team to draw on brings its own challenges in preventing them all from running off with crazy ideas (some of which inevitably remain on stage). The biggest headache is managing the competing demands upon the diaries of all the cast, musicians, and crew members. I gave up on taking a register at rehearsals; here’s a representative sample of all the reasons people couldn’t make it: Who is at an Open Day today? Who has an exam or study leave? Who has a school sporting commitment? Or is trialling for the county in hockey? Or playing county cricket? Whose family booked a family event many months ago? Who has gone to see a sibling graduate from a major university? Who has gone on holiday? Or has work experience? Who is in another Arts Festival event? Or is required to miss the technical run or the dress? The mind boggles. The first time they will all be together is the opening night (fingers crossed). Love, dreams, and moonshine will carry them all to the last moment of the last performance and beyond.

The weather has played good cop and bad cop with us this year: on some days it was “too hot to rehearse, Sir,” so we lay in the shade and read lines, and on others we were shivering and wearing extra layers. The younger fairies are to be commended for chatting to everyone who passed by on the punts. In any down time, football and other physical games between a vertical crowd of pupils from Upper Sixth to Third Formers makes for frightening watching. The young fairies decided early in the process that Oberon makes a good climbing frame or practice tackle bag for off-season rugby training. They also vied to see how many of them he could bench press. At the time of writing, there have been no major injuries. And their lives are enriched in ways that will continue to resonate for years to come: they are now, like the lovers in the play, a “league whose date till death shall never end.” I can think of no better way to bring 40 pupils and 1 staff member together to create something unforgettable. They were a group of disparate pupils: they are now a special body called a company. And thank you for watching! You were a group of disparate members of the public: you are now a special body called an audience.

Cast

Athens – the world of myth

Theseus, Duke of Athens - Zach Nairac

Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons - Shabri Dalal

Egeus, a noble of Athens, father of Hermia - Max O’Byrne

Demetrius, Egeus’ choice of husband for Hermia - Harry Camilleri

Hermia, in love with Lysander - Diggy Hill

Lysander, a noble youth in love with Hermia - Ben Rymer

Helena, Hermia’s friend, Demetrius’ ex - Mia Hammersley

Philostrate, Master of Entz at the Court of Athens - Orlando Riviere

Attendant - Stanley Righton

Athens – the world of the workers

Peter Quince, a carpenter, and amateur theatre director - Alex Shadbolt

Nick Bottom, a weaver, cast as Pyramus - Joel Stanley

Francis Flute, a bellows-mender, cast as Thisbe - Daniel Lay

Tom Snout, a tinker, cast as Pyramus’ Father - Dan Collier

Robin Starveling, a tailor, cast as Thisbe’s Mother - Max Penrose

Snug, a joiner, cast as a Lion - Michael Kaye

The Fairy World

Oberon, King of Fairies - James Price

Titania, Queen of Fairies - Mary Gompertz

Puck, attendant on Oberon - Joe Woodman

Cowslip, attendant on Titania - Tom Tredwell

Peaseblossom, attendant on Titania - James Herbert

Cobweb, attendant on Titania - Finn Ashley

Moth, attendant on Titania - Joe Travis

Mustardseed, attendant on Titania - Freddie Cooke

Crew

Director - Dr Methven

Assistant Directors Hasan Choudhary, Matt Doorly, George Lea, Tom Smith-Macey

Stage Manager - Sophia Choudhury

Assistant Stage Manager - Lucas Melvin

Music - Leo Fordham on drums

Musical Director / Composer - Richard Woods-Rogan

Composer - James Gant

Singers - Jemima Grive (S), Alice Wethey (A), James Gant (T), Max O’Byrne (B), Orlando Riviere (B), Richard Woods-Rogan (B)

Design / props - Elly Brimacombe, Catriona McIntyre

Painting - Omar Noia-Rodriguez

Design Assistant - Ellie Arden

Set “chippies” - Ben Choudhury, Josh Campbell