Grand curtain call a Dream come true
Take a schoolteacher, a civil servant and a retired caterer, add a sprinkle of fairy dust, one of the world's most famous theatre companies, and wait for the magic to unfold.
For amateur performers from Poulton Drama, a Dream came true last night on the Grand Theatre stage.
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened in Blackpool with Fylde coast performers taking centre stage.
Alongside stars from the Stratford-based company they are bringing one of William Shakespeare’s best known works to life.
The five-night run at the Grand is just the latest step on an incredible journey for the group – who will end their adventure on the main stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in the summer.
Civil servant Garry Haughton from North Shore, retired caterer Iain Rowe from South Shore, schoolteacher Huw Rose from Thornton and Roger Lloyd Jones, retired civil servant, also from Thornton, are among those handed the unique chance.
And they all agree it’s been a massive learning experience.
“I would call it an amazing journey,” said Garry, 56, who plays Frances Flute.
“The experience has been amazing.
“We’ve attended workshops to prepare us.
“They gave us different characters to work on, from other plays, to help us get to know our characters better.
“We went through movement training, we prepared scenes for radio.
“There were many different ways of working which helped us prepare for this.”
Huw, 31, who plays Tom Snout, added: “We’ve learned totally different skills, nothing like we’re used to with normal productions.
“One of the scenes we’re performing is the one we auditioned with for the very first time. It’s nothing like the way we played it.
“But that’s because we’ve had the input every step of the way.
“We’ve been able to watch other groups by video link too, to see how they interpret the same scenes.
“It wasn’t until this week we finally got to meet and work with the professionals.
“What they’ve done with us in a short time really has brought us to another level.
“It’s just been amazing.”
Poulton Drama was one of two groups, the other Lytham’s Anonymous Players, which auditioned to join the RSC on the Blackpool leg of its tour.
Following a successful performance at the try-outs in Newcastle last year, the group have spent months being guided through the process by assistant producer Kimberley Sykes and their own director Tony Stone.
And it’s given the group a unique insight into how its professional counterparts work.
“One of the big things is time.” said Iain, 75, a veteran of the Fylde coast amateur drama scene.
“You can see how much these amazing people are able to put into it.
“They have so much time and the money to be able to do things we can only dream of.
“They, of course, can rehearse for weeks and months.
“We can maybe manage one or two nights a week, for a couple of hours.
“We have other jobs to go to, it’s been a fabulous window into their world.”
And, with the Poulton contingent – which also includes Anthony Henry as Bottom and Catherine Lloyd as Quince – haven’t just been tested on their acting abilities, with RSC movement coach Sian Williams checking out their skills.
“They asked us to choose a song and create a dance routine for it,” said Garry.
“We had to upload it and I think it was just so they could see how far our dance skills took us.
“Sarah Jane, our rehearsal Titania, is a choreographer so we were able to give it a good go.
“There is a dance for us in the production,” added Roger, 61.
“It’s a little surprise for the audience, they’ll have to wait and see.”
The Fylde coast performers are no strangers to The Grand stage but are especially proud to be involved in such a unique production – made possible by the RSC’s Play For The Nation scheme.
“We have all done plays together before. But to act together with the RSC, that’s special,” said Huw.
“Amateur groups don’t often perform Shakespeare – Poulton drama to its credit has pushed the boundaries and been more experimental.
“But it’s an experience we’ll all remember.”
And the final curtain on Saturday won’t be the end for the cast, who will perform two shows on the RSC’s main stage in Stratford, one of the world’s most important theatres.
Roger said: “Normally when the curtain comes down on the last night it’s an emotional experience, seeing the set being struck and knowing it’s over.
“But we know after this run there’s something more to look forward to, an amazing experience.”
Huw said: “There is a real sense of pride in performing this play in front of an audience in our home town.
“That will be special.”
Art imitates life as the Poulton Drama performers take on the role of the play’s ‘Mechanicals’ – amateur actors who put on the play within a play at the heart of Shakespeare’s fantastic comedy.
The play tells the story of the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta and includes the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set.
For Poulton Drama director Tony Stones, curtain up at The Grand is the end of a long adventure.
“It’s been a really emotional experience, from auditioning a year-ago to being here,” he said. “We’ve learned so much – the performers about their acting skills and myself about direction and we’ve brought it all together.
“Working with the RSC, it’s the pinnacle for anybody who has got into drama as an amateur.
“I’ve had tremendous guidance from associate director Kimberley Sykes.
“We’ve worked at a distance but we’ve been a part of the vision for the production.
“This is the end of an 18-month process.”
And with A Midsummer Night’s Dream almost over, Tony hasn’t ruled out more Shakespeare performances.
“We’ve always been a brave group and we have done some things like this in the past,” he said.
“I know there are some plays on my wish list I’d love to see us perform.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at The Grand until Saturday.
Poulton Drama will perform in Stratford Upon Avon on June 27 and June 28.
The tour will also feature in a BBC documentary later this year.