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Preview: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Newcastle Northern Stage

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Newcastle Northern Stage
Wednesday 16th– Saturday 26th March 2016

Six amateur actors from Newcastle and six from County Durham have been cast in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s forthcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The two groups from the People’s Theatre and the Castle Players will play the roles of the ‘Mechanicals’ when the production visits Northern Stage between 16-26 March 2016.

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. 

Castle Players
Andrew Stainthorpe – Flute, Graham Fewell – Snug, Harry French – Quince,
Jill Cole – Director, Ben Pearson – Snout, Ian Kirkbride – Starveling and
 Peter Cockerill – Bottom
Photo: © RSC/Topher McGrillis
From the Castle Players, the roles at Northern Stage will be played by Peter Cockerill (Bottom, the Weaver), Andrew Stainthorpe (Flute, the Bellows Mender), Harry French (Quince, the Carpenter), Ian Kirkbride (Starveling, the Tailor), Ben Pearson (Snout, the Tinker), Graham Fewell (Snug, the Joiner) and director Jill Cole. The Castle Players is a community drama group and a registered Charity based in Barnard Castle, County Durham. The group was established in 1986, in the bar of the Old Well pub in Barnard Castle, when a group of customers decided to play charades to pass the time. Every year the company puts together an outdoor theatre in the grounds of the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle for special outdoor productions.

People’s Theatre
Michael White – Flute, Mike Smith – Starveling, Stuart Douglas – Snout,
Chris Heckels – Director, Jo Kelly – Quince,
Laura Halford-Macleod – Assistant Director and Pete McAndrew as Bottom
Photo: © RSC/Topher McGrillis
From the People’s Theatre, the roles at Northern Stage will be played by Pete McAndrew (Bottom, the Weaver), Michael (Reg) White (Flute, the Bellows Mender), Jo Kelly (Quince, the Carpenter), Mike Smith (Starveling, the Tailor), Stuart Douglas (Snout, the Tinker) and Gordon Russell (Snug, the Joiner). The People’s Theatre in Heaton, Newcastle is one of the largest and oldest established community theatres in
the country, offering people from all walks of life the experience of participating in any aspect of theatre.

The company stages up to 12 productions a year in its 500 seat main auditorium and a further 3 in a 90 seat studio. Every show is produced entirely by its members - on stage, backstage and front of house. The company has always taken great pride in working to professional standards, and indeed many of its members have gone on to be professional actors, technicians and set designers.

The amateur cast 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 from the People’s Theatre will rehearse in Heaton with their own amateur director, Chris Heckels and Assistant Director Laura Halford-Macleod, while the Castle Players will rehearse at The Witham Arts Centre in Barnard Castle with their own amateur director, Jill Cole. The two groups will then rehearse with the RSC team from January 2016. 

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 the Castle Players, 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 the Castle Players, Erica added: “We really loved working with The Castle Players and we were impressed by how much they each pushed themselves. Peter, in particular, found something very special and courageous in Bottom, and they really captured the importance of the working lives of the characters. They are a lovely ensemble and will make a warm and loveable gang of Mechanicals.”

Castle Players
Andrew Stainthorpe – Flute, Graham Fewell – Snug, Harry French – Quince,
Ben Pearson – Snout, Ian Kirkbride – Starveling and Peter Cockerill – Bottom 
Photo: © RSC/Topher McGrillis
Jill Cole from the Castle Players said, "We’re absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to take part in the RSC's 'Midsummer Night's Dream'. As a community-based theatre company our core work is producing large scale outdoor Shakespeare - so for us it is a real honour to have a chance to learn from - and be inspired by - the greatest Shakespearian company of all.

We don't have a theatre of our own in Barnard Castle where we are based, so it will also be very exciting indeed for us to have the chance to work at Northern Stage."

Talking of the People’s Theatre, Erica said: “The People’s Theatre are an experienced and very skilful group of actors representing the long and glittering history of amateur theatre-making in Newcastle.  This group had an impressive command of the text that made them stand out. They are delightfully funny, with a wonderful understanding of what Shakespeare was up to.  They are going to be a lot of fun to work with.”

People’s Theatre
Michael White – Flute, Mike Smith – Starveling, Stuart Douglas – Snout,
Jo Kelly – Quince and Pete McAndrew as Bottom
Photo: © RSC/Topher McGrillis
Chris Heckels from the People’s Theatre said, "The People’s Theatre ‘Dream Team’ is over the moon to have been chosen to represent our theatre and our city in the RSC’s Play for the Nation. The selection process has been challenging, exciting and a great learning experience for us all, and we can’t wait to get started!

It will be wonderful for us to celebrate our 105th year of continually producing theatre in Newcastle with this ‘jewel in our crown’.”

The BBC will be capturing all of the action in ‘The Best Bottoms in the Land’, which will follow the RSC’s journey as they put on the production with both amateur and professional actors during the tour. ‘The Best Bottoms in the Land’ will follow individual stories from around the country and will air in spring 2016 on BBC One.

Royal Shakespeare Company, The Castle Players and The People’s Theatre in association with Northern Stage, Newcastle and in collaboration with Newcastle Theatre Royal present A Midsummer Nights’ Dream: A Play for the Nation. Tickets are already on sale from Northern Stage box office on 0191 230 5151 or through their website

Full tour schedule

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon Wed 17 Feb – Sat 5 Mar 2016*
Northern Stage, Newcastle Wed 16 – Sat 26 Mar 2016*
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Tue 29 Mar – Sat 2 Apr 2016
Grand Theatre, Blackpool Tue 5 – Sat 9 Apr 2016
Bradford Alhambra, Tue 12 – Sat 16 Apr 2016
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury Tue 19 – Sat 23 Apr 2016
Theatre Royal, Norwich Tue 26 – Sat 30 Apr 2016
Nottingham Theatre Royal, Tue 3 – Sat 7 May 2016
Hall for Cornwall, Truro Tue 10 – Sat 14 May 2016
Barbican, London Tue 17 – Sat 21 May 2016
New Theatre, Cardiff Tue 24 – Sat 28 May 2016
Grand Opera House, Belfast Tue 31 May – Sat 4 June 2016
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Wed 15 June – Sat 16 July 2016+

*2 amateur theatre groups will perform in both Stratford-upon-Avon and Newcastle.

+ All 14 amateur theatre groups will perform in Stratford-upon-Avon when the production returns in June 2016

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