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Florians help John achieve his Shakespeare dream

By SPP Reporter

Fiona Maconald, Andrew Gull, Graeme White and Alison Ozog play the lovers whose story is at the centre of Shakepeare's comedy. Photo: Callum Mackay.
Fiona Maconald, Andrew Gull, Graeme White and Alison Ozog play the lovers whose story is at the centre of Shakepeare's comedy. Photo: Callum Mackay.

DRAMA club The Florians are brushing up their Shakespeare with a return to the play that marked their first venture into the works of the Stratford Bard.

It took me 16 years to persuade them to do the first one," chuckled director John Claudius, who acknowledges it is something of a personal mission to persuade the amateur company to take on the world’s most famous playwright.

Claudius is back in the role of director for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first Shakespeare play performed by the company back in 1992, almost half a century after The Florians were founded in 1944.

Some 23 years on, there are some familiar elements making a comeback in the 2015 version, and not just the donkey ears sported by the enchanted weaver, Nick Bottom, which have emerged from storage.

Wearing those ears is Trevor Nicol, who also played Bottom in the 1992 version alongside his brother Nicky, although he changes role from Lysander, one of the lovers at the centre of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, to the mischievous sprite Puck.

Apart from the Nicol brothers and fellow cast member Gordon Taylor, however, Claudius said that most of the other members of the cast were new to performing Shakespeare.

"I hope they enjoy it. They are making sense of it anyway, even if it was written 400 years ago," he said.

Even at that venerable age, it remains a play that contemporary audiences can enjoy, Claudius adds.

"It’s a play about five sets of lovers who are each going through the various stages of love," he said.

"It opens with Theseus and Hippolyta, who are getting married, there is a plot with two characters in love with the same person — as Lysander says: ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’ — then jumps to the fairy kingdom where the king and queen, Oberon and Titania, are in the middle of a terrible row.

"It does work as comedy today because Shakespeare had a wonderful knowledge of human nature and he is just as insightful today."

For this first 21st century production by The Florians, Claudius has brought the play a little more up to date by staging it in the Edwardian era.

Debbie MacDonnell (Hippolyta) and Trevor Nicol (Bottom) with director John Claudius. Photo: Callum Mackay.
Debbie MacDonnell (Hippolyta) and Trevor Nicol (Bottom) with director John Claudius. Photo: Callum Mackay.

However, he has retained the score for the 1992 production from James Ross of Highland early music group, Musick Fyne, which harks back to the play’s Elizabethan origins.

"They played it live and we recorded it, so that element greatly enhances the play," he said.

Among the players new to Shakespeare is Debbie McDonnell, last seen on stage in the title role of Inverness Opera Company’s Calamity Jane, who plays Hippolyta.

"I think we did The Merchant of Venice for Higher English at school, but that’s a wild guess," she said of her previous Shakespearean experience.

"Lots of people said to me to get involved in something else after Calamity, otherwise I would just crash.

"It’s only a small part compared with Calamity, where I was on most of the time, but I’ve loved being on the side of the stage watching everyone. It’s great fun. And you can’t get any more different than Calamity Jane and Shakespeare, can you?

"I found it quite hard in the beginning because I was reading the play and not really understanding what was being said, but the characters have really brought it all to life.

"The other thing about Shakespeare is that there are so many different adaptations. I had to go to John and say: How do you want this character to be played? I watched a few different versions on YouTube and they were all different, but John is really good at letting you know what he expects."

Graeme White, who also appeared in Calamity Jane, is another Florians newcomer who takes on his first principal role as Lysander.

However, he has more recent experience of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, having studied it at university.

"It’s definitely my favourite Shakespeare play," he said, .

"It’s nice to play one of the romantic leads. Those are the parts that young men really go after. I would say I have a bit of a head start over some of the others because I studied it at university, but the trick with Shakespeare is understanding the language. Once you do that, it’s like performing any other play.

"But I’m definitely enjoying it. There are lots of comedy moments and a good bunch of folk as well."

• The Florians present Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at 7.30pm from Wednesday 12th to Saturday 13th June at the Florians Theatre, Bught Drive, Inverness.

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