INTERVIEW WITH PROPELLER ACTOR DAVID ACTON
Have you acted in A Midsummer Night's Dream before?
I’ve done the play before, but not with Propeller. I did it with a company called Actors on the London Stage in a five-handed version of the piece. I played Theseus, Puck, Peaseblossom and Snout! That was in 1998 – a long time ago.
How have you approached playing Peter Quince?
Quince is a smashing part. Although right now we’re four weeks into rehearsal I still haven’t quite found him, I haven’t found someone to base it on. I’m still not sure which person he’s supposed to be. I have found a voice – but I haven’t found the person the voice is coming out of yet! Roger Warren, the script editor, suggested it might be good in a Birmingham accent, so I have been trying the Birmingham accent and that’s been great. So that’s been the angle of attack on the part – through the voice. I thought I’d persevere with that and actually it works pretty well. And then you’ve got to find which Birmingham accent, or what tone of voice with it. When does he get sharp? When is he trying to be like a teacher with a class of unruly children trying to calm them down? But I’ve yet to find the whole person and, although we’ve only got a week to go, I’m not worrying about it yet. If you ask me in a week’s time I’ll really be worrying about it. There’s going to be a particular physicality that goes with that voice, but I haven’t yet found physically exactly which person I’m being. But I will find it and I’m allowing it to come from the voice as a starting point.
What’s Quince doing in the play?
Well he’s written a play! He’s got permission for it to one of the suggestions for the Duke to have performed at this wedding. There’s a list of people that have been allowed to perform the play. They’re all amateurs, but Quince is the writer; he’s the bright one. He can read and write; he’s a carpenter and a poet. He’s written and he’s going to direct the play.
Do you think he’s done it before?
No – first time! I think he’s written a few pieces for himself, but they’ve all gone into the bottom drawer, they’ve never actually gone this faryet. This is a big occasion for the Duke - and he thoroughly admires the Duke – a great man, a great warrior – and Quince is going to do his best. So at the beginning of the play he’s feeling pretty hopeful. A bit nervous, but pretty hopeful.
So what changes?
Well – what happens is that they lose Bottom! They’ve rehearsed it in secret so that people can’t steal their ideas and steal their story, and then Bottom is transformed! He disappears entirely! So all their hopes are dashed. There’s going to be no play. There’s no chance of being chosen to do the play in front of the Duke. Then he suddenly reappears and there’s a chance that they might be chosen! For some reason the usual Master of Revels isn’t there and Peter Quince is pushed on to give the list of the possible plays and entertainments to Theseus. And Theseus chooses his! He’s so excited and very nervous.
And how does it go for him?
Well, there are mistakes! But the audience seemed to enjoy it! And the Duke gives them all a lot of money so they’re delighted.
You’re also playing Egeus.
Yes. Egeus is just in two scenes at the beginning of the play. You think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is just going to be comedy, comedy, comedy, but it starts off with this man who dearly and desperately loves his daughter, has arranged a marriage for her, and then suddenly in comes Lysander to their lives. Lysander tricks his daughter with knacks and trifles, seduces her; she thinks she’s in love with him and Egeus is desperate because suddenly his daughter, who’s always been lovely, obedient and good, is refusing to get married to Demetrius. Egeus is absolutely desperate about it and he goes to the Duke and demands that his daughter be punished. It’s lunacy, really. It’s beyond good sense. Cruelty comes out. I don’t think that he’s essentially a cruel man, but he’s so impassioned and so furious at this point that he loses sense. Even though Lysander is to blamehe says that either she marries Demetrius or he wants her dead. There’s a law that allows for that, so kill her.
You’ve worked for Propeller before?
I did the early days. I did Henry V, Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night in 1997 to 1999. I’ve done a couple of the ‘Pocket’ Propeller shows more recently as well.
Is working for Propeller different?
Well, the big difference is we’re an all-male cast. So yes it is very different. How is it different? I don’t know! Maybe it’s not that it’s all-male. What is different is that the rehearsal room is very free and open where everyone can pitch in ideas. We all work off each other and make suggestions for each other the whole time. It’s unusually relaxed. I mean, all the best rehearsal rooms are relaxed, but there’s sort of a guarantee that the Propeller rehearsal room will be relaxed and easy, with lots of ideas floating around, and good fun.
You’re just about to go off on a long tour. As an actor how do you deal with being away from home for that length of time?
Well, I have children, but they’re almost grown up now. The hardest time is when the children are young. It’s a balance. You have to find that balance. My wife is an actress so she understands. And my family is so used to me being away for long periods a lot of the time. It’s just the way it is and the way our life has been. And I love touring! The great thing about being an actor is the variety of work – theatre, television, film, radio – but I think the essential
work for an actor is doing theatre and touring. I love touring; I like the transport; I like hotel rooms and stations and loading my motorbike; I like being in a different place every week.
If you had to give any advice to someone wanting to be an actor?
It is such a difficult business and such a vastly overcrowded business. If they really can’t do anything else then go for it and go for it all out. But probably
best not to! I was listening to someone on the radio the other day who was saying that in all fields, if someone has a determination and a passion, whatever field it is – teaching, medicine, science – they will, barring anydisaster, rise up the ladder and achieve something towards what they set out to do. In all fields except the performing arts! Nearly all people who go into performing arts do not achieve what they set out to do. It doesn’t have that ladder to it, that route. So if you’re going to go into it you just have to accept that it’s a very difficult life and you may not achieve what you hoped for!
INTERVIEW BY WILL WOOLLEN
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - ACT I
SCENE I. Athens. The palace of THESEUS.
Enter THESEUS, HIPPOLYTA, PHILOSTRATE, and Attendants
Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.
Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth;
Turn melancholy forth to funerals;
The pale companion is not for our pomp.
Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling.
Enter EGEUS, HERMIA, LYSANDER, and DEMETRIUS
Happy be Theseus, our renowned duke!
Thanks, good Egeus: what's the news with thee?
Full of vexation come I, with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
This man hath my consent to marry her.
Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke,
This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child;
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth:
With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart,
Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me,
To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke,
Be it so she; will not here before your grace
Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case.
What say you, Hermia? be advised fair maid:
To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.
So is Lysander.
In himself he is;
But in this kind, wanting your father's voice,
The other must be held the worthier.
I would my father look'd but with my eyes.
Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.
I do entreat your grace to pardon me.
I know not by what power I am made bold,
Nor how it may concern my modesty,
In such a presence here to plead my thoughts;
But I beseech your grace that I may know
The worst that may befall me in this case,
If I refuse to wed Demetrius.
Either to die the death or to abjure
For ever the society of men.
Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires;
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
Whether, if you yield not to your father's choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood,
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness.
So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
Ere I will my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty.
Take time to pause; and, by the next new moon--
The sealing-day betwixt my love and me,
For everlasting bond of fellowship--
Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father's will,
Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would;
Or on Diana's altar to protest
For aye austerity and single life.
Relent, sweet Hermia: and, Lysander, yield
Thy crazed title to my certain right.
You have her father's love, Demetrius;
Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.
Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my love,
And what is mine my love shall render him.
And she is mine, and all my right of her
I do estate unto Demetrius.
I am, my lord, as well derived as he,
As well possess'd; my love is more than his;
My fortunes every way as fairly rank'd,
If not with vantage, as Demetrius';
And, which is more than all these boasts can be,
I am beloved of beauteous Hermia:
Why should not I then prosecute my right?
Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man.
I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof;
But, being over-full of self-affairs,
My mind did lose it. But, Demetrius, come;
And come, Egeus; you shall go with me,
I have some private schooling for you both.
For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself
To fit your fancies to your father's will;
Or else the law of Athens yields you up--
Which by no means we may extenuate--
To death, or to a vow of single life.
Come, my Hippolyta: what cheer, my love?
Demetrius and Egeus, go along:
I must employ you in some business
Against our nuptial and confer with you
Of something nearly that concerns yourselves.
With duty and desire we follow you.
Exeunt all but LYSANDER and HERMIA
How now, my love! why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?
Belike for want of rain, which I could well
Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.
Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
But, either it was different in blood,--
O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low.
Or else misgraffed in respect of years,--
O spite! too old to be engaged to young.
Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,--
O hell! to choose love by another's eyes.
Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentany as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say 'Behold!'
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.
If then true lovers have been ever cross'd,
It stands as an edict in destiny:
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy's followers.
A good persuasion: therefore, hear me, Hermia.
I have a widow aunt, a dowager
Of great revenue, and she hath no child:
From Athens is her house remote seven leagues;
And she respects me as her only son.
There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee;
And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me then,
Steal forth thy father's house to-morrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town,
Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
To do observance to a morn of May,
There will I stay for thee.
My good Lysander!
I swear to thee, by Cupid's strongest bow,
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus' doves,
By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,
And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage queen,
When the false Troyan under sail was seen,
By all the vows that ever men have broke,
In number more than ever women spoke,
In that same place thou hast appointed me,
To-morrow truly will I meet with thee.
Keep promise, love. Look, here comes Helena.
Interview with James Tucker – Actor playing Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream
What’s Titania up to at the beginning of the play? How’s she feeling?
She’s a having a ‘domestic’ with her husband, Oberon. They are King and Queen of the Fairies and they have had a falling out over a child that he is accusing her of snatching from India, which is where they are ‘based’. Titania had a very good friend – she refers to her as the ‘votaress’ in the play as Titania is like the leader of a religious order – and the votaress had a child and died in childbirth. So Titania has taken this child to look after it and bring it up, but Oberon wants it. They are a childless couple – because they are fairies – and I think - from my beginnings of interpretation – that that’s quite a big issue for her, not to have children. Her ‘children’ are the fairies and there are quite a lot of them, but the idea of being barren and the desire to have a child is very rooted, I think, in her body and mind, which is why she’s not giving up this baby.
What happens to her during the course of the play?
She and Oberon arrive from India for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. There’s some history there; in earlier times both of them had a bit of a roving eye. I don’t think Titania has much time for Hippolyta and Oberon doesn’t have much time for Theseus, but they’ve come to bless the wedding. They’re not in a very
good place though, emotionally and the elements have gone a bit wild. Titania’s first moments are spent berating Oberon, who has been interrupting their masques and dances (which they do as part of their day-to-day business as fairies to make good in the world). He’s been interrupting their work so the world has gone to pot; the oceans are swelling up; the rivers’ banks have burst; everything’s muddy and cold though it’s still the middle of summer.
Oberon plays a trick on her, doesn’t he?
Yes, because they’ve fallen out. It’s quite a harsh trick. She’s no longer in love with Oberon so he casts a spell on Titania and says that when he she wakes up she’ll fall in love with the next thing she sees. And Puck, Oberon’s servant, changes one of the actors who are rehearsing in the wood into an ass, giving him an ass’s head. All the other actors run away, because they’re so freaked out by seeing this halfman- half-beast, and Bottom is left on his own. To cheer himself up he starts singing and wakes up Titania, so she sees him, this rather odd-looking animal and falls in love with it straightaway. She calls all the other fairies round and the kind of get their hands on him and he’s not allowed out of the wood. He doesn’t really have a choice! She’s totally in love. It’s quite beautiful, quite
sweet really. But, of course, it doesn’t last.
How does she feel when the spell wears off?
She’s horrified by what’s happened. She doesn’t understand why she would have chosen this freak of nature to be in love with. I think she knows that Oberon’s had a hand in it, but any explanation about that is saved for later on. She’s so pleased to see Oberon that she gives up the changeling child. It’s actually when she’s still under the spell a bit when that happens so that’s a little unfair, but peace is restored in the end. She realizes who her husband is and where she is in that relationship.
Everyone’s got an idea of what a fairy is. What’s a fairy in this production?
It’s set in a Victorianesque world, almost like an attic where this box of magic is opened. The fairies, these spirits, are like children with doll-like faces, sleepy children. Titania’s a bit more rock’n’roll that that actually. We’ve been playing around with the visual stuff today, the make-up, and we’ve been looking at things from Amy Winehouse to Natalie Portman in Black Swan! So again she’s facially very pale and white, but there’s a lot of black. Gothic, really. And that ties in with the Victorian gothic make-up. She’s quite sprightly. We’re still working out who she is [this is four weeks into the rehearsal process], but I think she’s a stronger character than I’d thought at first. She’s not as motherly as I’d thought she was.
How much input do you have on things like make-up and that sort of thing?
Quite a bit. I suppose it was my idea about Amy Winehouse, but we have inherited quite a lot from the previous production – it is a revival –but they are great ideas that are already in place. So we are adapting things. They had similar make-up before, but not as decorative as we have this time.And for my character it’s a little bit sharper.
Have you acted in this play before?
I have actually! I played Peter Quince about ten years ago in Sheffield. So I know the play very well and I’m really enjoying watching the ‘mechanicals’ in our rehearsals.
You’ve worked for Propeller before. Is it different this time?
Yes. It’s different this time because we’re reviving a production. The three productions I worked on previously were new, so although we had the same length of time as a rehearsal period there was a lot more investigation into how we would stage a scene, whereas we’ve kind of got the picture frame here and we’re working backwards from the end picture, working out what the process is to get there. On the others we were sort of starting with a blank piece of paper. It’s no less enjoyable for that, though. There are lots of people in the company I haven’t worked with before and I’m fifteen or sixteen years older than when I started so it’s interesting seeing the people who are playing the younger parts now. The musical side has always been very strong, but there seems to be a huge range of instruments now that people are playing. Titania doesn’t play anything at all! I think she gets to ring a bell. I really do have to learn an instrument!
Do you have a favourite moment in the play?
Discovering Bottom and falling in love. Seducing Bottom. She’s completely under the spell.
INTERVIEW BY WILL WOOLEN