Video may have killed the radio star, but Jazz Hands Productions’ radio play A Midsummer Night’s Dream aims towards resurrection, encouraging audiences to “escape the confines of lockdown for an hour or two and enter a world of magic and mischief”. It will premiere on 13th June and then be available indefinitely for free.
Cherwell spoke to Emma Hawkins and Felix Westcott – the co-directors, the producer Ana Pagu, and Darcy Dixon, who plays Titania. Studying subjects ranging from Fine Art to Earth Sciences, they’re certainly an eclectic group. Both Ana and Emma were originally part of staging Little Shop of Horrors but, to their horror, it was postponed from the third week of Trinity term. Emma expanded on this postponement, saying that after the news “we started to explore what forms of theatre were open to us in quarantine and radio seemed like an exciting medium to work with. The prospect of creating a show entirely out of sounds felt like it would be a really fun and interesting challenge”. The limitations of radio are clear in our fast-paced visual culture but Felix counters any doubts, crediting an “amazing audio guy”, other special effects featured and the importance of acting: “if the actor themselves can imagine/believe that they’ve been transported into this bizarre and magical world then that will take the audience there as well”. While being “transported” anywhere does seem unlikely under the current circumstances, it’s certainly a compelling prospect.
As with every piece of student drama this term, rehearsals have all been virtual. Felix has deemed this “very weird” but highlights that they are “using it to our advantage as much as possible… for example layering/distorting actor’s voices for certain lines”. Emma continues that “even things as small as the energy and buzz you get from being in a room full of actors and creatives is very different to when you’re on a Zoom call – but after a while it becomes the new normal… having to focus mainly on the actor’s vocals has been a really interesting experience and has made me much more aware of the power of the actor’s voice”. Darcy gives an actor’s perspective, saying that “though we know we are recording so only our voice will be seen, we still act out the words with our body in some ways – which helps translate what we are saying better”, making for some interesting Zoom rehearsals!
According to Emma, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was chosen as it is “one of Shakespeare’s most uplifting plays. It was really important to us to put on a show that offered the listeners a little escape from the troubles of quarantine for a few hours. Midsummer is magical, comical and transformative, making it the perfect play for now”. Darcy continues that the play “speaks of love, the importance of good communication, community and fighting for what you truly want”.
The production is currently fundraising for Mind, a charity “that provides support to anyone experiencing a mental health problem, by raising awareness, improving services and promoting understanding”. Emma expands on the connection between Mind and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying that “with everything going on in the world at the moment there’s a massive rise in mental illness and a lot of the charities that are there to help are now being swamped from this surge, coupled with the fact that a lot of them are losing fundraising opportunities like marathons and the like. Whilst Midsummer doesn’t directly mention mental health I feel it does act as an escape. The fun, comical story can help you lose yourself for an hour or two and relieve the stress of the darkness in the world at the moment”.
With theatres running out of funding, Ana commented on the future of performance: “to say that the current situation has affected theatre is an understatement – on all scales from student and community theatre to West End and Broadway, shows have been cancelled or postponed, sometimes indefinitely. As a theatre lover and especially as a producer, I find this very hard to see unfold. However, I have also been astonished at how the industry is pulling together in these difficult times and how much creativity goes into coming up with alternative forms of theatre. I have had two shows cancelled myself this term, and my advice to anyone in a similar situation is not to lose hope and to use their passion to think outside the box and keep theatre alive until the storm is over. The show will go on and it will be because of the passion, talent and perseverance of the people involved in it”.
Intriguing and magic, this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one to watch (or listen) out for.