“Once, the theatre could begin as magic: magic at the sacred festival, or magic as the footlights came up. Today, it is the other way round…We must open our empty hands and show that really there is nothing up our sleeves. Only then can we begin.” Peter Brook, ‘The Empty Space’, 1968
In April, I’m taking part in an alumni exhibition with ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter’ as the theme. Initially, I thought about focusing on a famous Shakespeare Sonnet (I bet you can guess which one) or looking at The Winter’s Tale, but really there was only one obvious choice for this project…
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not only one of Shakespeare’s most popular and most performed plays, it’s also a personal favourite and rich with very ‘jewellery-friendly’ themes and imagery. The biggest problem was deciding where to start. There have been so many productions, both in the theatre and on the big screen, that finding inspiration from performance archives was going to be a big task.
Fortunately, back in May when I was at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust researching As You Like It, I met 84-year old Roger Howell, who was Stage Manager and then Production Manager for the RSC for 30 years. As well as working with actors such as Judi Dench and Richard Burton during the early part of their careers, he also worked extensively with Peter Brook, Peter Hall, Hal Rogers and Ralph Koltai and was involved in the design process of several productions. It was at his suggestion that I decided to begin my research by looking at Peter Brook’s iconic 1970 production of The Dream.
Brook’s production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford is seen by many as the definitive version of the play in modern theatre history. As I explored the Production Records, Costume Bible, photographs, original costume designs and programme, I couldn’t help wishing that I had been there to see it. It’s absolutely fascinating.
Peter Brook believed that it was important to reinvent the theatre and find the ‘secret play beneath’. In fact, what he did with his production was so new and different, it really did reinvent the way theatre was performed.
Once I ‘found’ this production, I stopped searching for inspiration – I had it in bucket-loads. And whilst other productions will feed into my design development, this production is, without doubt, the starting point.