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A most rare vision: A Midsummer Night's Dream moves to Whitby

Posted 22 Jul 2023 by Joe Duggan

Ahead of our NYT REP production of A Midsummer Night's Dream opening in December at the Criterion Theatre, Director Matt Harrison explains in The Guardian how sending Puck to a seaside chippie can open Britain’s eyes to his misunderstood home town.

"A confession: I left Whitby Community College with a D in A-level English. And now I am directing a Shakespeare play. When I set out to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I worried that there was an intellectual VIP area I couldn’t access. (“Sorry mate, no trainers.”) Too much time spent in the back of a Vauxhall Corsa eating chips and scraps rather than engaging with lessons on iambic pentameter.

To make things worse, 2019 has been a year of Dreams. Theatrical behemoths the Bridge, the Globe and Regent’s Park Open Air theatre have all staged grand productions with grand budgets and starry casting. In contrast, our National Youth Theatre Rep company have 16 emerging artists and the support of a youth arts charity. For me, this isn’t a reason to lament – it’s a gift. A catalyst for distilling ideas. We’re still watching Shakespeare because at the heart of his stories are characters in which we recognise ourselves, experiencing things we can relate to. To illuminate the heart of this play, I needed to answer two questions: why does this story need to be told? And why am I the person to tell it? The key was the piece’s location. We have moved it out of the big city to what we have called “Athens on Sea” a place heavily inspired by Whitby, the North Yorkshire seaside town that made me.

Whitby is a town where land meets sea, transient meets permanent, and fish meet chips. My childhood there was characterised by the warmth, strength and humour of its people. Supportive communities with a rich tradition in oral and musical storytelling, linking folklore to the landscape."

Read the full piece here.