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Leeds Arts Centre team up with the RSC for A Midsummer Night's Dream

PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 April 2016

Mercy Ojelade, Jack Holden, Chris Nayak and Laura Riseborough as Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena

Mercy Ojelade, Jack Holden, Chris Nayak and Laura Riseborough as Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena

Topher McGrillis

Members of a Yorkshire amateur dramatic group will this month perform alongside the best in the business

Laura Riseborough as Helena is watched by Puck, played by Lucy EllinsonLaura Riseborough as Helena is watched by Puck, played by Lucy Ellinson

Amateur dramatic groups are traditionally more used to playing to sparse audiences in draughty church halls than full houses in plush theatres but a group from Leeds has been seeing how the other half live after they were offered the chance of a lifetime to work alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Members of Leeds Arts Centre have spent much of the last year rehearsing with a director from the RSC and they will go on stage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Alhambra in Bradford this month.

They will play the Mechanicals – the group of six working men in the play within a play who attempt to perform for royalty – alongside professional actors from the RSC who held auditions to select a different amateur group to the play the roles at each stop on their nationwide tour. And after the performances at the Alhambra – from April 12th to 16th – the group will reprise their roles at the home of the RSC in Stratford at the end of tour.

Ken Taylor, a member of the Leeds Arts Centre since 2012, is their director for the project and their preparations for the performances have been overseen by an associate director from the RSC, Sophie Ivatts.

Ken said: ‘We have had streamed rehearsals where we have been able to watch other groups from around the country and that has given us a good idea of what they’re looking for. It has been an extremely enjoyable and informative experience and we have benefitted from the voice and movement coaching they have given us.’

Leeds Arts Centre were selected to work alongside the RSC after auditions at the Alhambra and in Nottingham and Ken added: ‘I don’t think there’s that much of a gap between our work and the professional work. For me it’s a difference of assets, I’m convinced that if amateur groups – or certainly our amateur group – had the same time, budgets and experts to call upon they would be just as good as the professionals.’

Ken, 66, will be back in his preferred role on the stage, as Macduff in Macbeth a week after the curtain comes down on Dream and three other members of the cast will be appearing in both productions. Ben Hopwood, Ed Corbet and Barry Green will all be doubling up, but director Ken has no worries about their workload.

‘They are all very capable and to be honest I am happy for the distraction,’ he said. ‘In the month or so before the show we dropped rehearsals for Dream down to one a week so they would still be fresh for the performances. I see my job with Dream, not as directing the play, but as preparing the actors so when Sophie arrives I can hand them over to her.’

The 11-date national tour is part of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and will see the story unfold in a bombed out pub in the late 1940s. The set has been designed by Tom Piper, who created the field of poppies at the Tower of London, but it will be subtly different in each theatre, using the idiosyncrasies of each place.

Sophie, who was brought up Saddleworth and is now looking to move to Yorkshire, said: ‘It has been a brilliant experience, I’ve really enjoyed it.

‘It has been beautiful to see such a great deal of respect between the professionals and the amateurs. I used to act with the Saddleworth Players and have acted with some fantastic people and on this project we have seen amateurs at the really top level – training does make a difference, but some people instinctively know how to act and we have seen that in bucketloads on this project.

‘When the idea was first mentioned to me I thought it was a great idea and I’m still excited by it – I’m totally shattered, but still excited. I have such a strong connection with the group and they and Ken have been working very hard and I can’t wait for the tour to reach Bradford.’ w

For tickets contact the Bradford Alhambra box office on 01274 432000 and for more information about the production, go online to rsc.org,co.uk

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