The renowned Watermill Ensemble’s Shakespeare Autumn Tour will begin at Newcastle’s Northern Stage on 11th September, when the reimagined production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream assumes residency for six spell-binding performances.
Artistic Director Paul Hart’s visceral actor/musician-led productions are always a hit with audiences of all ages, and his magical production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream has already received rave reviews when it premiered in Newbury. Fizzing with charm and humour, Hart’s staging of what is arguably Shakespeare’s most popular play employs the hedonistic soulful sounds of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday as an intoxicating backdrop to the story of four lovers – who throw off the decorum of the royal courts for on one fateful night in the enchanted Athenian woods.
And leading the production as one of these four lovers is Chernobyl and Game Of Thrones actor Billy Postlethwaite, who takes on the role of Lysander.
‘I’m quite un-musical,’ laughs Billy. ‘I have no rhythm, I can’t hold a tune, but I worked with Paul [Hart] on Journey’s End and then, years later, he came back to me and asked if I’d like to play Macbeth. I jumped at the chance, but then Paul was like: “Ok, the only thing is, it’s an acting–musician show!” I didn’t really know how that was going to work, but Paul said straight away: “Don’t worry, I know you don’t play anything, I know you can’t sing, but the rest of the cast is stupidly multi-talented!” So I couldn’t say no!
‘Paul’s ethos behind his work is making Shakespeare much more accessible, much more modern, much more exciting to audiences by using music and songs – modern songs sometimes – to really give you the feeling behind the language, because sometimes the language can be quite impenetrable and can put people off. I think it works brilliantly, and when some of the cast that I was working with in Macbeth said they were coming back to do A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I knew I wanted to be a part of it too.’
The Watermill Theatre has developed a reputation as one of Britain’s leading regional theatres. From its beautiful home in a small Berkshire village, work has been created that is admired around the world thanks to The Watermill Ensemble – a company of multi-talented performers, including accomplished actor/musicians, with a 50:50 gender split formed in 2017, with the aim of combining Shakespeare’s texts and live music to create new versions of the plays, which they then take on tour. Working alongside Mike Slader as Demetrius, Robyn Sinclair as Helena and Lucy Keirl as Hermia, as well as a stellar cast who will embody the other characters within Shakespeare’s enchanted woodland, Billy feels sure this production of A Midsummer Night’s will delight audiences across the country with its vibrancy and dynamism.
‘What draws me to the lovers in this play is that the action all culminates in this great argument that they have in the forest, and I know we find Shakespeare impenetrable sometimes, but I believe that moment in the play is one of the best-written scenes ever,’ says Billy. ‘Mainly in terms of the interconnection between these four people who have really gone through the mill and have had to completely break down everything they thought they knew. It displays raw, animalistic, raging emotions which, I think, we all feel but we all keep a lid on in our daily lives. We see the lovers get to this point and then you see the consequences play out in front of you, and you can really connect with it because you can say: I know exactly how she feels! Go on, shout a bit!’
Billy will be bringing a wealth of acting experience to Northern Stage’s auditorium from 11th September. As well as learning his craft from his acting legend of a father, Pete Postlethwaite, Billy has starred in celebrated television series Chernobyl and Game Of Thrones, blockbuster films such as Tomb Raider, and in a host of acclaimed stage productions, such as Journey’s End, Game for Lovers and Macbeth. But does his approach to acting change between stage and screen?
‘Ultimately, I would say it’s exactly the same,’ he reasons. ‘The same driving force is there: it’s about finding out the wants, needs and desires of the character, and then how they go about achieving them. When I think about what “character” is, I think “character” is formed from the decisions we make under pressure. We all go about our lives trying to achieve whatever – find a partner, get a property, do well in our career – and it’s how we go about trying to get these things that betrays our character and moral compass. So the creation of a character is exactly the same on stage as it is in television.
‘The main difference, for me, is that you obviously have a live audience on stage, and I think the live audience is the integral part of theatre. Because they’re like another character. They have their own thoughts and feelings, and they bring their own story to a show. And I love that. I love reacting with the audience. Working with an audience, if you do it right, means that they come on the ride with you. Then that experience connects you and that’s the point of telling stories – to show that we aren’t all alone in this big, scary universe!’
A Midsummer Night’s Dream will run at Northern Stage from 11th–14th September.
Tickets start from £10. To book online visit www.northernstage.co.uk
or call the Box Office on 0191 230 515