In February 2020 I auditioned for A Midsummer Night’s Dream with WOAS, who I’ve been with since 2012. As usual I crossed fingers for a meaty part (at my age I like line-learning just to keep my brain working). Perhaps I would get to air my Bottom, or show off my Titania. Even demonstrate how much of a Puck I could give. My real hope was to play Hermia, as a fellow short person.
Instead I was cast as Tom Snout the Tinker, one of the comedic Mechanicals, who is the Wall in their play within the play. I puzzled on how at 5 foot 1 to play a wall, but one of the joys of the Mechanicals is you can be rubbish and it’s utterly appropriate, so I started thinking of ways to add comedy to the role, and learning lines.
And then lockdown happened. Everything was postponed.
This spring, Helen asked if we would like to still be involved, with the performance being filmed and aired online and rehearsals conducted via Zoom or (adhering to social distancing and “rule of six”) in her and Malcolm’s lovely gardens. Nobody who wasn’t shielding turned down the opportunity. The script was revised and in order for the Mechanicals to be “legal” Snout was merged with Snug the Joiner to create Snuggit – now re-imagined as a Covid Warden which gloriously gave me more lines to play with and the opportunity of playing a Lion in the Mechanicals production.
Despite the usual Zoom glitches rehearsals online were welcome, but the beauty of our little garden bubble was seeing characters and camaraderie develop in “real life”. We were a great gang – Des and his amusing Bottom, Ed a lovely Flute – who nearly reduced us to tears with his genuinely beautiful rendition of Thisbe grieving for Pyramus, Robin hilarious as the constantly bemused and slightly wimpy Starveling the Tailor, myself, and of course the wonderful Mary capturing Peta Quince’s indefatigable (and only a little bit inept compared to the rest of us) nature.
It rained on us lots but we all kept going. Because we loved it! It was interesting to test out ideas with Clare (co-director) then surprise Helen with what worked. My aim was always to make people laugh (I run Wivenhoe Funny Farm comedy club so it’s to be expected). I loved adding little touches (spraying underarms with the sanitiser (water) lifting up my lion’s mane to reveal I was just Snuggit – not a terrifying beast, waving Thisbe’s scarf at Pyramus with a broom handle so he’d remember to notice it just for a reaction, but the rest of our group were obviously of the same mind; Pyramus’s “Die! Die!” speech kept growing until an extra “Die” had us all in stitches.
Costume-wise, my Hi Viz jacket, tape measure and “sanitiser spray” showed how seriously I took my anti-Covid duties. I suggested Robin have safety pins on his waistcoat and a tape measure in the pocket, and he looked a very dapper tailor at the dress rehearsal. That was the best day – when we finally saw each other’s bits (I say!) which had been rehearsed separately, in a distanced perambulatory performance.
The rest of the cast had also been busily upping their game. At one point Malcolm (Moth the fairy) collapsed when enchanted as though poleaxed and remained prone for an almost concerning time. Everyone was perfectly cast for their roles (yet again!) and I laughed lots at the warring lovers, the sarcastic fairies and Puck’s ineptitude.
Chris, our amazing prompt, made a fantastic looking ginger cake – but as I’ve been on a diet since April (have lost nearly two stone of lockdown weight!) I had to make do with watching Oberon eat a slice.
It was a jolly time that took our minds off the frightening world situation and gave us all some hope and company. I’m glad I was involved and hope people enjoy the film as Helen, Clare and Sameera (who took time out from exam revision to film and edit it) have put so much love, stress and hard work into creating this. If you like it please consider popping a quid or two to the Intensive Care Society via: