Magic in the air as Davies makes Midsummer Night's Dream a reality - Monday, 8.30pm, BBC Two
Russell T Davies brings the classic Shakespeare play to life with an award-winning cast of stars and exciting newcomers. Packed with fun and invention and spectacle, this is A Midsummer Night's Dream for everyone
It’s a long, dark night in the forest of Athens, and the trouble is only just beginning…
In the tyrannical court of Athens, the pitiless dictator Theseus plans his wedding to Hippolyta, a prisoner of war, and young Hermia is sentenced to death by her own father. Meanwhile, in the town below, amateur theatre group the Mechanicals rehearse, with all their comic rivalries. And beyond Athens, in the wild woods, dark forces are stirring...
We caught up with adaptor Russell T Davies (Doctor Who, Queer As Folk) and stars Maxine Peake and Matt Lucas.
Russell, how did the adaptation come about?
I’ve wanted to make this for around 30-40 years, I’ve been dying to do it. “ I was in a version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when I was 11 years old, playing Bottom. I loved it and it really opened my eyes to what drama is. “We had such a laugh and I’ve loved the play ever since then, it’s the perfect play. “For years I’ve thought, one day I will do it on television, I will do it with an all-star cast, and I will do it for everyone.”
Why A Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular?
“So many people have a personal experience of it, like I do, a memory from their childhood of it, and that’s what we’re tapping into. “It’s also such a fun play, although some of it is very wise it’s also got fairies and magic and a character called Bottom in it, that’s why children love it! And it has such vivid characters in it too. “It’s also one of the few Shakespeare plays with actual overt visible magic in it, which makes it tremendously visual and is why there are so many versions of it. It‘s a magnet for not just writers and actors but designers as well.”
Have you faced any challenges adapting it?
“This is a very faithful version, it’s not a modern translation with MC Bottom putting on a rap, it’s the real play with the real words and the original text. So that was the challenge, to get across that we’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water. “It’s a beautiful old strong play that has survived for 400 years, it will survive me and it will survive all of us. “This is our take on it in 2016 and there are dozens of other versions and takes on it going on right now across the country.”
Maxine, who do you play?
I’m playing Titania, the Queen of the Fairies. In Russell’s adaptation, she’s a bit of a warrior. Her ‘Lord’ is Oberon – he’s the King of the Fairies – but she’s got the hots for Hippolyta!”
How did you prepare for the role?
“The prosthetics and the make-up are so fantastic – I would just get there, put it on and work with it!”
Why did you want to be part of the project?
“I was approached by Russell T Davies – who I actually worked with years ago, when I was weeny, in a children’s programme he produced - but I’d never worked with him as a grown-up actor. So I met him for a cup of tea and he was so enthusiastic. He had so much passion and his heart was really in it and I just couldn’t say no. It’s fun, mischievous and has a lot of heart in it.”
What attracted you to the script?
“How much of Russell’s passion was in there. It felt modern day without changing any of the language. And it just feels like good, family fun.” Matt, tell us about Bottom as a character.
He’s one of The Mechanicals, a group of workers that are putting on a play, and the play isn’t great! “In this version Russell was very keen that Bottom was warm and lovable, rather than irritating and egotistical, so I’ve tried to bring out those qualities. He’s sociable and has a childlike enthusiasm, but is maybe a little more cerebral than he comes across. That’s my take on it, anyway!”
What does Bottom make of Titania and her affections?
“He’s baffled, of course. As he is a kind of man-child we assume these overtures are completely new to him. And she is, to some extent, impenetrable - her language and the sudden, unrequited passion - and its intensity - confounds and confuses him.”
What was it like filming those scenes with Maxine?
“She’s one of Britain’s great actresses. I am not one of Britain’s great actors. She coped very well.”
You obviously had to go through a lot of makeup/prosthetics for Bottom’s transformation, what was that like?
The ass’s head was quite heavy, and of course it took a couple of hours to put on, and a while to take off, but it’s the stuff of dreams (forgive me) to play Bottom for the BBC. “Plus I’m used to prosthetics and I haven’t actually done anything like that for about five years and since then the make-up has come on leaps and bounds!”
What attracted you to the role?
“There was nothing that didn’t attract me to it. It’s Shakespeare, it’s Russell T Davies, an amazing cast, a classic role, and it’s another quality drama that, frankly, only the BBC would make and screen for 90 minutes at primetime.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is on Bank Holiday Monday at 8.30pm on BBC Two