A Midsummer Shakespeare is the Stuff of Dreams for outdoor theatre actor Hayley Evenett
- Credit: Archant
Open air theatre has become an increasingly popular part of family life during the summer. It’s chance to encounter some imaginative performances while enjoying a picnic. We spoke to East Anglian-based actor Hayley Evenett about the joys of performing in the great outdoors.
There is something magical about outdoor theatre. The late evening sunshine adds some dramatic natural lighting to some of our most amazing parks, monuments and stately homes. Classic plays - often Shakespeare - gain new life in the warm evening air, as they are given lively new interpretations which draw audiences in.
This summer Stuff of Dreams theatre company is touring East Anglia bringing exciting outdoor theatre to a variety of towns and villages across Suffolk and Norfolk.
A leading member of the company is local actor and experienced outdoor theatre performer Hayley Evenett who decided on her wedding venue based on her love of local theatre.
For her theatre is something that brings people together.
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Does outdoor performances present a special challenge for actors?
"I love outoor theatre - it's magical. You go on come what may. I think the only time we have called it off has been in a thunder storm with lightning flashing about. I have even performed The Tempest in a tempest before now. It also allows you to have fun with the setting and connect with the audience. I was playing Ariel and I came out and Prospero said: "Hast thou, spirit, perform'd to point the tempest that I bade thee?" I looked at him with an incredulous expression, pointed at the sky and went: 'Duh!' and the audience were immediately with us.
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"Unsurprisingly weather in Britain in the summer can be a huge challenge but you can balance that up with some wonderful venues which allow you to reinterpret the staging of the play every night. Everywhere you go has its good points as well as its disadvantages. You have to cope with different levels, different amounts of foliage which can not only affect sight lines but can deaden sound, so you have to be very aware of where you are playing certain scenes.
"I love it simply because two performances are ever the same. You can have a forest of trees behind you one night and following evening you are performing in front of a Tudor mansion. It certainly keeps you on your toes as an actor.
Is having the audience so close rather disconcerting?
"No, I love working up close to the audience. I love getting them involved with what is going on. They are there to have a good time. Many times they are sitting on rugs with some quite lovely picnics, which is great, and as Puck in Midsummer Night's Dream, I enjoy going amongst the audience and introducing myself to people who have got nice food. It's one of the joys of playing that role.
"To be honest local wildlife can be more distracting than the audience. In production I had a family of ducks waddle across the stage in single file, taking their time, and it's difficult to continue while they are occupying the performance space. What I love about outdoor theatre is that you are always playing against a wonderful backdrop that lends your production instant atmosphere.
You have a long history with director Cordelia Spence...
"Yes, I first worked with Stuff of Dreams theatre company in 2016 on a tour of a play called Forgotten, which told the story of Aldeburgh poet George Crabbe, in which I played 13 characters and I love multi-rolling and Cordelia has always been very supportive and come to see other shows that I've done with other companies and when she suggested An Honest Gentleman, earlier this year, that was really up my street and when she suggested this I jumped at it. I had played Puck twice before for other companies and love playing the part, and I feel like I am Norfolk's Puck.
Do you get the feeling that you are introducing Shakespeare and live performance to people who perhaps would think twice about entering a traditional theatre building?
"Oh yes, I think that is one of the wonderful things about outdoor theatre. I like interactive theatre. I come from a background of children's theatre and Shakespeare and I like making it accessible. I like saying the lines as people would say it now, so the language isn't so much a barrier. So you get the meaning of the lines and people understand the jokes. So often people have a deep intake of breath when you say Shakespeare because they remember it from school and it's old language and they find it difficult to follow what's going on but merging my love for children's theatre with my desire to make Shakespeare understandable to everyone, hopefully we can capture the audience's imagination and people will really enjoy the play.
"I love pantomime as well, I am Fisher Theatre's panto boy, and I love getting into the audience, having a chat and getting them involved - making people feel they are included is the best thing. It is one of the things that keeps theatre alive.
Outdoor theatre also taps into that centuries old tradition of theatre companies going out on the road and providing entertainment on people's doorstep rather getting them to go to the nearest big town...
"There's something to be said about using places that wouldn't normally be seen as theatre spaces and reaching out to people in their local communities. It's also bringing people out to some really beautiful places and it draws people in so the venues benefit as well.
Taking it to people is brilliant because you can get a wide age range from grandparents to little babies and there's not much these days where you can reach such a richly diverse audience. Also it's a great way for a lot of people to encounter Shakespeare for the first time, or at least for the first time outside the classroom. Once you add costume and music it becomes much more of a spectacle and people will have a really entertaining evening.
With each venue do you have to do extensive recce to work how you are going to stage each performance?
"We are rehearsing at one particular venue, a manor house, for a week-and-a-half, before going out to a couple of other venues to get a feel for other spaces. I think it is very important not to get too set on one venue during rehearsal, so you don't get too set on the blocking of the movement. You have to be relaxed about moving bits of the action around to suit the layout of each venue. What we tend to do, is turn up a little bit early and have a walk around of the space, identify the entrances and the exits and then just roll with it.
You are doing A Midsummer Night's Dream but you are also performing Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest on the same tour. How do you compartmentalise each production in your head?
"Ah, that's a very good question. I'm lucky that I have played The Dream three times before and so the lines are pretty much there before I've even begun rehearsal. I'm lucky that I don't have to go completely back to the drawing board for Puck and I am used to working on more than one production at any one time. I am Cecily in Earnest and it's going to be a really good contrast between the two plays. I am really happy that I have got two very different roles.
Is this your first time playing in Earnest?
"Yes, it's a wonderful role to play because Cecily is hilarious - I am laughing just trying to learn my lines.
You are very much an East Anglian actor. How did you form your relationship with The Fisher Theatre in Bungay?
"The first time I worked at The Fisher was with Forgotten, when we visited on tour, and I loved the atmosphere. I thought it was a really beautiful theatre and the people there were so lovely and then I found out they were auditioning for panto and I went along, auditioned and they gave me Dick Whittington. I had a really good time playing that and I was lucky enough to be invited back for Aladdin and now I am down to be their Puss in Boots this year.
"When we, that's me and my now husband James Ducker, were touring with Strange Fascination, we did Alice in Wonderland at Bungay Castle, the only play we have done together, so Bungay is a special place for us, we also produced a Shakespeare version of Ghostbusters which we previewed at the Fisher Theatre before we took it to Edinburgh, and at the end, during the curtain call, James stepped forward and proposed.
"So to cut a long story short when we were thinking about where to get married The Fisher Theatre with photos and canapes at Bungay Castle seemed the only choice because these venues do mean so much to me, to us both."
Listening to you talk you are clearly not a Norfolk girl originally?
"No, I was born in Essex, I'm from Southend, and I moved to Norwich on a complete whim. I had been touring for a while and I was exhausted. I was doing full-on UK and Ireland children's theatre tours and I didn't want to tour any more. I had been living out of a suitcase, I just wanted to stay still and there was just something about Norwich that spoke to me. And I'm still here and I love the county and the whole region to be honest. There are so many theatres, so much lovely countryside. There's such a strong creative scene and everyone is so passionate. I think the arts scene is blooming. East Anglia is a really wonderful place to live.
Sunday 7th July - Earnest - Woodbridge School Lawn at 3pm
Saturday 13th July - AMND - Nicholas Everitt Park in Lowestoft at 7pm
Friday 5th July - AMND - The Grove Leonard Cheshire Care Home, Norwich at 7pm
Saturday 6th July - Earnest - North Lodge, Cromer at 7pm
Friday 12th July - AMND - Plantation Garden, Norwich at 7.30pm
Sunday 14th July - Earnest - Gothic House, Pulham Market at 3pm
All booking info here: www.stuffofdreamstheatre.com