Royal Shakespeare Company finds UK's 'best Bottoms'

By Tim Masters
Arts and entertainment correspondent

media captionMembers of the Canterbury Players will perform the play alongside the RSC at the Marlowe Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford

For amateur actors across the country, it is a dream come true.

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced that 14 local theatre groups will join a company of professionals on a national tour of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Over 12 weeks, 84 amateur actors will play the Mechanicals, the bungling labourers who put on a play for a wedding celebration.

The tour kicks off in Stratford-upon Avon, Warwickshire, in February 2016.

The RSC's Erica Whyman, who will direct A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play for the Nation, said Shakespeare's comedy was "a very affectionate and fitting way to celebrate amateur actors everywhere".

In theatres across the UK, the local amateur company will share the stage with 18 professional actors, while Titania's fairy train will be played by local schoolchildren.

Like their Shakespearean counterparts, the amateurs playing "rude Mechanicals" - Quince, Bottom, Flute, Starveling, Snout and Snug - have a range of professions.

  • In Glasgow Bottom owns an estate agency, while the one in Truro is a rugby coach.
  • Canterbury's Bottom is a government worker.
  • A primary school head plays Snout in Belfast and Snug is a painter and decorator.
  • Cardiff's Flute works for the railway and Snout works in a patisserie.
  • In London, Snug is a private hire driver and Quince a GP.
image copyrightTopher McGrillis
image captionBecky Morris (third from left) is part of the Lovelace Theatre Group in Nottinghamshire

Becky Morris, from Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, is one of two women playing Bottom on the tour.

She will appear with the Lovelace Theatre Group at the Nottingham Theatre Royal in May 2016. "It's a gift of a part because the lines are so funny and there's a lot of physical theatre," she said.

"I've been in plays where the audience has numbered no more than 19. Capacity at the Theatre Royal is about 1,200, so I have no idea what that's going to be like."

image copyrightTopher McGrillis
image captionThe Castle Players with Peter Cockerill (on far right)

Peter Cockerill, a pub landlord, will play Bottom at Newcastle's Northern Stage. He told the BBC he was "absolutely thrilled" to hear that he had won the part.

"It was a rigorous selection process with several auditions. I'm looking forward to working in a professional environment."

Mr Cockerill, who runs the Old Well Inn in Barnard Castle, County Durham, is a member of the Castle Players who are about to put on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor.

"I'm learning lines for that," he said. "It's tempting to start learning the Bottom lines, but I don't think I should until I get this one out of the way."

The full list of amateur companies:

image copyrightRSC
image captionA Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play for the Nation will tour the UK and feature on BBC One
  • WEST MIDLANDS: The Nonentities from Kidderminster and The Bear Pit from Stratford-upon-Avon
  • NORTH EAST: The Castle Players from County Durham and The People's Theatre from Newcastle
  • SCOTLAND: The Citizens Dream Players from Glasgow
  • NORTH WEST: Poulton Drama from Blackpool
  • YORKSHIRE: Leeds Arts Centre from Leeds, performing in Bradford
  • SOUTH EAST: The Canterbury Players from Canterbury
  • EAST OF ENGLAND: The Common Lot from Norfolk
  • EAST MIDLANDS: Lovelace Theatre Group from Hucknall, performing in Nottingham
  • SOUTH WEST: Carnon Downs Drama Group from Truro
  • LONDON: Tower Theatre from East London
  • WALES: Everyman Theatre from Cardiff
  • NORTHERN IRELAND: Belvoir Players from Belfast

Whyman, the RSC's deputy artistic director, said: "We have cast people from all kinds of backgrounds, with a wonderful range of voices, shapes and sizes.

"But every single one of them has already demonstrated tremendous courage, skill and hard work to have survived the audition process and be selected to star in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

"And they have done all this whilst holding down a huge range of demanding jobs in the daytime. These first steps in creating a true 'Play for a Nation' have been inspiring, humbling and very refreshing."

media captionOwen Evans has been picked for the comedy role of Bottom

A BBC One documentary series, The Best Bottoms in the Land, will follow the progress of the tour in spring 2016.

It is part of a series of programmes next year marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

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