The third play, 'Dream On' was the group's and Sharon's adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream performed with members of the Dorset Police. A new challenge and total change from the usual substance based work. A spectacular and colourful piece loyal to Shakespeare's original play whilst combining the music of the sixties...
For all the cast of Vita Nova, bar one, it was their first encounter with Shakespeare. For the two brave policemen it was their first play let alone Shakespeare. So it was a levelling experience (I think its brilliant this Shakespeare stuff ...
Great to be a child again. ...managed to let go and be irresponsible)
The themes in A Midsummer Nights Dream, of love, reality and madness had relevance for the group.
I was surprise how keen people were to do Shakespeare. The beauty of Vita Nova is that everyone who is a recovering addict and working a programme can join, so a complete mix of society age, gender, ability, race is reflected in the group so you could say that addiction ironically is very inclusive. This great mix of individuals made up the cast of Dream On along with two policemen and anyone involved in the play's children, so there was a real community feel to the play.
My approach as director was to keep away from the actual script as long as possible; to improvise and play the themes and to make sure that everyone was involved. I set the play in the sixties due to the links with post war free love and went for a very physical and earthy interpretation. The piece was performed in the round. When working with large numbers it is vital to find creative ways to include people as much as possible, choral work is a reoccurring motif of my work. I also like to work with people's strengths, for me strength is a regional accent so we had one of Titania's Fairies with a Yorkshire accent, wings and hair rollers entering a psychedelic wood with projected images of Woodstock and actors as trees and bushes. I involved everyone in large groups. Oberon, a camp biker, had an entourage of leather jacketed Elf's (I called them this for those in the group who might have flinched at being a fairy) Titania was a tattooed earth woman, her entourage consisting of winged hippies. Puck who became increasingly anarchic went around on a scooter as an elfish schoolboy. The two police officers played a lover Lysander and the Duke of Athens. The energy that went into the production was immense and people tried very hard with the Shakespearian language. A few stumbled with lines but sheer guts made them continue and the audience loved it. Vita Nova is a group who are not short of life experience and so when Helena faltered with her lines to Hermia rather than have a pause she put Shakespeare into her own words With Demetrius you silly cow! The audience fell into fits of laughter in fact many said it was authentic Shakespeare full of asides and ad-libs.
Like all projects Dream On at times felt a little like a nightmare as we struggled as ever with working to tight schedules because of limited funding which puts enormous pressure on procedures. The original Hermia had to drop out so, being a vertically challenged person, I stepped in. On one hand I loved performing again but on the other feeling the strain of directing a cast new to the play whilst being inside as well.
Dream On was a landmark for Vita Nova. It proved the group could do other things as well as drugs related issues. The police found that working with the group brought strong relationships and introduced them into the world of drama. Likewise our audience drawn from the Boscombe community, rehabs and youth clubs were full of people who would never usually go to the theatre let alone watch Shakespeare. With such an intense build up everyone was truly brought together the pre-show nerves were universal but the feeling of satisfaction was so fantastic that is was felt by all as the cast invited the audience to join with them singing and dancing to All You Need Is Love.
I see Dream On as a symbol of the power of drama and theatre, which can bring all people together from all walks of life.
Sharon Muiruri Co Director of Bournemouth Theatre in Education Team and Artistic Director of Vita Nova (1999-2004)