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Have you acted in A Midsummer Night's Dream before?

I’ve done the play before, but not with Propeller. I did it with a company called Actors on the London Stage in a five-handed version of the piece. I played Theseus, Puck, Peaseblossom and Snout! That was in 1998 – a long time ago.

How have you approached playing Peter Quince?

Quince is a smashing part. Although right now we’re four weeks into rehearsal I still haven’t quite found him, I haven’t found someone to base it on. I’m still not sure which person he’s supposed to be. I have found a voice – but I haven’t found the person the voice is coming out of yet! Roger Warren, the script editor, suggested it might be good in a Birmingham accent, so I have been trying the Birmingham accent and that’s been great. So that’s been the angle of attack on the part – through the voice. I thought I’d persevere with that and actually it works pretty well. And then you’ve got to find which Birmingham accent, or what tone of voice with it. When does he get sharp? When is he trying to be like a teacher with a class of unruly children trying to calm them down? But I’ve yet to find the whole person and, although we’ve only got a week to go, I’m not worrying about it yet. If you ask me in a week’s time I’ll really be worrying about it. There’s going to be a particular physicality that goes with that voice, but I haven’t yet found physically exactly which person I’m being. But I will find it and I’m allowing it to come from the voice as a starting point.

What’s Quince doing in the play?

Well he’s written a play! He’s got permission for it to one of the suggestions for the Duke to have performed at this wedding. There’s a list of people that have been allowed to perform the play. They’re all amateurs, but Quince is the writer; he’s the bright one. He can read and write; he’s a carpenter and a poet. He’s written and he’s going to direct the play.

Do you think he’s done it before?

No – first time! I think he’s written a few pieces for himself, but they’ve all gone into the bottom drawer, they’ve never actually gone this faryet. This is a big occasion for the Duke - and he thoroughly admires the Duke – a great man, a great warrior – and Quince is going to do his best. So at the beginning of the play he’s feeling pretty hopeful. A bit nervous, but pretty hopeful.

So what changes?

Well – what happens is that they lose Bottom! They’ve rehearsed it in secret so that people can’t steal their ideas and steal their story, and then Bottom is transformed! He disappears entirely! So all their hopes are dashed. There’s going to be no play. There’s no chance of being chosen to do the play in front of the Duke. Then he suddenly reappears and there’s a chance that they might be chosen! For some reason the usual Master of Revels isn’t there and Peter Quince is pushed on to give the list of the possible plays and entertainments to Theseus. And Theseus chooses his! He’s so excited and very nervous.

And how does it go for him?

Well, there are mistakes! But the audience seemed to enjoy it! And the Duke gives them all a lot of money so they’re delighted.

You’re also playing Egeus.

Yes. Egeus is just in two scenes at the beginning of the play. You think A Midsummer Night’s Dream is just going to be comedy, comedy, comedy, but it starts off with this man who dearly and desperately loves his daughter, has arranged a marriage for her, and then suddenly in comes Lysander to their lives. Lysander tricks his daughter with knacks and trifles, seduces her; she thinks she’s in love with him and Egeus is desperate because suddenly his daughter, who’s always been lovely, obedient and good, is refusing to get married to Demetrius. Egeus is absolutely desperate about it and he goes to the Duke and demands that his daughter be punished. It’s lunacy, really. It’s beyond good sense. Cruelty comes out. I don’t think that he’s essentially a cruel man, but he’s so impassioned and so furious at this point that he loses sense. Even though Lysander is to blamehe says that either she marries Demetrius or he wants her dead. There’s a law that allows for that, so kill her.

You’ve worked for Propeller before?

I did the early days. I did Henry V, Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night in 1997 to 1999. I’ve done a couple of the ‘Pocket’ Propeller shows more recently as well.

Is working for Propeller different?

Well, the big difference is we’re an all-male cast. So yes it is very different. How is it different? I don’t know! Maybe it’s not that it’s all-male. What is different is that the rehearsal room is very free and open where everyone can pitch in ideas. We all work off each other and make suggestions for each other the whole time. It’s unusually relaxed. I mean, all the best rehearsal rooms are relaxed, but there’s sort of a guarantee that the Propeller rehearsal room will be relaxed and easy, with lots of ideas floating around, and good fun.

You’re just about to go off on a long tour. As an actor how do you deal with being away from home for that length of time?

Well, I have children, but they’re almost grown up now. The hardest time is when the children are young. It’s a balance. You have to find that balance. My wife is an actress so she understands. And my family is so used to me being away for long periods a lot of the time. It’s just the way it is and the way our life has been. And I love touring! The great thing about being an actor is the variety of work – theatre, television, film, radio – but I think the essential
work for an actor is doing theatre and touring. I love touring; I like the transport; I like hotel rooms and stations and loading my motorbike; I like being in a different place every week.

If you had to give any advice to someone wanting to be an actor?

It is such a difficult business and such a vastly overcrowded business. If they really can’t do anything else then go for it and go for it all out. But probably
best not to! I was listening to someone on the radio the other day who was saying that in all fields, if someone has a determination and a passion, whatever field it is – teaching, medicine, science – they will, barring anydisaster, rise up the ladder and achieve something towards what they set out to do. In all fields except the performing arts! Nearly all people who go into performing arts do not achieve what they set out to do. It doesn’t have that ladder to it, that route. So if you’re going to go into it you just have to accept that it’s a very difficult life and you may not achieve what you hoped for!



SCENE I. Athens. The palace of THESEUS.



Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour
Draws on apace; four happy days bring in
Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow
This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,
Like to a step-dame or a dowager
Long withering out a young man revenue.


Four days will quickly steep themselves in night;
Four nights will quickly dream away the time;
And then the moon, like to a silver bow
New-bent in heaven, shall behold the night
Of our solemnities.


Go, Philostrate,
Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments;
Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth;
Turn melancholy forth to funerals;
The pale companion is not for our pomp.


Hippolyta, I woo'd thee with my sword,
And won thy love, doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph and with revelling.



Happy be Theseus, our renowned duke!


Thanks, good Egeus: what's the news with thee?


Full of vexation come I, with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
This man hath my consent to marry her.
Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke,
This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child;
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth:
With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart,
Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me,
To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke,
Be it so she; will not here before your grace
Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case.


What say you, Hermia? be advised fair maid:
To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax
By him imprinted and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.
Demetrius is a worthy gentleman.


So is Lysander.


In himself he is;
But in this kind, wanting your father's voice,
The other must be held the worthier.


I would my father look'd but with my eyes.


Rather your eyes must with his judgment look.


I do entreat your grace to pardon me.
I know not by what power I am made bold,
Nor how it may concern my modesty,
In such a presence here to plead my thoughts;
But I beseech your grace that I may know
The worst that may befall me in this case,
If I refuse to wed Demetrius.


Either to die the death or to abjure
For ever the society of men.
Therefore, fair Hermia, question your desires;
Know of your youth, examine well your blood,
Whether, if you yield not to your father's choice,
You can endure the livery of a nun,
For aye to be in shady cloister mew'd,
To live a barren sister all your life,
Chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon.
Thrice-blessed they that master so their blood,
To undergo such maiden pilgrimage;
But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd,
Than that which withering on the virgin thorn
Grows, lives and dies in single blessedness.


So will I grow, so live, so die, my lord,
Ere I will my virgin patent up
Unto his lordship, whose unwished yoke
My soul consents not to give sovereignty.


Take time to pause; and, by the next new moon--
The sealing-day betwixt my love and me,
For everlasting bond of fellowship--
Upon that day either prepare to die
For disobedience to your father's will,
Or else to wed Demetrius, as he would;
Or on Diana's altar to protest
For aye austerity and single life.


Relent, sweet Hermia: and, Lysander, yield
Thy crazed title to my certain right.


You have her father's love, Demetrius;
Let me have Hermia's: do you marry him.


Scornful Lysander! true, he hath my love,
And what is mine my love shall render him.
And she is mine, and all my right of her
I do estate unto Demetrius.


I am, my lord, as well derived as he,
As well possess'd; my love is more than his;
My fortunes every way as fairly rank'd,
If not with vantage, as Demetrius';
And, which is more than all these boasts can be,
I am beloved of beauteous Hermia:
Why should not I then prosecute my right?
Demetrius, I'll avouch it to his head,
Made love to Nedar's daughter, Helena,
And won her soul; and she, sweet lady, dotes,
Devoutly dotes, dotes in idolatry,
Upon this spotted and inconstant man.


I must confess that I have heard so much,
And with Demetrius thought to have spoke thereof;
But, being over-full of self-affairs,
My mind did lose it. But, Demetrius, come;
And come, Egeus; you shall go with me,
I have some private schooling for you both.
For you, fair Hermia, look you arm yourself
To fit your fancies to your father's will;
Or else the law of Athens yields you up--
Which by no means we may extenuate--
To death, or to a vow of single life.
Come, my Hippolyta: what cheer, my love?
Demetrius and Egeus, go along:
I must employ you in some business
Against our nuptial and confer with you
Of something nearly that concerns yourselves.


With duty and desire we follow you.

Exeunt all but LYSANDER and HERMIA


How now, my love! why is your cheek so pale?
How chance the roses there do fade so fast?


Belike for want of rain, which I could well
Beteem them from the tempest of my eyes.


Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
But, either it was different in blood,--


O cross! too high to be enthrall'd to low.


Or else misgraffed in respect of years,--


O spite! too old to be engaged to young.


Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,--


O hell! to choose love by another's eyes.


Or, if there were a sympathy in choice,
War, death, or sickness did lay siege to it,
Making it momentany as a sound,
Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night,
That, in a spleen, unfolds both heaven and earth,
And ere a man hath power to say 'Behold!'
The jaws of darkness do devour it up:
So quick bright things come to confusion.


If then true lovers have been ever cross'd,
It stands as an edict in destiny:
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts and dreams and sighs,
Wishes and tears, poor fancy's followers.


A good persuasion: therefore, hear me, Hermia.
I have a widow aunt, a dowager
Of great revenue, and she hath no child:
From Athens is her house remote seven leagues;
And she respects me as her only son.
There, gentle Hermia, may I marry thee;
And to that place the sharp Athenian law
Cannot pursue us. If thou lovest me then,
Steal forth thy father's house to-morrow night;
And in the wood, a league without the town,
Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
To do observance to a morn of May,
There will I stay for thee.


My good Lysander!
I swear to thee, by Cupid's strongest bow,
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus' doves,
By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,
And by that fire which burn'd the Carthage queen,
When the false Troyan under sail was seen,
By all the vows that ever men have broke,
In number more than ever women spoke,
In that same place thou hast appointed me,
To-morrow truly will I meet with thee.


Keep promise, love. Look, here comes Helena.


Interview with James Tucker – Actor playing Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream

What’s Titania up to at the beginning of the play? How’s she feeling?

She’s a having a ‘domestic’ with her husband, Oberon. They are King and Queen of the Fairies and they have had a falling out over a child that he is accusing her of snatching from India, which is where they are ‘based’. Titania had a very good friend – she refers to her as the ‘votaress’ in the play as Titania is like the leader of a religious order – and the votaress had a child and died in childbirth. So Titania has taken this child to look after it and bring it up, but Oberon wants it. They are a childless couple – because they are fairies – and I think - from my beginnings of interpretation – that that’s quite a big issue for her, not to have children. Her ‘children’ are the fairies and there are quite a lot of them, but the idea of being barren and the desire to have a child is very rooted, I think, in her body and mind, which is why she’s not giving up this baby.

What happens to her during the course of the play?

She and Oberon arrive from India for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. There’s some history there; in earlier times both of them had a bit of a roving eye. I don’t think Titania has much time for Hippolyta and Oberon doesn’t have much time for Theseus, but they’ve come to bless the wedding. They’re not in a very
good place though, emotionally and the elements have gone a bit wild. Titania’s first moments are spent berating Oberon, who has been interrupting their masques and dances (which they do as part of their day-to-day business as fairies to make good in the world). He’s been interrupting their work so the world has gone to pot; the oceans are swelling up; the rivers’ banks have burst; everything’s muddy and cold though it’s still the middle of summer.

Oberon plays a trick on her, doesn’t he?

Yes, because they’ve fallen out. It’s quite a harsh trick. She’s no longer in love with Oberon so he casts a spell on Titania and says that when he she wakes up she’ll fall in love with the next thing she sees. And Puck, Oberon’s servant, changes one of the actors who are rehearsing in the wood into an ass, giving him an ass’s head. All the other actors run away, because they’re so freaked out by seeing this halfman- half-beast, and Bottom is left on his own. To cheer himself up he starts singing and wakes up Titania, so she sees him, this rather odd-looking animal and falls in love with it straightaway. She calls all the other fairies round and the kind of get their hands on him and he’s not allowed out of the wood. He doesn’t really have a choice! She’s totally in love. It’s quite beautiful, quite
sweet really. But, of course, it doesn’t last.

How does she feel when the spell wears off?

She’s horrified by what’s happened. She doesn’t understand why she would have chosen this freak of nature to be in love with. I think she knows that Oberon’s had a hand in it, but any explanation about that is saved for later on. She’s so pleased to see Oberon that she gives up the changeling child. It’s actually when she’s still under the spell a bit when that happens so that’s a little unfair, but peace is restored in the end. She realizes who her husband is and where she is in that relationship.

Everyone’s got an idea of what a fairy is. What’s a fairy in this production?

It’s set in a Victorianesque world, almost like an attic where this box of magic is opened. The fairies, these spirits, are like children with doll-like faces, sleepy children. Titania’s a bit more rock’n’roll that that actually. We’ve been playing around with the visual stuff today, the make-up, and we’ve been looking at things from Amy Winehouse to Natalie Portman in Black Swan! So again she’s facially very pale and white, but there’s a lot of black. Gothic, really. And that ties in with the Victorian gothic make-up. She’s quite sprightly. We’re still working out who she is [this is four weeks into the rehearsal process], but I think she’s a stronger character than I’d thought at first. She’s not as motherly as I’d thought she was.

How much input do you have on things like make-up and that sort of thing?

Quite a bit. I suppose it was my idea about Amy Winehouse, but we have inherited quite a lot from the previous production – it is a revival –but they are great ideas that are already in place. So we are adapting things. They had similar make-up before, but not as decorative as we have this time.And for my character it’s a little bit sharper.

Have you acted in this play before?

I have actually! I played Peter Quince about ten years ago in Sheffield. So I know the play very well and I’m really enjoying watching the ‘mechanicals’ in our rehearsals.

You’ve worked for Propeller before. Is it different this time?

Yes. It’s different this time because we’re reviving a production. The three productions I worked on previously were new, so although we had the same length of time as a rehearsal period there was a lot more investigation into how we would stage a scene, whereas we’ve kind of got the picture frame here and we’re working backwards from the end picture, working out what the process is to get there. On the others we were sort of starting with a blank piece of paper. It’s no less enjoyable for that, though. There are lots of people in the company I haven’t worked with before and I’m fifteen or sixteen years older than when I started so it’s interesting seeing the people who are playing the younger parts now. The musical side has always been very strong, but there seems to be a huge range of instruments now that people are playing. Titania doesn’t play anything at all! I think she gets to ring a bell. I really do have to learn an instrument!

Do you have a favourite moment in the play?

Discovering Bottom and falling in love. Seducing Bottom. She’s completely under the spell.



Interview with Laura Rushton – Costume Supervisor

What does a costume supervisor do?

I work alongside Michael [Pavelka], the designer, to help realise his designs. Because we’re working on a ‘revival’ of a previous production it’s a bit different; a lot of the costumes still exist from previous tours. But if we were starting afresh it would be working alongside Michael to but, hire or make the costumes according to his designs. And then I’d fit them, alter them and do anything that needs to be done to get them to the stage.

So as this is a revival you’ve had to be doing more alterations?

Yes, though there’s actually not been as much to do as I’d expected on ‘Dream’. Comedy of Errors is a different ball-game as it’s a bit more eclectic. Dream has a very defined style; it’s almost as though there’s a ‘uniform’ across the whole company so we’ve fitted everyone into previous cast members’ costumes. There’s been a fair bit of alteration and a few new purchases but not too much on this one.

So once you’ve got the actors into the costumes and the show has started, is your job over?

Pretty much, yes. I would run with it through to ‘press night’ if it was a new show, but with this I’ll be with it till the end of tech week. Then Bridget [Fell] carries on as Wardrobe Manager and she will look after the costumes on a day-to-day basis on tour. I will pop in a few times during the tour, just to check everything’s still holding together and looking good.

So what will Bridget need to do?

She does the day-to-day maintenance. Anything that gets damaged she will repair; anything that needs replacing she’ll replace; she washes and irons and makes everything look good for the shows.

How did you get into doing this work?

I did a degree in Costume for the Performing Arts at the London College of Fashion, which was a combination of designing and making. Then a spent a bit of time after Uni doing lots of different jobs in costume. I did some designing and a lot of assistant designing. I did quite a lot of making in studios in places like the Royal Opera House, working within theatres and in external workrooms. Then, by way of luck I suppose, it all merged and I got a few different opportunities and ended up supervising. And that’s what I’ve done for the last few years.

What sort of skills would you say a good costume supervisor needs?

It’s mostly to do with organisation, because you’re responsible for making sure everything’s in place when it should be in place. You have to liaise a lot between the designer and other people, whether they be makers or hire houses or that kind of thing. I think it’s also very important to have a making background because when you’re dealing with makers they often ask questions, and if you don’t really understand how something comes together then you can’t really answer very well.

What advice would you give to someone who was thinking about going into costume?

To do as much work experience as possible. If it’s theatre they want to get into then they need to get involved and get a real idea of how theatre works and understand how everything comes together. You might follow a supervisor or get sent out on little errands so you get an idea of where to find things. It’s knowing on paper what you have to find and then finding the best places to get it from. You develop a whole library in you head of where the best places to get things are.

Sounds like an episode of The Apprentice!

Exactly. The one where they go round and have to find the ten things in a time limit for the cheapest possible price!



The scenic design for Propeller’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream emerged from our thoughts about how the story could be told. We explored the play from the fairies’ perspective, from the spiritual side, puzzled by the mortals. We asked ourselves, ‘Whose story is it?’ and, working backwards from Robin’s address to the audience that winds the play down… what is this dusty ‘hallowed house’ that he refers to?

We imagined the attic of that house and distorted its properties — its shape, its atmospheres and its logic. The boarded floor folded, pop-up-book style, into a mirrored miniature house that enabled revelations and disappearances. Strings of suspended white antique chairs echoed the actor’s use of conventions that challenge time by telling and retelling the story through flashback, freeze frame and flash-forwards. The attic became a magical play room of possibilities where lace coverlets are magnified, objects defy gravity and toys come to life.

The set provided a challenging environment that helped the separation of parallel theatrical realities through layers and levels that also gave performers the possibilities of running, climbing and perching; Propeller’s hallmark physical style. I borrowed from the aesthetics and surreal worlds of Jan Švankmajer's stop-motion animations [and that resonated with my Anglo-Czech upbringing]. In turn, this was echoed at times in the performers’ doll-like choreographic movements. The spectrum of the palette was de-saturated — do you dream in colour? I don’t.

The design presented a child-like view of the play with imaginative space for the darkness of adulthood.



It is ironic that this play of happenstance and consequences, a precisely written farce, demands that the designer is doubly exacting and makes no human errors. Shakespeare delights in the form and the The Comedy of Errors is as fresh as Feydeau and contemporary as Cooney, with just a dash of Joe Orton’s black humour. Comedies of this sort that, on the page, imply intense and precise physicality in the staging, require a design that maps out the action and anticipates the journey times from any given point on the stage to another. Entrances should be a surprise and exits swift. Aesthetically, they also need to take the audience into a familiar but not necessarily realistic world — hyper-reality perhaps, to match the escalating energy of the narrative in performance.

Propeller Theatre always tries to bring the sixteenth century closer to the twenty-first by overlaying the footprint of one upon the other and exploiting how Shakespeare’s characters negotiate the timeless human situations he has dealt them. In conceiving our unique world for the story, we had to find for ourselves an island community with its own laws and superstitions; as haunted as Prospero’s island and as potentially volatile as our own on a boozy Saturday night. Ephesus should therefore be a multicultural crossroads where all manner of unlikely folk are ‘washed up’ in all senses of the word and where eating, sex and commerce are the prime preoccupations of its entrapped population.

Obvious then: a run-down piazza in a run-down port in a Tenerife or Capri lookalike. Stags and Hens, police corruption and black market racketeering are the everyday and anyone can lose themselves in the margarita-fuelled 24/7 holiday spirit. Lookalike —everything looks like it might be the real thing, but it has become a fantasy island. The clothes are an eclectic pan-European mix and the locals merge into the shadows behind aviator sunglasses, under the brims of sombreros.

Shakespeare’s usual implicit arrangement of three entrances, set into a single upstage tiring house with a central balcony above, is a formula for the scenic architecture that designers ignore at their and the production’s peril. Propeller’s Ephesus mirrored this exact plan so that exits and entrances stretched an entering actor’s journey across the stage, allowing for plenty of time to improvise en route, before building up a dangerous head of steam to make a super-fast exit. Doors themselves rarely play a big part in Shakespeare’s staging, but they are great for farce, of course. So our design of three double-height metal shop front shutters splashed with undecipherable scribble and inset doors that smacked shut with an echoing rattle, helped fuel the production’s urban frenzy.


Dream Design Q&A with Michael Pavelka - Designer

Where did the idea for the visual world of this production come from?

I approached this play from the end and worked backwards. In the final scene, Puck talks of the dust in a ‘hallow'd house’, so we thought about an attic where spirits could play. That led to how a toy box and make-believe might help tell the different strands of story. Rather than starting inside and moving to the wood, the whole story is invented in the same location. The wood of strange, pale weightless chairs is covered and uncovered. Ben Ormerod’s lighting design fills the misty room with ghostly colours. The set became a space for running, climbing and perching - dollies in a punch up: Propeller’s physical performance style.

Talk us through the different elements of the fairy costume.

When we’re thinking through our first ideas for a production, I always try to look for ways in which the actors, as a group, might have common identity or image. The group then tells the story to the audience by adding to the basic clothes – in this case Victorian underwear. All the actors represent a chorus of fairies who, as we know, are immortal – and in our production, are also neither male nor female. They are a sort of dressing up doll – all as identical as possible in long johns and corsets, with tiny lacy wings on the cuffs. We also gave all the actors the same doll-like make-up and hair style. The audience could then see the fairies putting their mortal characters’ clothes on top: pretending to be human to discover what real love and pain means through the night of dreaming.

What advice would you give someone wanting to go into theatre design?

Go to the theatre as much as possible and, if you find the design interesting in some way, try to contact the designer to ask some questions and find out what it’s like as a profession – but keep it short… designers are very busy people! Practice drawing. Draw anything. Understand that drawing (and I include making images on the computer in this) communicates your thoughts or feelings – designers work with lots of different people to make a show happen, so your drawings will be an important way of sharing ideas. There are now lots of courses for theatre design, in acting schools and art colleges – they all have websites that give you a flavour of each. Theatre’s websites also sometimes have features on design that have interviews with designers and videos of their work in mid-process.



Propeller is an all-male Shakespeare company which mixes a rigorous approach to the text with a modern physical aesthetic. We look for as many ways as possible to inform the physical life of the production with the poetry of the text, and we give as much control as possible to the actor in the telling of the story.

The company is as all companies should be: defined by the people in it and not owned by an individual. Indeed, I find it hard to describe Propeller when we are in between shows, as I become aware of our identity only when looking at our work.

 We want to rediscover Shakespeare simply by doing the plays as we believe they should be done: with great clarity, speed and full of as much imagination in the staging as possible. We don’t want to make the plays ‘accessible’, as this implies that they need ‘dumbing down’ in order to be understood, which they don’t. We want to continue to take our work nationally and internationally to as many different kinds of audiences as possible, and so to grow as artists and people. We are hungry for more opportunity to explore the richness of Shakespeare’s plays and, if we keep doing this with rigour and invention, then I believe the company, and I hope our audiences too, will continue to grow.

 For our 2013-14 tour, we are reviving our acclaimed productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Comedy of Errors, two of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. Comedy is as its title suggests, a perfectly constructed farce that takes an audience to the edge of hysteria and back. The Dream is a beautiful and soulful story, one of only two that Shakespeare largely made up, and we have embraced the magic and surreality of the work. A Puck-in-a-box appears from beneath a dust sheet at the start and dresses his sprites and fairies as characters in his story. The ride they take the audience on is enchanting, wild and full of magical suprises…

Over the last 17 years Propeller has performed Shakespeare in over 22 countries to thousands of people. He is as popular today as ever and I am happy to report that from Girona to Marseille,  Istanbul to Neuss, Craiova and beyond, Shakespeare and Propeller are thriving.


Edward Hall interview

Can you tell us about the two shows Propeller are taking on the road in 2014?

The two shows we’re doing – The Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night’s Dream - are similar in that they’re both perfectly formed plays. Traditionally we’ve done one more entertaining play and one more serious play, but in this instance we’re doing two highly entertaining shows.

What makes these two plays special to you?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of two plays that Shakespeare wrote where he made up the story himself - he copied almost all his other stories from other sources.

In fact, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream you’ve got four storylines: Theseus and Hippolyta, the Mechanicals, the lovers and Titania and Oberon. Shakespeare sets each storyline out and then they all collide in Act Five and everyone goes home happy. It’s an absolute masterpiece.

It’s lyrical, full of poetry, wonderful farce and comedy and it’s got magic in it from the off. It’s a genius piece of writing and there’s a good reason why it’s been so popular down the years.  It’s so beautifully written and so accessible.

The Comedy of Errors is Shakespeare’s shortest play, and any good production of it should do what the title suggests – it should be funny.

It is a very tightly constructed piece of farce, written o

An introduction to the directorial team

Edward Hall - Artistic Director

As artistic director, Edward Hall is the most senior member of the creative Propeller team. He has directed every Propeller production and is also responsible for selecting the texts that the company tours. Edward is artistic director of Hampstead Theatre in London and also works in film and television. 

Becoming an artistic director takes years of experience, a highly creative mind and excellent knowledge of the texts that are being performed. Depending on the size of the company, it also often goes beyond heading up the creative team and means being responsible for the company or venue on a management level. 

Dugald Bruce-Lockhart - Associate Director

The associate director is the artistic director's right hand man. The last time Propeller toured A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Comedy of Errors, Dugald was a member of the cast, and so he knows the texts inside out! 

Generally an associate director will have an established relationship with the artistic director, due to the level of trust and communicattion to work together in such a creative and fast-paced environment. Dugald is still an actor but made the decision to move into the directing team with Propeller due to his extensive knowlegde of the company's work and ethos. 

Ellen Harvard - Assistant Director

The assistant director acts as the eyes and ears of the direction team on tour. Ellen will watch every performance and give the cast notes in order to keep the productions as fresh and exciting as possible, while still keeping them within Edward and Dugald's original vision. 


The music for Propeller’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins and ends with a simple nursery rhyme waltz, played on a glockenspiel and hummed. This for me encapsulates the whole production’s sense of child’s play, magic, and gothic eeriness rolled into one.

All this came from Michael Pavelka’s design. Michael’s take on a deserted Victorian attic, peopled with corseted fairies dressed like balletic Geisha dolls, suggested that the music could draw its inspiration from dances, nursery rhymes, and straight-laced Victorian hymns. A jaunty dancing feel runs throughout the fairies’ songs: we start with the glockenspiel waltz in 3:4 time, then comes the 6:8 time of ‘You Spotted Snakes’, set to a traditional English country dance tune called ‘Bobbing Joe’; and the first half concludes with ‘Oh alas I am In Love’, a sixteenth-century folk song, also in waltz time but with a funky hemiola at the end of the phrase which adds an unexpected hilarity (the final cadence ‘When we are toge-ether’ seems to imitate the sound of a donkey, so as our ass Bottom eeyores, he seems to be singing along with his new fairy acquaintances).

In contrast to the dancing rhythms of the fairies’ songs, the mechanicals’ theme is a nineteenth-century hymn, ‘Work for the Night is Coming’, plodding away in a practical 4:4 time. As Theseus and Hippolyta are reintroduced before the lovers are discovered, the play’s change of mood is accompanied by ‘The huntsman blows his joyful sound, tally-ho my boys all over the ground’ (from the folk song ‘The Innocent Hare’).

But because our fairies are grown men dressed in corsets, our production never ceases to have a sense of humour. The music is no exception: magical moments are accompanied by cheeky dings or glissandi on the glockenspiel, and the woodland soundscape is created by the whole cast imitating birdsong — by blowing random notes on reedy harmonicas. Hopefully you will hear this as convincing background atmosphere. But you might chuckle when you realise how the sound is being made.




Somehow the identity of the ensemble in Propeller's The Comedy of Errors ended up as a mariachi band. This fitted Edward Hall's idea that the play be set in a cheesy Spanish holiday island for Brits, where raucous eighties pop anthems and loud football shirts ruled, ok. Mariachi not only suited the company's instrumental talents — we already played guitar, accordion, violins, brass — but also provided the perfect medium for us to play electronic eighties tunes accoustically, as well as giving the required atmosphere of heat, holidays, hilarity, and hot tempers.

Before the show, the whole company improvised background music in a latin style, including Deve Ser Amor and Bossa Dorado. The second half opened similarly with the Officer singing to a lady in the audience The Girl From Ipanema. Mariachi classics, Cielito Lindo and The Mexican Hat Song introduced Syracuse. And Antipholus of Ephesus's drunken nights with the Courtesan were accompanied by a brash brass quintet of When The Saints Go Marching In. Gloria Estefan's Conga closed the first half, and then the cast trooped front of house for the interval to raise money for Children In Need by singing eighties classics arranged Mexican-style by yours truly, including a medley of Eurythmics songs and a fourteen-songs-in-four-minutes a capella megamix.

The eighties theme continued into the progressively frenetic second half: Antipholus of Syracuse's wonder at strangers saluting him as ‘their well-acquainted friend’ was accompanied by That's The Way (I Like It), their offer of ‘commodities to buy’ by Dire Straits' I want my MTV, or Spandau Ballet's Gold (we would decide which on the day). And for Pinch's entrance, I wrote words and music for a madcap Gospel number loosely based on The Old Landmark, to go with the idea that the ‘Conjurer’ was an Evangelist Preacher.

The music was generally designed to punctuate the action as quickly as possible, so as to help rather than hinder the rhythm and velocity of the text. This was especially true of the stings and stabs from what we called ‘percussion corner’. The violence in Comedy was to be cartoon, so we had a whole barrel of slapsticks, cymbals, cowbells, and woodblocks for the job, and the fun in rehearsals was to decide which sound was best for a hit to the head or which for a punch to the stomach. A glockenspiel was ‘dinged’ every time the ‘chain’ was mentioned. This heightened the madness as the plot got faster and more furious.



Bamboo flute 
Bamboo Sax 
Penny Whistle 
Wooden Clacker + Stick


Rain stick
Snare drum
Fish instrument
Tibetan bowls
Cow Bell
Squeezy Horn
Violin Bow
Football Rattle



The Assistant Stage Manager, or ASM, is responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly backstage during the show. The below is an example running plot of their duties during Act One of A Midsummer Night's Dream:

Collect dust sheet from Mr Brookfields USL and pull off quickly
Reset US with 4 corners as bower sheet
Quick change Mr Myles, Mr Swainsbury (into lovers)
Mr Myles US Q/C:
Take jacket as comes offstage and hold out for him to put on. Help with hook and eye 
on back of collar
Torch rest of change and check Mr Swainsbury is fine MSL
Mr Frame Q/C US:
From hermia into snug. Undo button and clasps on skirt
Torch rest of change, hold out jacket for change
Cross to SR wing and return with mr frame's harmonica and water phone and bow (if 
mr Swainsbury has not brought it over)
Pull tongues of shoes forward into laces
Set US of blacks pointing DS
Quick change mechanicals into fairies 'hold bow strings'
Mr Frame US: hold out harmonica for him to grab and he will dump clothes and props
Mr Dougall and Mr Brookfield US:
Torch to help and standby if needed
(Mr Myles DS)
Collect dust sheets into wings
Clear all dumped props and tidy
Swap contents of clipboard, put away list of actors and put on blank sheet of lined 
paper, pencil and another script
Once fairies on for circle with puck ' here comes Oberon'
Stand DS with waterphone, bow in left hand, and hand to Mr Swainsbury (by prompt 
Move to cage to receive dust cover and strike it
Wait by cage for stoal/hat and top hat from Emmanuel and hand him harmonica from 
costume rail
Reset bower cloth USL
Tidy away demetrius and Helena costume onto rail
After spotted snakes lay out Q/C ready
Q/C Mr Frame into Hermia USL:
Gloves on base
Skirt on floor
Neck collar
Help Helena costume off
Hand puck long bit for donkey
Help Bottom with teeth and ears (donkey: wardrobe wellies and gloves)
Tidy script and reset, leave one opened and outReplace almanac on props table
Tidy costumes away
(check Mr Frame costume travels to SR and red shoes come SL)
Take Mr Frame his harmonica

US = upstage

DS = downstage

USL = upstage left

MSL = mid stage left

QC = quick change


Rehearsal Notes

After every rehearsal, the Deputy Stage Manager will send round notes to the entire company. These could include anything from line cuts to prop requests, and allow every department to see the changes that have taken place that day. 

Here are a few examples: 

"Mr Pepper has asked for a chest wig"

"Could we have half a dozen kazoos?"

"An empty beer can is needed" 

"A larger, blingier handbag. A la Victoria Beckham"






Tom White describes his role as a re-lighter

My name is Tom White and I am the touring Re-Lighter for Propeller Theatre Company. Ultimately I am responsible for the 'Look' of the lighting whilst the show is on tour, replicating the beautiful lighting that has been created by Propeller's lighting designer Ben Omerod.

My first job at the beginning of each tour is to draft the light plot of the show which is basically a big map of where all the lights go when we are in each theatre. I draft one for every theatre on the tour and it includes information such as what type of light is to be used, what colour they are and what control channel I can dial into the console to select them. From the plan I then produce a shop order for the rental company, which is basically a list of any additional equipment Ben Omerod requires to light the show. Once we get into the fit up I supervise the rigging of our equipment and troubleshoot anything that is not working. When the crew and equipment are ready I focus (point) the lighting instruments at various areas on the stage under Ben's direction. The focuses of these lights are recorded with photographs using a wonderful piece of software called 'Lightwright'. It is one of the many tools that enables me to keep the lighting looking just right. It can take a few hours to focus the lighting instruments and when it is finished we can then begin to program 'looks' from the lighting console.

The next part of the process is a painstaking one. We light during the technical rehearsal with the cast; Ben the lighting designer calls out numbers of lighting instruments and positions and colours (into his headset), whilst as quickly as possible I bring them up on the lighting console. When Ben is happy I record our 'look' into the cue list. This process of going through the entire show often takes two to three days and I have to make sure I am paying attention as on tour I will often only get two to three hours to recreate the same lighting. It's very hard work as we try and use any dinner breaks and tea breaks to touch up the focuses of lighting instruments, add new instruments and troubleshoot broken equipment. I often have a mini tuck shop under the lighting desk to get through the day! Once the technical rehearsal is over if we are lucky we can get a dress rehearsal in, this enables Ben to take notes of any mistakes, which we will then fix during the dinner break. At this stage the notes are mostly lighting console notes: for example intensities and colours that need to be changed.

At last, our first show is finally open! The lighting department will be in as early as possible the next morning fixing anything that went wrong in our first show and then the cast come in and we fix any problems that they encountered onstage. We often have lots of notes after the first performance and it is another day of working through breaks to get to the second performance. Once Ben is happy with the lighting for the show I can then use the notes sessions to photograph the focuses of our generic theatre lights. Then on to moving lights! More and more shows are using moving lights and Propeller often uses anywhere between ten and fifteen instruments of this type of equipment.

A moving light is a light whose focus is re-positionable during the show, not only will it's focus change but also it's colour, size, shape and it will even project images. However the technology is not quite there yet and although they are wonderful lights there are very sensitive. They are often the piece of equipment that fails the most on a show. They also really increase the time it takes to program the lighting because not only do you have to call out it's intensity e.g. "at 65%" but also tell it where it needs to point, in what colour and what size etc. On the plus side one moving light can replace literally dozens of more traditional theatre spotlights so they are an invaluable tool for us. However, as we realised on the last tour, they also require a lot of paperwork! Every position that a moving light uses on a stage needs to be noted so that it can be accurately reproduced week on week. Henry V & The Winters Tale were pretty hectic in terms of moving lights as both shows combined had just under four hundred moving light positions!


A typical UK touring schedule will usually go something like this, at 9am we hang all of the lights over the stage and front of house (auditorium), after lunch we will rig all of the side lighting required for the show and ensure that everything is working. We also check that each light has its correct colour and gobo/template in it. After dinner we focus all of the overhead lighting and as much of the auditorium lighting as possible using our focus notes and then by 10 or 11pm it's time to go back to the hotel and make a list of the remaining instruments to be focused and update any other paperwork for the tech the next day.

The next morning at 9am we finish the lighting focus and flash through (check that everything works). Then by around midday it is time to update all of the moving light focus positions on the lighting console. This takes about one to two hours and I often have my headphones on as David (Propeller's sound designer) uses this time to check all of his sound cues are working (It is very loud!).  I then load the cues from the show file, thankfully we tour a lighting console so we don't have to worry about compatibility issues with our show.

Once the positions are updated I know that all of the lights will be pointing in the right place for our mini technical rehearsal with the cast where we do a top and tail brief run of the show. During this time, I spend a lot of time correcting the intensities in cues. This is due to the fact that every theatre is different and some lights will be rigged closer or further away from the stage. It is also because theatre lights come in a variety of different wattages and outputs and the dimmers that they are connected to vary greatly. What often happens during a long running tour is the cast become quicker and slicker and another thing I find myself doing is changing the fade times of the lighting cues. After the tech run I spend the dinner break fixing anything that didn't work in the tech and grab a sandwich in the short time it takes for the audience to come in and sit down! I often operate the board during the first performance as it enables me to subtly (without you the audience noticing) correct intensities in scenes and make notes out of sight.

Then after the first show it is time for bed as we have to do it all again tomorrow for the second show in our rep!

Tom White