A Midsummer Night's Dream in a glorious garden setting

Francesca McBride returns to Chichester Festival Youth Theatre armed with a degree in politics and international relations from the University of Bath.
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And, as she says, that's certainly going to be useful for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream in West Dean Gardens from Friday, August 4-Saturday, August 19, in which she will be playing Oberon: “I really, really enjoyed the course but I chose to study politics not because I was wanting to go into politics but because I wanted to study power and I do think that feeds into my enthusiasm for acting. When you look at a text, I think the first thing that comes to mind is to look at the power imbalances among the characters.”

Francesca, who is 22, joined Chichester Festival Youth Theatre when she was 13 and stayed until she went to university in 2019: “I think the youth theatre was fundamental to me in terms of confidence. I really grew as an individual at Chichester especially as they are so great at giving space to young people’s voices and encouraging young people to feel empowered. I think in society there is a lot of expectation that children and young people don't have opinions or aren't given the space to voice their opinions but in Chichester they really encourage you to do exactly that.

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“I'm just so pleased to be back in Chichester now and I'm hoping to stay until they kick me out! I'm applying to drama schools at the moment and I really want to pursue an acting profession. Chichester has always felt like home to me and it's really good to be able to return home. A lot of youth theatres are capped at 18 and if that had been the case in Chichester, I wouldn't be able to come back now which is really lovely.”

Francesca McBride (c) 2022 TimHillsPhotographyFrancesca McBride (c) 2022 TimHillsPhotography
Francesca McBride (c) 2022 TimHillsPhotography

And it also means that she can relish all the wonderful ambiguities Shakespeare offers with A Midsummer Night's Dream: “It is done a lot and that is definitely a challenge to doing it again, and obviously part of the challenge is that you've absolutely got to stay true to the text. You don't muck with Shakespeare but it is really, really enjoyable. Dale usually directs the youth theatre but it can be really, really great to work with a different director and for this we have got Jon Pashley. To be working with a different director really exposes you to different perspectives particularly with Shakespeare where a lot of it can be so interpretive. Shakespeare is just so good at integrating a certain level of ambiguity into his text and with A Midsummer Night's Dream which has been done thousands of times there is so much freedom to play.” Part of that freedom is the fact that Francesca as a woman is playing Oberon who is traditionally played as male: “But at the end of the day I think fairies are fairies and it's very hard to gender something that is just so ethereal.” So Francesca adopts “they” as the pronoun for Oberon, an additional level of ambiguity for the production: “And I think the interesting thing is that they are so often seen as the villain of the piece but ultimately there's this real love of love that they have. They have a really deep appreciation of love and that is the real key to this character who initially we see as just being all nastiness. The character is written as not particularly lovable to begin with, and it has been really, really fascinating to try to find the humanity.”