Shakespeare classic in gorgeous West Dean Gardens

One of the great joys has been watching young people discover the genius of Shakespeare, says Jon Pashley who is directing Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in West Dean Gardens from August 4-19.
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“It is just lovely to do Shakespeare with them. There is so much scope for imagination and freedom for them to bring their own ideas to it. It's a massive play and it's one of the UK's best loved and most performed Shakespeares. Everyone has an opinion about it.”

Does that add to the pressure?

“There are positives and negatives. It sets expectations that people are going to love it and that they're going to see something exciting and new but they also want to see all their favourite bits that they have loved from previous productions, but for me the really exciting thing is to be working with young people that are meeting the play for the first time. It is gorgeous to be in the rehearsal room with these young people who might initially be put off by the language and think ‘Well, I don't know what I'm saying’ and then they start to think about it and get into the ideas and then suddenly they're saying it and they understand it and they start laughing. They realise what they're saying and they discover that it's got the same sense of humour as they have. The play is full of such life and we've got a great vocal coach (Marcia Carr) that we're working with which has really opened up the physicality of this language. You see these young actors using their bodies as instruments for the first time and you see the music of the language flow through them. You see them singing and dancing with this language. It is just lovely.

Jon Pashley is directing (contributed pic)Jon Pashley is directing (contributed pic)
Jon Pashley is directing (contributed pic)
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“I'm told it is about 15 years since they last did Shakespeare which means it is pretty much out of living memory for them but it's great to see a different way of acting and welcome the new challenges. They are working with new ways of speaking and new ways of thinking. It is not naturalistic. It is not musical theatre. It is another theatrical language entirely that is really putting the actor at the centre. It really ties in with the whole youth theatre ethos of giving them a voice.”

And of course it is fantastic to be in West Dean Gardens with the production: “It is such a beautiful setting for this play. It is so much about the natural environment and it is just extraordinary. We are so lucky to have this forest world. There are actually two locations really for the play. We start in the man-made rule-obsessed world of Athens and for that we will be near the house. We're lucky to have this huge imposing structure that we can benefit from and then we will journey away from the house delving into the forests…”

Jon goes back a long way with the Youth Theatre. He assisted Dale Rooks on Toad of Toad Hall 16 years or so ago and was also assistant director on The Witches which was in the Minerva while the main house was being remodelled: “We did it in the Minerva because the main house was not available but then we recreated it as part of the soft reopening of the main house. And then after that I worked on Running Wild when it toured around the UK. Some of the Chichester cast continued and it was their first professional job.”