Al Fresco Midsummer Night’s Dream

May 9 2023 | By More

The Forth Act to stage Shakespeare’s Dream in Saughton Park

This midsummer, new Edinburgh grass-roots theatre company, The Forth Act, is set to perform Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the open air arena of the Italian Garden in Saughton Park.

Here, Helen Schofield, the production’s director, reflects on how the production came into being, starting from its genesis back in the early summer of 2020, as the restrictions of that first Covid lockdown started to bite, and the bars, restaurants and theatres all closed.

Schofield, however, was already looking to the future.

“Like a lot of us at that time, I found solace in nature,” she says. “One of my favourite places was Saughton Park, a beautiful local park which, despite being firmly enclosed by the city sprawl, was also a haven for wildlife, with otters, foxes and kingfishers, alongside the more usual ducks and swans.

Helen Schofield on the steps of the Italian Garden at Saughton Park.

Helen Schofield in the Italian Garden at Saughton Park. Pic: the Forth Act.

“I kept returning to one particular space in the park, the Italian Garden. Perhaps, because I was missing my regular theatre fix, I started to see there a stage, actors, an audience watching the show, and my first thought was, ‘When this is all over, someone should put on a play here’.

“Swiftly followed by, ‘I should be the person to put on a play here!’ I know it sounds a bit Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney but the play, the setting, the look, all came together in my mind very quickly.”

The idea may have come rapidly but the realisation of it took a great deal longer. As restrictions waxed and waned over the next few years, she gathered a small team and introduced them to her idea, by taking them to visit the Gardens. Some were theatre professionals who had been laid off due to the pandemic but wanted to continue working in some way, others were just enthusiasts who saw the potential.

By the spring of 2022 Schofield had her team and was ready to go. A target date was set of June 21st, midsummer night, 2023.

The first objective was to set up the new company, The Forth Act, with a clear ethos and set of values. Research done by some of the theatres in Edinburgh found that people who live in the areas around the park are less likely to attend theatre in the city centre. So this was going to be a community theatre.

an event right on your doorstep

“It became important to us to get them involved, and show that drama isn’t just something that happens uptown but can be an event right on your doorstep, in a place you already use, know, and love,” says Schofield. “We now have local residents in the cast, backstage and helping with front of house. They have become part of the creative process and feel that they also own some part of the show.”

Logo for Forth Act’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Casting was carried out over the summer of 2022, with rehearsals starting in the October. This long lead-in is essential for the way Schofield works. She had a clear vision for the production, but also wanted it to be collaborative, with all members of the company, both on and off stage, getting involved and contributing their own ideas.

“If you come along and see the play, and catch some small detail, and think, ‘that was clever’, chances are you’ve spotted something that one of the cast or crew threw into the mix at rehearsal and we then workshopped and added in. To do that, you have to take time.

“We also wanted to use recycled and up-cycled materials for our set and costumes, and for that we turned to other community groups who were already involved in those areas.”

Asked what the high and low points of the experience have been so far, Schofield says: “It has been incredibly hard work at times, taking far more hours than I at first imagined but I don’t regret any of it. There really haven’t been that many lows.

“Sure, there were obstacles but perhaps fewer than you might think, and I have a great problem-solving team. The highs have been terrific. Watching someone who has never been on stage before, discovering that they have comic timing and can make people laugh. Uncovering what seemed like an insurmountable problem, only to hear someone say, ‘I’ll make some phone calls.’ And the problem is resolved.”

There is one insurmountable, however, that still wakes Schofield up at 4am in a sudden panic. The weather. Midsummer night might be opening night, but that is no guarantee that the weather gods will be kind.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Italian Garden, Saughton Park
, Balgreen Road, EH11 3BQ
Wednesday 21 – Saturday 24 June 2023
Wed – Fri: 7pm; Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.


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