You would be forgiven for thinking you were being led down the figurative garden path when, searching for Ordsall Hall, your phone tells you to get off the tram at Exchange Quay. Surrounded by the modern apartment blocks and with MediaCity’s shiny new structures just in sight, this was a far-cry from the Tudor-style manor house I was looking for. Were it not for the hoard of excitable children (and parents) also running slightly late ahead of me, I might not have believed my map at all.
Arriving at Ordsall Hall, I was greeted by a sea of picnic blankets (or for the more seasoned outdoor theatre goer: the fold up chair) and eager young faces already focused on the four primary-coloured clad men that make up the Rubbish Shakespeare Company. The staging of the show was basic: the audience sat around a cornered-off section of the Hall’s gardens. All that was noticeably out of place were four plastic boxes of props and costume at the back of the stage area. Before the show began, the audience were instructed to hold up a finger in the air and eventually use it to politely clap their hand. Only to then be told that the opposite reaction was required: instead they wanted raucous laughter, cheers and jeers, and for the parents ‘not to only laugh when they’re clever enough to recognise a reference.’
Much of the performance’s joy came from how it felt as though it was the result of something put together entirely for the players’ own enjoyment. The performance did not feel forced or over-rehearsed and spoke to much of the catch-all joy that Shakespeare’s plays were written for. The troop ritually touched the badges of their t-shirts, and called it each other ‘Rubbish’ to eschew any didactic intent. It was all fun and games. No boundary existed between stage and seat. From the get go the Duke was sat being fanned by a boy in the audience, while someone else was called upon to play the missing theatre troop member during the play of Pyramus and Thisby.
Shakespeare’s original dialogue formed the spine of the play, if trimmed down in parts. For the more ridiculous plot points, the actors made a point out of the dramatic irony and play with tone so younger audience members knew how to react. A particularly joyful scene was Puck searching for the flower to cast a spell with, who snooped in the audience’s snacks, suggesting they might have been the flower. This scene again relied on its environment: the overgrown bank of the garden provided a perfect background for Puck to disappear into. The hall itself served as a perfect backdrop, being from a similar time period as the language used, yet thriving in this modern landscape.
Lee Hithersay was undoubtedly the star of this performance and his overtly camp rendition of Demetrius caught the attention of the kids. Hithersay’s humour spoke to something particularly Mancunian: often providing asides that will have gone unnoticed by the children such as getting the pronouns of one of the characters wrong, then referring to ‘a genderless world [of fairies] innit.’
It is a testament to the Rubbish Shakespeare Company that they retained the attention of at least 50 children, as well as their parents. The setting of Ordsall Hall perfectly suited the show and offered numerous opportunities for the players to engage with their props and staging. But the clearest proof came from how, over the course of the performance, the children moved forward at least two metres into the stage area, as they became increasingly excited by Shakespeare’s world.
The Rubbish Shakespeare Company continue their tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream until 26th August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival