July 2, 2008

Home Run is a ‘Dream’ Come True for Footies

T he thrill and immediacy of great live theatre can sometimes lead to disappointment: for no matter how good a performance might be, you'll never get to see it again.

Unlike a favourite film, book or TV programme, there's no rewind, no DVD recording facility - it lives on only in the memory

One August night back in the mid-1970s, a small group of revellers gathered to drink and make merry on Newlyn Green for a shortlived little event called The Festival of Fools. On the bill of the two-day bash was a relatively unknown Elvis impersonator called Shakin' Stevens, assorted stand-ups and the usual folkies - but the most interesting act by far was a theatre company called Footsbarn, who put on a production entitled Midsummer Madness. It transpired later that the name of the play had been hastily changed when some members of the travelling troupe expressed fears that Shakespeare might put off potential audiences. And, at that time, they were probably right.

Midsummer Madness was wild, bold, comic, belligerent, colourful, poetic, irreverent and a lot of other things besides - quite possibly the way its author originally intended it. Moreover, what those sober enough to stay the course unknowingly witnessed that evening was the genesis of a movement that would eventually flower into the likes of Kneehigh, Miracle, WildWorks, Bedlam and host of other shorter-lived Cornish theatre companies.

Footsbarn were pioneers in taking theatre out of the rarified confines of traditional venues and on to fields and village greens, offering people of all ages and backgrounds a chance to experience exciting interpretations of classic scripts from Moliere to Victor Hugo.

Thirty-five years later, Footsbarn are still taking theatre out to people all over the world, and will be in Cornwall for three weeks this month, performing a version of the play they staged all those years ago on Newlyn Green: A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.

Formed in 1971 in a barn owned by Oliver Foot at Trewen near Liskeard, the company had a number of bases - including a former coffin maker's yard at Hallworthy - before being wooed by a generous financial package from the French government to relocate to a farm complex at La Chausee in the French countryside. Since then - and with a truly international cast of actors, musicians, makers and directors - Footsbarn have toured their unique brand of theatre across the globe.

"We've pretty much toured the whole world, though we haven't been to China yet," said Paddy Hayter, who has been with Footsbarn since the early days in Cornwall. "And the cast for A Midsummer Night's Dream is international too. There are two British actors. One of the founders, Joey Cunningham, plays Oberon and Snug, while I am Bottom and Lysander. Puck is Javanese, Titania is Japanese, Helena is French and Demetrius is French-American. One of the Hermias is French of South African origin, and we also have Indian and Polish musicians."

Although the company toured A Midsummer Night's Dream for a second time 17 years ago, visiting a number of venues in the UK, the decision to again reprise Shakespeare's comedy of magic and love came quite by chance.

"It happened because we were approached by the organisers of a big classical festival in Spain who said if we could produce a big Shakespeare show for them then they would make it possible for us to tour Spain with it for six weeks," explained Paddy. "We were right in the middle of producing a show called The Man Who Laughs and so we had to find out which Shakespeare they would accept. The festival told us 'Dream' was on the list and because we had to produce it very fast - just three weeks of rehearsals - it was possible to do it. We chose it partly out of security and partly because we all love it. After all, if The Rolling Stones can still perform Not Fade Away, then Footsbarn can perform 'Dream'."

After taking the production to Spain and then Portugal, they will be in Cornwall for three weeks.

"It took off like a rocket in Spain and we were quite taken aback. We're hoping people in Cornwall who saw it all those years ago will come back and see what we've done with it. We originally did A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1975 but we were scared to call it that because we thought Shakespeare would frighten off the audience. So we called it Midsummer Madness. It was very much an improvised piece back then, with a small cast. I remember we played at Launceston Water Fair, Festival of Fools in Newlyn and Penzance and at the Woolacombe Proper Festival."

The latest incarnation will be staged in a big top at Carruan Farm Centre, near Polzeath, from July 10 to 27. By no means the same show as the one at Newlyn Green in the mid-1970s, it may nevertheless retain the essence of that anarchy and excitement.

"I am really looking forward to being back in Cornwall," said Paddy. "I love doing new work but it's also great to be able to revisit a role like Bottom. All the people in it now are very strong performers. I know there'll be people in the audience who saw us all those years ago - and some people say they'll be bringing their children and even grandchildren to see it this time."

To commemorate his contribution to Footsbarn, a special celebration day of performances, films and music will be held on July 20 in memory of Oliver Foot, who died this year.

Organised by Born Hectic Events of St Germans, performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream (at Carruan Farm Centre, near Polzeath, from July 10 to 27) are at 8pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 6pm on Sundays, with a 1pm matinee on Tuesday, July 15. Tickets priced pounds16 for adults and pounds8 for children (with group reductions) can be obtained by calling 01726 879500 or by visiting www.crbo.co.uk

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.