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The Reunion: Peter Brook’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Radio reviews. Photo: Shutterstock Photo: Shutterstock

“Once in a while, once in a very rare while, a theatrical production arrives that is going to be talked about as long as there is a theatre; a production that, for good or ill, is going to exert a major influence on the contemporary stage.”

Those were the words of New York Times theatre critic (and later a columnist for The Stage) Clive Barnes, describing director Peter Brook’s landmark production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon on August 27, 1970.

Barnes’s prediction turned out to be true, and Brook’s Dream had a huge influence on the way Shakespeare was performed from thereon in. The piece also had a profound effect on those involved, as demonstrated by an excellent episode of Radio 4’s The Reunion in which Sue MacGregor reunites four members of the original cast: Ben Kingsley (Demetrius), Sara Kestelman (Titania/Hippolyta), Frances de la Tour (Helena) and Barry Stanton (Snug), together with designer Sally Jacobs and Peter Brook himself.

While it is compelling to have an insight into the production from a technical point of view – the improvised approach to the text, the minimalist white space, the use of acrobatics, stilts and plate-spinning – it is the guests’ memories of the experience that really resonate.

Kestelman, who struggled with severe stagefright back in 1970, tells MacGregor how grateful she is to have been reminded of this “uniquely special” time in her life, and it is these kind of emotional and eloquent responses that make a real impact. Much recommended.

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A moving reflection on how Peter Brook’s Dream continues to have an impact 45 years after it was first staged