Elephant Park to host sold-out Midsummer Night’s Dream
Elephant Park will provide the leafy setting for a contemporary performance of Shakespeare’s classic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream this month. We speak to director John Whelan to find out why central London’s newest park is the perfect spot for the tale of young love and woodland quarrels.
People’s Company Director John Whelan doesn’t do nerves. Especially when the play he’s working on is by William Shakespeare and, in his own words, ‘beautiful’.
His latest production, a contemporary version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will take to the stage in Elephant Park this July and, according to the former drama teacher, there couldn’t be a better venue for the timeless play.
“Elephant Park is just such a wonderful location for this play because it’s an urban park. The fact that it’s so green and beautiful lends itself perfectly to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, because so much of it is set in a forest,” says John. “It’s like a beautiful, green oasis”.
Preparations for the production have been under way for the past four months. During that time, the dedicated team that makes up People’s Company, a community-based theatre group based at the Southwark Playhouse in Newington Causeway, have been learning lines, sourcing props and creating colourful costumes to transport the play to the swinging 60s, the decade in which this version of the play is set.
“I like Shakespeare when it’s contemporised,” says John. “We’re setting it at the end of the 1960s in the ‘flower power’ era, so the costumes are going to be really colourful and vibrant with lots of tie-dye and floral prints”.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows on from People’s Company’s successful production of As You Like It, which it performed at Elephant Park last summer. A firm believer in the ability of the Arts to break down barriers within a community and encourage people to come together, John is sure that events such as these, created and performed by the home-grown theatre group, are helping Elephant and Castle residents to adjust to the changing landscape of the area.
“When we put on the play in the park last year, there was a real mixture of people in the audience and I was really pleased about that,” says John. “We saw people who have lived in Elephant and Castle for a long time and new residents who, at that time, had recently moved into the first zones to open. It was kind of classless, diverse and cross-cultural, and everyone had been brought together because of the production, which is amazing.
“I worked on the opening of the park and I know it has been created as a green space to be enjoyed by everyone – both Elephant Park residents and those living across the rest of Elephant and Castle and beyond. I hope, at this summer’s production, people get the same sense of fun and – hopefully – a sense of place as well. At the heart of the play is love and we need to love our green spaces, because they’re important”.
An Elephant and Castle resident for the past five years, John moved to the capital from Manchester. “A bit like in A Midsummer Night’s dream, I moved to Elephant and Castle for love,” laughs John. “My partner is based here and, in a short time, Elephant and Castle has become home.
“I like it because it’s so vibrant and there’s a fantastic creative scene; there’s so much happening and there’s a real buzz around the area.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 July, 7pm to 9.30pm at Elephant Park. Tickets are free. Booking is advised at www.peoplescompanylondon.com.