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  • Writer's pictureHinton Magazine

Hinton Magazine – Flabbergast Theatre Q&A with performer Simon Gleave

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ will be at Wilton’s Music Hall from 9th - 20th April, at 7.30pm. There are matinee performances at 2:30pm on Thursdays (11th, 18th) and Saturdays (13th, 20th). For tickets, visit: 

Flabbergast Theatre has made a name for itself with its striking and unusual interpretations of classic theatre, including last years production of a deconstructed Macbeth. They are currently gearing up for the debut of their take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The show is a well-known fan and family favourite, and this raucous version features clowning, animal-skull puppetry, ballet, and a huge heap of OTT imagination. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

We chatted with Simon Gleave, who plays woebegotten and (spoiler alert - if it’s possible to spoil a 500-year-old-play?) donkey-headed Bottom in this production, about the creative universe of the show and about clowning, silliness, and getting loose with a widely beloved script. 

What preparation did you do for your role in this show? Was that the same or different to the rest of the cast?The fact Bottom is half-masked is the first thing because, in some ways, masks work differently - they are real, but they need to be physically expressed. We all worked in more or less the same way through various games and techniques… there was a lot of exposing and ridiculous stupidity! Mainly we saw The Mechanicals (the theatre troupe in the show) as amateurs who do what they do because they love it, so we tried to play that ourselves. We all have different ways of working in the company - that is the richness of the ensemble - and we try to meet in the middle, or just allow each individual to do their ‘thing’. It’s that diversity - not just of background, but of creative universe - that keeps me constantly connected and curious in the company.

This show has music, puppets, and clowning - which creative element of it challenged you the most?

Although I knew it was what I wanted, it was still hard to give myself and ourselves permission to truly play with the Shakespeare, I think, as there is such reverence and judgement out there regarding what is good and right. We have worked really hard to make the clowning connect the story to the audience, and to make large expressive characters who nonetheless have very real lacks, needs, impulses, problems and dreams. In a way, the “play within the play” element - of us being troubadour actors playing at playing a play - helps us to explore the technical challenges of theatre from the raw, authentic, slightly amateur place of survival and clown.

Did you learn anything new about yourselves in rehearsing this show?

I learnt that I can find endless enthusiasm if I’m forced to, and I relearned that masks are one of the most liberating art forms. I learnt that a show can be simple and stupid, but still profoundly enjoyable and meaningful. 


What’s your favourite part of how audiences respond to Flabbergast’s interpretations of Shakespeare?

When they feel relieved enough to laugh with us, so when they understand the point of the stupidity. Then we all breathe, and it gets seriously fun. Also, often though I do enjoy the snootiness; a lot of people are very serious and even protective over Shakespeare in theatre.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

How is interpreting Midsummer Night’s Dream different from interpreting Macbeth for this company?

It’s far looser, more fun in a way. Macbeth seems to have greater depth, because it’s a tragedy, but we are entertained by how we’ve managed to make Midsummer entertaining through the ridiculousness, physicality and joy of it. It is a relief to play with highly physical comedy for Shakespeare — I feel it returns or interprets the play through the lens of the popular theatre.


How do you create the magic and mystique of the forest in the show?

Apart from a cheap gobo? Our artistic director and designer Henry Maynard made these beautiful puppets fusing animal skulls with dried flowers; we focused on a vocal soundscape that evoked the Animalia of the forest. But predominantly in the physicality of the actors, I think, and the idea of the dream as a kind of “trip” or “journey,” so as well as it being a ‘real’ forest, in reality it is very clearly both a stage show and an ecstatic dream for the characters, who are actors, and the actors, who are clowns.


Are there any aspects of the show you think audiences will particularly appreciate?

We were most interested in the theatricality, which is to say imaginative nonsense, of the idea of a group of travelling players - all very different - playing Midsummer Night’s Dream in the theatre in which we find ourselves today, whether in Ludlow, Malvern or Wilton’s. In a way, the show is an ode to a popular form of theatre we have had in Europe for hundreds of years - a large wagon, some masks, some instruments, some song, some comedy, some poetry. So, we hope it’s first and foremost entertaining!


What is your personal favourite moment or scene in the show?

It changes every night, I think, because there are different and new moments the more we push our ridiculousness… but when the fight scene is full throttle, it’s brilliant farce and I genuinely laugh along with the audience.

Flabbergast Theatre’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be at Wilton’s Theatre from 9th - 20th April, at 7.30pm. There are matinee performances at 2:30pm on Thursdays (11th, 18th) and Saturdays (13th, 20th). For tickets, visit:


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