Get in touch


Spot-lit GCSE workshop

Posted by: Laura Williams - 19 June 2024 - MPW London - Read time: 3 minutes

Rather aptly, this workshop took place on a balmy afternoon on May 10th, when typically, in the early modern period, men and women, young and old, would relish leaving their towns and engaging in ‘mischief’ in the woods to celebrate the arrival of May.  The other major Shakespearean source we touched upon was the extraordinary influence of the myriad tales of transformation in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (8th BCE) which includes the story of Theseus destroying the Minotaur.  Both these individuals feature in Midsummer, (transformed into Theseus the Duke and Bottom the weaver), as well as the story of Pyramus and Thisbe which is parodied in the play and experimented with in tragic form in Romeo and Juliet. There is extensive critical debate on which of these two plays Shakespeare wrote first, though he chose to set the cherished comedy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Athens in 12th century BC.

92.21 is not the most spacious of rooms for the Athenians and all their antics in the woods (including stage fights and frequent chases), though we made good use of the space with Helena leaping onto a high chair for the climactic fight scene.  The back of the stage was adorned with logs, fairy wings, old books, wands, a fairy lantern and dried flowers woven into a white sheet to transport the audience to an Athenian grove.  Having been invited to perform Twelfth Night to GCSE students for the last two years, we were familiar with the chaos inherent in this play as it unfolds, however, in Midsummer, the transgressions occur in a wood which arguably allows for even more mischief as Athenian society collides with a magic realm. Many critics suggest that as well as an enchanting space, the woods provide erotic and transgressive opportunities too.  We encounter Bottom (a weaver), a lower class Mechanical who is turned into a donkey and falls in love with Titania, Queen of the Fairies who has been cast under an ocular spell by Oberon, King of the Fairies, to fall in love with the first ‘vile thing’ she espies. Indeed Oberon and his trusty henchman ‘Puck’ proceed to tamper with the eyes of two Athenian men who also find themselves lost in the wood.  Although many of the scenes are achingly funny, there are sinister undertones undercutting the play.  Demetrius threatens to do Helena ‘mischief’ in the woods and in the climactic scene (which we acted out in full), Hermia tries to ‘claw out’ Helena’s eyes. Oberon can be seen as an arch-manipulator, perhaps even abuser if we consider that three individuals are effectively ‘drugged’ under his directions (and Demetrius is never given the antidote!)

We discussed how the first scene can appear reminiscent of a tragic play as Hermia faces death or Ophelia’s fate in Hamlet (a nunnery) for failing to defer to her father’s wishes to marry Demetrius.  Nevertheless, the humour of this play counterbalanced a sombre opening with the hyperbole of the Pyramus and Thisbe scene in Act V (‘his eyes were green as leeks’), Bottom’s bottomless butchery of Pyramus’ death scene and his earlier ‘translation’ into a donkey! We were incredibly fortunate to have Tamara Astor with us, who, as well as being a professional actor is also a professional singer and accomplished accordion player. She brought alive Titania’s fairy song and the audience were spellbound!

For the students, it is certainly a beneficial, enjoyable and unique process to see these core scenes come alive in front of their eyes, enacted by professional actors with only five days to go before the IGCSE exam. Our workshops are interactive so students were able to share their views in a highly original and intensive revision session on the play.  We had a full house of students including some Year 10 and Year 12 individuals who were curious to see the actors perform and keen to widen their knowledge of the Bard. I enjoyed opening up our discussions to consider the connections between Prospero (The Tempest) and Oberon and the gender dynamic between Oberon & Titania and Pluto & Proserpina from Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale (an A level text).

‘Spot-Lit’ was born just before the pandemic, out of a need to immerse students in live theatre (which most had been starved of) and to enrich students’ understanding of any textual narrative with bespoke workshops tailored to the exam board studied.  This is our third year performing myriad workshops across the UK and re-enacting Shakespeare plays covers about 75% of our content.  Having performed Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado about Nothing, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, it has been interesting to shape this workshop for GCSE students and forge connections with the other plays.  MPW has been exceptionally supportive of ‘Spot-Lit’ and we have also performed seven successful workshops over the Easter revision period in the last three years.

Normally, we structure the workshops with two actors, though I felt the sheer volume of characters for Midsummer warranted at least three and I (occasionally) stepped in too! Thank you to our GCSE volunteers who also read or enacted lines such as Thomas Cagle. Thank you to our professional actors who brought the play to life (Beth Eyre, Tamara Astor, Pia Carter).  We are grateful to Richard Martin (Head of English) and Sally Powell (Principal) for hosting our workshops and look forward to more collaborations in the future.