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Dominic Leclerc brings Dream toy box to life

Published June 27, 2008

Shakespeare’s fairytale A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a staple of the season at the Open Air theatre, Regent’s Park. But this year we can expect a very different production of the Dream thanks to 29-year-old director and choreographer Dominic Leclerc, who is adapting the famous play for audiences as young as six years old.

Well-known for his dance-influenced style of direction, Leclerc has worked with such esteemed establishments as the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the Sheffield Crucible and the Donmar Warehouse. Now ensconced in rehearsals at the Open Air, Leclerc tells Caroline Bishop about his Toy Story-style version of the Dream…

Why did you choose A Midsummer Night’s Dream to adapt for kids?

DL: Well I didn’t, [the Open Air Artistic Director] Timothy Sheader did and he invited me to direct it and choreograph it. They do a Dream here every year and they wanted this version to be for young audiences, to be quite a different production of the show. And I think they wanted it to be quite physical and visual- and design-led and choreographic. I’m a director as well as a choreographer, so I think [that’s why] Tim, who was aware of my work, invited me to do it. I’m able to make it quite bold and choreographic and visual and appealing to young audiences.

How have you adapted the play to an 80-minute running time?
DL: Well we’ve cut the text down quite a lot, and as other work in the show expands, like the choreography, the movement and the singing, even more cuts are appearing. So we’re celebrating the visual language but also other theatrical elements – music, movement and song.

You are creating an ‘interactive prologue’ to the play. What exactly is that?
DL: The audience are 6+ so it’s quite young, and I want to whet their appetite in terms of their enjoyment and experience of theatre. In the interactive prologue Puck, who is the master of ceremonies, is going to introduce the world of the show and the three communities – the fairies, the mechanicals, the lovers – and set up their essential dilemmas, what their quests are, what their interests are, so that the children recognise them when they see them in the show and recognise key plot notes.

In it, Puck is speaking in normal language but they break into Shakespearean text at certain bits – and actually we teach the audience bits of it. And then when we go to the play it’s all original language.

How do you make the original language accessible to six-year-olds?
DL: I think a lot of the language is quite clear, and we’ve taken out some of the more poetic, longer speeches that don’t move the plot forward. There’s quite a lot of action in the show and plot development. I’ve had to be quite brutal with the cutting; however nice the speech is, if it doesn’t move things forward, it goes. We are using the original language but there’s a different aspect to it as well. It’s quite a visual, choreographic production as much as a textual one.

What do you mean when you say the show is very physical and visual?
DL: The whole concept of the show is that it’s a disused Victorian nursery that comes to life, a bit like Nutcracker or Toy Story, where all the characters are disused Victorian toys. So Demetrius and Lysander are tin soldiers, Helena and Hermia are these perfect dolls, Puck is a Jack in the Box, Oberon is this magician fairy. We’ve had quite a lot of fun playing about with their physicality and the mechanical nature of Demetrius and Lysander, and actually what happens to this toy world when it comes to life.

I wanted a design concept that was clear and didn’t confuse, and yet could bring lots of visual play, physical play, to it. For young audiences I think they recognise these toys and the concept of them coming to life and falling in love with one another and falling out of love, and the fairies, and the naughtiness of Puck.

Will parents and older children enjoy it?
DL: Yeah, absolutely. I’m trying to make it appeal to 6+ but I’m sure all ages will get a lot out of it, because it’s original language and because all the theatrical elements are so enjoyable.

Did you enjoy Shakespeare growing up?
DL: I did, yes. I studied him at university. [At school] I loved Hamlet and the tragedies, more than the comedies. And the Scottish play.

I saw lots of stuff by the RSC. My mum was an English teacher and she took me to lots of plays when I was younger which was great.

What made you want to get into this job?
DL: Probably being instilled with a love of theatre and language and text when I was younger. And then I danced a lot when I was younger [ballet and contemporary], from the age of four to 16, and then when I went to university I started directing and all my work became very, very physical.

You have worked on productions for adults as well as children – how does the process compare?
DL: Very similar really. I think the thing is to not patronise or dumb down your ideas for young audiences. I was assistant director of His Dark Materials at the National. We approached it like directing an adult piece of work; although the piece was aimed at young audiences, it had a huge respect for their intelligence and their imaginations rather than dumbing down and saying ‘it’s a kids’ show’. Although it is for a young audience and we have to bring them in and make it accessible, I think we can excite and challenge as much as we would with an adult piece.

What have the highlights of your career been so far?

DL: His Dark Materials was good, I really enjoyed that. I’ve just directed Monkey! at West Yorkshire Playhouse which was fun. My work’s normally quite adult and dark, to be honest, so doing a couple of young people’s shows back to back is quite interesting.

Do you want to continue producing theatre for young people?

DL: I have enjoyed it and we’ll see where it goes, if I’m invited to do anything else in this realm.

CB