From The Archives: 60 years of Shakespeare at The George

The 1960's cast of A Midsummer's Night's Dream

The 1960's cast of A Midsummer's Night's Dream - Credit: SaTG

In 1959, the first play ever performed by Shakespeare at The George (SaTG) was Taming of the Shrew. However, partly due to the wonderful outdoor venue provided by the courtyard at The George Hotel, the most ‘popular’ play – at least in terms of the amount of times it has been performed by the company – is actually A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Performed in 1960, twice in the 80s, once in the noughties and most recently 2019 for our 60th anniversary, the show provides a fascinating look at how amateur theatre, fashion and even society has changed across the years.

In 1960, more than 2,000 people came to see it. The accounts show that it even turned a handsome profit. However, the accounts in 1960 looked very different from the accounts today.

The 1960 production cost £515.14.6 to stage. In 2019, our production budget was more than £15,000. In 1960 ticket prices ranged from 12/6 (62 1/2p) to 2/6 (12 1/2p). Adult tickets for our 2019 performances were £12-14.

The first ever performance also included a trapdoor which the director, Michael Sheard, made in secret after the dress rehearsal. Following a thunderstorm later that evening, a blocked drain under the stage meant that Puck nearly drowned as he attempted to make his entrance through it on the opening night. Our strict health and safety policies today ensure that such things are definitely a thing of the past.

The 1981 version owed a lot to the ingenuity of Victorian set builders. The majority of the action in MSND takes place in a ‘magical’ wood, something difficult to achieve even in the courtyard of The George.

The production team overcame that challenge by using a stage effect beloved of the Victorians, the painted gauze. Gauzes, like net curtains, appear solid when there is more light in front than behind them. Trees painted on the gauze can conveniently fade away as the lights come up on stage. Truly magical - and with no green screen or CGI needed!

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All information taken from the SaTG 60th anniversary book, which costs £10 and is packed with 130 pages of cast and crew lists, pictures and audience memories of every show SaTG has performed. To order your copy, email: book@satg.org.uk

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