“Messy in every sense of the word,” Filter’s co-artistic director Ferdy Roberts summarises the company’s approach to Shakespeare’s oft-performed comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When faced with a familiar text, Filter like to pull things apart, to unpick and restitch, to fly off in unexpected directions, hoping to convey a sense of the play, its pulse, its spirit. A straight-forward staging was not what they were aiming for. “If we were going to do it, we had to play around with it.”
When Filter staged their ‘response’ to Twelfth Night, initially a commission for the RSC, the stage was set up as if for a concert with drum kit, keyboards and guitars. The musical connection is an apt one: theirs was a riff on the text, a jam session – complete with shots of tequila and take-out pizza.
They’ve been touring their production of Dream since last year but they’re reworking it for its run at the Lyric Hammersmith. For one thing they now have a set to play with. Linbury Prize winning designer Hyemi Shin has been brought on board. “She’s had to design a set for an existing show so it’s a bit of a different process for her.” The resulting set has had a direct effect on the way the show is performed. “She’s created a playground for us,” he says with an evident degree of delight.
They’ve also tried to avoid going down “the obvious road when casting.” Roberts, bearded, robust, and eloquent in manner and expression, admits to being the typical Oberon-type. But he took the role of Demetrius when the company performed at the Latitude Festival, and in the show’s current incarnation he will be playing Puck. Jonathan Broadbent, meanwhile, who’s played Puck several times over the course of his career, is taking on the role of Oberon.
The piece is constantly evolving “and will continue to evolve over the run.” There won’t come a point where it’s a finished, fixed thing. When training at Guildhall they worked with “a very inspirational Russian director Vasily Skorik, who was instrumental in terms of teaching us about not trying to get things right.” Their work contains room for manoeuvre, responsiveness, and while they won’t be inviting the audience to get up and dance as they did in Twelfth Night, they’re very conscious of making work that acknowledges the audience. “We’re not a fourth wall theatre company. These plays are robust plays. They allow for audience involvement.”
Their time touring Twelfth Night to schools as part of the RSC’s education programme underlined this. The experience was both “brilliant training” and, at times, “a battle ground.” Having come through that they’re “prepared for any audiences now.”