A LOST film of Sir Peter Hall’s 1959 Stratford-upon-Avon production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was recently discovered in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s collections, will have its first public screening on Sunday night as part of the inaugural Shakespeare Film Festival in Stratford.
The search for the ‘lost play’ started when Prof Russell Jackson, realised that Peter Hall’s 1959 stage version of the Dream had been filmed for American TV but never transmitted on either side of the Atlantic.
The play had been videotaped (then a new process) on the stage of what was still the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre after the end of the 1959 festival season, and is introduced by a short travelogue in which Charles Laughton—who played Bottom—shows viewers round Stratford, and there is even a brief interview backstage with the very young Peter Hall.
The cast of this famous production includes Ian Holm, Vanessa Redgrave, Mary Ure (Titania) and other actors whose faces will be familiar.
The production was revived in 1962, with some important changes of cast, including Judi Dench as Titania—and in 1968 it was the basis of a film made on location at Compton Verney.
Prof Jackson, who heads Birmingham University’s Department of Drama and Theatre Arts, and has worked with Sir Kenneth Branagh, patron of the film festival, on all of his Shakespeare productions, said: “This TV version of the Dream, which never reached the screen, is a unique and magic record of a famous production, with Charles Laughton heading a great cast.
“It’s a fascinating glimpse of Stratford Shakespeare just before the RSC came into existence, and fine entertainment in its own right.”
The Shakespeare Film Festival, which is being produced by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in partnership with Stratford Picturehouse, opens on Saturday and will feature a string of iconic films and adaptations of Shakespeare’s works, including Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s The Taming of the Shrew, Rupert Goold’s Macbeth , featuring Patrick Stewart, and Neil Brand’s Silent Shakespeare.
Guest speakers including leading actors and directors will discuss Shakespeare’s impact on cinema across the ages.
Geraldine Collinge, Royal Shakespeare Company director of events and exhibitions, said: “The festival promises a fascinating glimpse of Shakespeare’s work on film, with performances from many RSC alumni, including Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh.”
Gregory Doran, the RSC’s artistic director, added: “It’s a completely charming film complete with Charles Laughton’s tour of Stratford beforehand, and a fresh-faced Peter Hall introducing his wonderful production of the play, with the likes of Ian Holm as Puck and Robert Hardy as Oberon. It’s a total inspiration!”
Prof Jackson will also give a pre-screening talk about A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the night.
The festival line-up also includes children’s matinées of Gnomeo and Juliet and The Lion King, and workshops with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s resident acting troupe, Shakespeare Aloud.
For a full programme of events and tickets visit www.picturehouses. co.uk/cinema/Stratford_upon_Avon
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