2016 is a momentous year for the Royal Shakespeare Company – it’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. As part of the celebrations, the Company is taking on its biggest challenge ever and the BBC is here to follow it all the way.
Performing A Midsummer Night's Dream – one of Shakespeare’s best loved comedies – a professional cast will tour the country, but there’s something unique about this production. Alongside the cast of professionals, six actors from a local amateur company will play the Mechanicals, a group of parts which includes the famous role of Bottom.
With unprecedented access, BBC English Regions is capturing all of the action in nine 30-minute regional documentaries, to show just how hard it can be to find The Best Bottoms in the Land. The Best Bottoms In The Land follows the pressures and pitfalls of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s project, from auditions to the opening night of each region’s local performance.
Erica Whyman is the deputy artistic director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the pressure is on her to deliver a hit. She says: “My reputation is definitely on the line, because it’s got to be the finest production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that I could possibly deliver. The most daunting aspect for me was the uncertainty of bringing together the professional company with the amateur actors and the schoolchildren; it was a project like no other that the RSC had ever taken on. Having the BBC’s cameras there to follow us from auditions to opening night has added another element of surprise – but it’s fantastic to have these documentaries to follow this once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Juggling real life with the pressures of appearing in a professional production has certainly been a challenge for the amateur actors. There have been sore throats, bruised egos, missed cues and even broken bones along the way – but, of course, the show must go on. BBC cameras have been on hand to capture the emotions over the past year as the tour has travelled the length of the country giving once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to amateur actors.
Ed Barlow, series producer for The Best Bottoms In Te Land says: “Working with the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as all the amateur companies and the theatres across the country, has been a real privilege. The Best Bottoms In The Land has brought some fantastic insights into the worlds of amateur – and professional – theatre in some hugely enjoyable programmes. These aren’t programmes about Shakespeare as such, they’re programmes about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, under the most incredible pressure, so whether you’re fan of the Bard or not, they’re well worth a watch.”
The Best Bottoms In The Land will air on 20 May, 7.30pm, BBC One English Regions and BBC One HD.
RSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play for the Nation
A professional cast of 18
84 Amateur actors from around the UK, 14 different amateur companies
A production lasting five months
A year from auditions until the first opening night
The BBC followed nine amateur companies to find out just how hard it is to become the ‘The Best Bottoms In The Land':
WEST MIDLANDS: The Nonentities from Kidderminster
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
NORTH EAST: The Castle Players from County Durham
Northern Stage, Newcastle
NORTH WEST: Poulton Drama from Blackpool
Grand Theatre, Blackpool
YORKSHIRE: Leeds Arts Centre from Leeds, performing in Bradford
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
SOUTH EAST: The Canterbury Players from Canterbury
Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
EAST OF ENGLAND: The Common Lot from Norfolk
Theatre Royal, Norwich
EAST MIDLANDS: Lovelace Theatre Group from Hucknall
Theatre Royal Nottingham
SOUTH WEST: Carnon Downs Drama Group from Truro
Hall for Cornwall, Truro
LONDON: Tower Theatre from London