Hoglets Theatre in the mood for mischief in Shakespeare’s Dream of a children’s show

Hoglets Theatre’s Gemma Curry, left, Claire Morley and Becky Lennon in A Midsummer Night’s Mischief

EVERYTHING is kicking off in the forest as the fairies start a fight, but which side will you be on in the York Theatre Royal Studio on Friday and Saturday? Team Titania or Team Oberon?

Be prepared for York company Hoglets Theatre’s interactive, fun, larger-than-life production for young children – ideally aged two to nine, but everyone is welcome – spun around Shakespeare’s daftest romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Expect wild characters, raucous singalong songs with lyrics by Andy Curry and Lara Pattison, puppets, stunts and some frankly ridiculous disco dancing from director/writer Gemma Curry and fellow cast members Claire Morley and Becky Lennon.

Costumes by Julia Smith, set design by Andy Curry and choreography by Charlotte Wood – who appeared in earlier performances – all add to the magic of Hoglets Theatre’s tenth show, one that requires no previous experience of Shakespeare.

“It’s the most accessible of his plays – with fairies in it – and definitely the easiest to get into,” says Gemma. “We first did it five years ago with Lara Stafford, Rachel Wilkinson and me – all of us with two-year-old children at the time! – and children would hear the name ‘Bottom’ and laugh, and we thought, ‘oh yes, we’ve got it with this one’!

“We always have so much fun when we do it: for a morning or an afternoon, I can pretend to be a fairy, not a grown-up!”

Each performance starts with the cast – in this instance Curry, Morley and Lennon – covering their fairy wings in the cloaked guise of Macbeth’s three Witches, arguing over which play they should do.

“One says ‘Macbeth’, one says ‘Hamlet’, one says ‘A Winter’s Tale’,” Gemma says. “They have this huge argument and then decide that Shakespeare should decide via a version of [The Human League’s] Don’t You Want Me Baby?, changing the lyrics to take in all of Shakespeare’s plays as they perform in coats, wigs, moustaches and bald caps.

Claire Morley, left, choreographer Charlotte Wood and Gemma Curry in an earlier Hoglets Theatre performance of A Midsummer Night’s Mischief

“The last words to the song are Midsummer Night’s Dream, so we decide to do that one. Then we ask, ‘do you want to be involved?’, and that’s gone really well, apart from in Skipton, where this older chap ended up having to do all the roles!”

Curry, Morley and Lennon take on the role of three of Shakespeare’s four fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mustardseed, Moth and Peaseblossom, who will spilt the audience down the middle to take sides as Team Titania (Queen of the Fairies in Shakespeare’s play) and Team Oberon (King of the Fairies).

“In the years we’ve done the show, Peaseblossom was done originally by Lara Pattison, then by Charlotte Wood, and now in comes Becky, and it’s lovely how everyone brings their own personality to it,” says Gemma.

“We change characters with the change of a hat, so whoever wears Titania’s hat is Titania; the same for Puck. We skim over the young lovers, but we do have a little song about who loves whom that gets quicker and quicker, sillier and sillier, and becomes more and more exhausting for us.”

Hoglets Theatre’s show revels in Puck’s final speech in Shakespeare’s play – “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended” – in the lead-up to a variation on Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. “We do it as Shake A Spear with a disco ball and flashing lights, and the children love it,” says Gemma.

Children have plenty of opportunities to be involved, inviting them to play the four lovers, four fairies and four ‘mechanicals’ towards the end. “So many schools don’t do music or drama now or don’t have a creative outlet, so it’s lovely to involve them,” she says.

Away from her Hoglets productions, Gemma is working on a project in tandem with York Theatre Royal on the theme of children’s mental health, developing a piece called The Girl Who Stole Smiles.

“I wrote the original story seven years ago, when I had post-natal depression after the birth of Berowne. To explain how I felt to Berowne, I wrote a story about a girl who was unhappy, who stole smiles by building a machine that sucked smiles off people’s faces,” she says.

Hoglets Theatre’s poster for A Midsummer Night’s Mischief

“I had this story for ages and arranged to meet Juliet [creative director Juliet Forster]  at the Theatre Royal, knowing she was heavily involved with a mental health charity. Last year Becky, Charlotte and I spent three months working with Knavesmire, Dunnington and Westfield primary schools with funding from city council ward funding.

“We did three 90-minute workshops for children aged four to nine, asking them what they understood about their mental health and the mental health of people around them. Then we looked at the commonalities and recurring themes between the three schools, working with the NHS Wellbeing In Mind team that goes into a number of York primary and secondary schools.

“We now have a 50-page report on children’s mental health in primary schools, highlighting what affects them most. I thought that after the pandemic the answer would be ‘depression’, but no, it’s ‘anxiety’.”

A week of research and development followed at York Theatre Royal. “We adapted the script so that the girl now had a worry that no-one took seriously until finally her smile broke, and so shew builds the machine to steal smiles,” says Gemma.

“We’re now going back into the Theatre Royal for more research and development with Juliet co-directing it. She’s been so supportive, but the Arts Council has turned us down three times for funding, so we’re looking at different avenues.”

Hoglets Theatre in A Midsummer Night’s Mischief, York Theatre Royal Studio, Friday, 4.30pm and Saturday, 10.30am. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Did you know?

HOGLETS Theatre’s last show was a spectacular Christmas performance of The Nutcracker at York Minster, accompanied by the cathedral organ no less.

Did you know too?

HOGLETS Theatre performed A Midsummer Night’s Mischief at Bradford Literature Festival to 1,000 children. “That was the most terrifying day of my life,” says Gemma. “I had to give an opening speech about Shakespeare to all these children, and loads of academics were there too.”