Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Flute Theatre's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Orange Tree Theatre


Flute Theatre's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, Orange Tree Theatre

Immersive theatre is a popular and fashionable way of presenting work where the audience are not passive observers, but are involved and become part of the production.

After last year's inspiring performances of The Tempest, Flute Theatre's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is their latest show, designed specifically as an immersive theatrical experience for autistic children and their families.

Royal Shakespeare Company actress Kelly Hunter began working with autistic children in 2002. The development of her Hunter Heartbeat Method was inspired by the desire to bring the rhythm of Shakespeare's iambic pentameter to children who may never be able to experience it in the traditional way.

Performances begin with all the children and actors sitting in a circle, where the "Hello heartbeat" ritual begins. Actors tap their chests to mimic a heartbeat while chanting "Hello" to each other, encouraging the children to do the same. The "Hello" is first melodic, then angry, happy and surprised.

The production follows the basic story of the play, using rhythmic sounds, music and games to engage the children and encourage active participation in the show. The elements of magic and the ethereal quality of nature are emphasised so as to immerse them in Shakespeare's world. The result is itself something quite magical; it's beautiful to watch some of the children open up, as well as the reactions of the delighted parents and carers.

The actors all have a wonderful gauge of how much they can challenge each child so that they are interested and captivated but still happy and comfortable. Several characters are left out to simplify the narrative, but all Titania's fairies remain, essentially to retain as much magic as possible.

Finlay Cormack is mischievous as Puck and Tom Chapman is very funny as Mustardseed, but all roles are fluid, changing characters according to how the children they're with are reacting to the performance. All the actors are calm, kind and unflappable; they all demonstrate instinctive empathy and a desire to make each child as comfortable as possible.

The basic structure of the show is the same each time, but the children create what goes into it and the actors respond to the different needs and responses of the children, so each show is unique.

"Every time you land in a different place," says Hunter. "This one was planned 20 years ago, then The Tempest took over." The elements of magic and the tricks the eyes play on us in the story means A Midsummer Night's Dream is a natural fit for work targeting autistic children.

"The line 'Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind' is so important in the play," explains Hunter, "so it's great for eye contact, which autistic children have so much trouble with."

This production has similarities to The Tempest, but there is more music and physical challenges are given to the children, such as a game where they are gently tipped forwards and backwards between two actors - which needs a huge amount of trust. "We push the boundaries a bit more with physical contact and responses to music; everything is heightened, as it's a dream," notes Hunter.

Hunter's pride and passion in the project is clear. She pointed out one girl in the audience who had been to see The Tempest last year, and Hunter was amazed how much more confident and involved she was compared to the last time she was at a performance. "If we could keep going with this for ten years and she could see it even once a year, what a difference that could make," she marvels.

Hunter has big ambitions for the project: "I want to go round the world with it." She recently took her production of The Tempest over to Barcelona and directed it in both Catalan and Spanish. She thoroughly enjoyed working abroad and felt very at home in Spain, as the people have "hearts as big as we have, but they have no physical inhibitions. Children are hugged more - there was no fear at all".

Hunter has immediate plans to take the production to a dementia home and then to some of the families affected by the Grenfell fire. She feels that the show can be very beneficial to children who have been through trauma or bereavement, as it gives "an important chance to play and be exposed in a free and safe environment".

Both productions of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream will be touring internationally in 2018, bringing this totally unique and very important work to as many autistic children as possible.

Find more details about Flute Theatre here

Photo Credit: Paula Salmon

Related Articles View More UK / West End Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan