A musical for a large cast of young people drawn from A Midsummer Night's Dream - set against a background of Elizabethan England, the Armada, and the Reformation.
Created with help from the pupils of Vernham Dean Gillum's School, Hampshire and William Shakespeare and featuring Pyramus and Thisbe by John Frederick Lampe (1745)
It's a summer evening about 400 years ago. The pupils and scholars of Gillum's School are resting. They dream up the idea of creating a play and Puck helps them to stage it, stepping in from time to time to sort things out when they get stuck. He also makes sure there is a part in it for him…
August 1588. The village children are anxious about the Spanish Armada and they pray for the safety of their families. They sing enviously of the entertainment to be had in London - particularly the theatres.
The Fairies and Goblins come out to sing and dance, but Oberon and Titania are quarrelling. Oberon tells Puck to fetch a magic flower whose juice will make Titania fall in love with the first creature she sees when she wakes up.
Oberon overhears an argument between Hermia and Lysanda, two village girls of opposing religious faiths. Lysanda finds a mysterious letter which sounds as though it's written by a spy and she decides to make use of it for her own cruel purposes. When Puck returns with the flower Oberon commands him to find Lysanda and teach her a lesson. When the Fairies sing Titania to sleep, Oberon streaks her eyes with the magic juice.
It is by now the dead of night, and some village youths arrive to rehearse a play. They don't get very far because Puck enters and, seeing Bottom in full flight, thinks this must be the nasty person he's looking for. He puts on him an ass's head. The other youths flee in terror. This commotion wakens Titania who immediately falls for Bottom. He is enchanted to be the object of such attention. They leave together.
The village children rush in with the news that Hermia has been arrested on suspicion of spying and the rumour spreads that Bottom has been transformed by witchcraft. What's going on? they ask.
Hermia enters, on her way to prison, to say her farewells. Oberon realises Puck has got the wrong mortal and sends him packing.
The village children sing of the religious troubles that have plagued their country in recent times. Their faith has been subject to the whim of successive monarchs.
Meanwhile, Bottom is being entertained by the Fairies and Goblins whose life is so wonderful, he thinks, that he wants to return with them to Fairyland. This involves a journey across a rainbow bridge while the bells peal out.
Suddenly, as a new day dawns, the Prefects stop everyone in their tracks: Oberon releases Titania from the magic spell and Bottom is relieved of his ass-head. He wakes up as if from a dream.
It is the morning of the village fete. The children are surprised by the arrival of a troupe of strolling players who bring the news that the Armada has been defeated. Zachariah is disgruntled by the thought of any celebrations. One of the Players seems to recognize him.
The Players' show is about the Seven Ages of Man. It is old-fashioned and Bottom and his mates feel they could do better. [ - this scene may be cut]
To finish the story, Puck has one last trick up his sleeve: Queen Elizabeth and her Courtiers arrive on the scene. She is asked to intervene in the case of Hermia, the supposed spy. When the young girl is cross-examined it appears she was found several years ago on a beach following a shipwreck. The boat, The Titania, contained a husband, a wife and two baby daughters. The player, Isabella, reveals herself as the mother and Zachariah as the husband, so the family is reunited and Lysanda and Hermia discover they are sisters. What an astonishing turn of events!
The letter that incriminated Hermia is produced and the Queen recognizes the content as her one of her own speeches. Hermia is therefore proved innocent and Lysanda gets away with a ticking off.
Amidst general rejoicing, the youths perform Pyramus and Thisbe. These two lovers were kept apart by a wall. One night they arrange to meet in a moonlit graveyard but Thisbe is scared off by a lion. When Pyramus arrives, Thisbe's torn veil leads him to conclude the worst. He kills himself and when Thisbe returns she joins him in death.
It is the end of another day; the Fairies and Goblins come out again and join in the fun. Then the villagers go home - and the scholars of Gillum's School are left with Puck, their muse, to ponder what they've created. Perhaps they should send it to Will Shakespeare to see what he could make of it?
Press Release from Vernham Dean School 2001
THE DREAM THAT HATH NO BOTTOM
Vernham Dean School is a small village school in North Hampshire. Wishing to celebrate the Millennium, its Headteacher, Pat Horne, successfully applied for a grant under the Awards for All scheme. Edward Lambert was commissioned to create a musical drama in collaboration with the children based on curriculum work in the school: he chose the current topic of the Tudors.
Initially children brainstormed ideas for the plot, which gradually grew into a story based around Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, which the older pupils were studying in English. At the same time the children generated musical ideas which the composer wove into fully-fledged songs with parts for all the children learning instruments as well as for percussionists that had no such experience. Further workshops were led by a professional writer, an opera singer, a vocal coach and a choreographer.
The project threaded its way into every aspect of school life. In history the children studied the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Tudor times - a main theme for the play. They looked at clothing to dress the cast: every child - 107 of them - has a costume. ICT in almost every form imaginable has been used by the children - helping with the technical equipment, computers in word processing, digital camera work, videoing (and then evaluating and improving), ordinary camera work for recording process along the way.
The final product, which lasts for over 100 minutes, incorporates the mock-opera Pyramus and Thisbe by John Frederick Lampe, written in 1745. It was sung by six Y6 boys.
We performed the show on three occasions:
Vernham Dean Village Hall
Friday February 9 2001 at at 7pm
Cricklade Theatre, Andover
Monday 12 February 2001 6pm
Tuesday 13th February 2001 at 7pm
"I doubt whether any primary school in the country has attempted anything quite as ambitious as this. It is a two hour production, with fantastic costumes, which is part opera, part comedy and part Shakespeare. It is entirely original, well acted with enthusiasm, humour and professionalism. It also made full use of modern technology, with mini-discs, digital camera work and videoing for evaluating and improving performances. Aurelia and I enjoyed every minute of it."
Sir George Young Bt MP