My First Play: A Midsummer Night's Nap begins its run here tomorrow. We caught up with cast-member Peter Mooney, who plays Bottom - the unfortunate actor transformed into a donkey by the mischievous fairy Puck. He talks about the show, why he loves performing for children and almost wetting himself on stage one time.
Have you ever been in A Midsummer Night's Dream (on which this show is based) before?
No, but as fate would have it a week after this show finishes I'll be starting rehearsals for another production of A Midsummer Night's Dream in which I'll be playing the part of Quince. Who knows, maybe by the end of the year I'll have had a crack at all of the roles
People say children are the toughest critics?
They may be the toughest, but they're also the most honest. I love this [show] because you'll know immediately whether you've done a good enough job or not. When you get a positive response from the kids it's genuine, which feels so much more rewarding as a performer. I did a children's Christmas show a few years ago called The Ballad of Rudy where I essentially played Rudolf and it was a joyous experience.
Tell me a bit about the character(s) you're playing?
Bottom is a delusional, wonderful, ridiculous human being or ass, depending on when you meet him. He thinks he's God's gift to acting, which he most certainly isn't. I really do think he's got a heart of gold. His over-enthusiasm can be annoying to the other characters, but it is ultimately the thing that ends up saving the play within the play. He's blissfully unaware of most things going on around him, which provides a lot of the comedy in the play. But even this I think comes from him being so keenly invested and distracted by whatever is holding his attention at the time.
Without giving too much away, are there any particular moments you're looking forward to most?
The child in me is very excited for a certain dress-up sequence mentioned in the script. In general, I'm just really looking forward to how we tell this particular story to this particular audience. It's not your average Shakespeare production. Young children could not - and should not - be expected to sit in silence through four hours of iambic pentameter. So I'm looking forward to all the moments we can leap out of that using music, audience participation and fun to really engage with the people who come to play with us. And all while still being able to tell the amazing story of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
I remember studying Shakespeare in school and it was mind-numbingly boring. But it's not meant to be read, it's meant to be experienced and experienced live. His stories are magical and they transcend age, class, gender, everything. Giving young children the chance to soak this up at such a young age is an awesome thing because it means their first impression of the Bard is one of joy and laughter. Although some may be too young even to remember, when the time comes I like to think we may have planted a little seed of the true mischief of Shakespeare - just enough to challenge a dreary English teacher in ten years time.
Mishaps happen on stage from time to time; any stories you're able to share?
During The Ballad of Rudy I made the mistake of not going to the loo before a performance. I spent most of the show in blind panic that I'd wet myself dressed as a reindeer in front of an audience of expectant children and their parents. I had to do a guitar solo standing, spotlit, on top of a table praying I didn't let leak into my beige jodhpurs. It also happened to be the first day we were asking, as the cast, for donations to the theatre after our bows. Naturally, I had volunteered to do the speech. I'm pretty sure it made absolutely no sense, but all I know is I was jigging about on the spot like an Irish dancer and I have never ran so fast as I did back to the dressing rooms afterwards. My bladder still hasn't forgiven me.
How did you get into performing?
I started off in a drama and film youth group back in Kilkenny when I was about 13. Around the same time I was also starting to play lots of music in bands. When I left school I was determined to try to pursue performing as a career. I discovered the Actor Musicianship course at a drama school called Rose Bruford College and was fortunate enough to get a place. Would you believe, when I got there - Lucy (Wells, who plays Puck and Flute) Kate (Hardisty, who plays Titania and Quince) Alex (Tosh, who plays Oberon and Snout) were all there too. In fact Lucy, Kate and I were all in the same class and trained together for three years. Alex was two years above us – Grandad Bruford we call him.
Mums and dads may recognise you from other shows and tours you've done?
I'd be surprised but I have performed in Norwich once before, at the Theatre Royal. That was with a show called The Commitments, which toured the UK and Ireland in 2016. It was based on an early 1990s film of the same name about a group of young working class kids in Dublin who decide to start a soul band. It also ran in the West End from 2013–2015. I was lucky enough to join that cast as my first job out of Rose Bruford, which was an incredible experience.
Do any of you have any hidden talents or unusual skills you're hoping to work into the performance?
I absolutely love climbing trees. I daresay I'm pretty good at it, but it may be slightly against our health and safety rules.
My First Play: A Midsummer Night's Nap is our latest co-production with All-In Productions. It was produced with support by Arts Council England and window graphics kindly supported by CiM Signs and Graphics. Click here for more information or call 01603 283382.