RSC swings with streamed concert version of the Dream

Published: 8 December 2020
Reporter: Steve Orme

“Deeply challenging isues”: Gregory Doran Credit: John Bellars
Intrigued: Kwame Kwei-Armah Credit: Leon Puplett

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced further details of its Tales for Winter 2020-21 programme, including Swingin' the Dream, a concert with London’s Young Vic and New York company Theatre for a New Audience.

The concert will feature original music and songs from the 1939 production by Gilbert Seldes and Erik Charell. This jazz-infused version of A Midsummer Night's Dream is widely regarded as one of the most ambitious and intriguing Broadway musical adaptations of Shakespeare.

First performed at The Center Theatre, Broadway in 1939, Swingin' the Dream relocates Shakespeare’s comedy from 16th century Athens to 1890s New Orleans. It combines original music with popular jazz standards including "Ain't Misbehavin'", "Blue Moon", "St Louis Blues" and "Darn That Dream".

The cast of Swingin' the Dream will include Alfred Clay, Andrew French, Kemi-Bo Jacobs, Cornell S John, Georgia Landers, Mogali Masuku, Baker Mukasa and Anne Odeke. It will be performed by RSC musicians Peter Edwards, Neil Charles, Chris Storr and Zara McFarlane.

RSC artistic director Gregory Doran said, "the story of Swingin' the Dream brings together so many different elements: Shakespeare, jazz and some extraordinary talent. But it also touches on the deeply challenging issues of representation, exploitation, segregation and cultural ownership.

“The way these issues have gained in prominence and the urgent need to tell stories which illuminate and articulate the historical and contemporary black experience make the resonances of this story even more powerful."

Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic, added, "the fact that this production of Swingin' the Dream existed and that the manuscript has since disappeared and has never been found simply intrigues me.

“I’m really excited by the idea that Louis Armstrong was once in A Midsummer Night's Dream as well as the fact that there was a producer who wanted to make a statement on Broadway about people coming together simply to create great art. I think we can build something beautiful in the spirit of that original dream."

Swingin' the Dream will be streamed live from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on Saturday 9 January 2021 at 7PM.

The RSC’s Tales for Winter season will be brought to a close with Young Bloods in which the RSC Acting Company will perform extracts from Shakespeare's plays selected by young people to showcase the voices, priorities and experiences which resonate for them today.

Directed by Tinuke Craig, Young Bloods will be streamed live from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on Saturday 16 January 2021 at 7PM.

As young people and teachers continue to adapt to new ways of learning as a result of COVID-19, the RSC will join forces with author Michael Morpurgo to present a new series of weekly online Tales from Shakespeare for five weeks.

The series will start on Wednesday 6 January 2021, the day of Twelfth Night, with Morpurgo sharing his contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's funny and touching tale of the same name alongside performed scenes from the play.

Additional titles will include Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Tales from Shakespeare will be streamed as-live free into UK schools at 11AM each Friday from 8 January 2021. The recordings will then be available on demand for a three-month period for all schools who register.