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'A Midsummer Night's Dream' found

A film version of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' adapted from a Peter Hall production, never actually released to audiences, was recently found in the SBT collections.

Midsummer Night's Dream 1959
A Midsummer Night's Dream 1959

Here at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, everyone is really starting to get excited about the Shakespeare Film Festival, which kicks off on Saturday with the regional premiere of Fifth Column Films adaptation of The Tempest set in Oval, London.

From a Collections point of view, it is the film premiere that is taking place this Sunday that is of particular interest. Although it has never before been transmitted, the film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream showing at the Shakespeare Centre on Sunday evening (as part of a talk by The University of Birmingham’s Prof. Russell Jackson) was actually produced in 1959.

The film is an adaptation of Peter Hall’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that was performed at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (the predecessor to the Royal Shakespeare Company) in 1959. The film was video-recorded for American television, but never shown, and only it was only recently discovered in the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive Collections by Prof. Jackson.

Titania and Oberon in clothing with a random pattern which merges into the backdrop of similar material. Oberon is leaning forward as if to kiss Titania, who is looking up at him with disdain; the index finger of her left hand is pointing up under his chin.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1959

Peter Hall said  at the time of this production, which was designed by Lila de Nobili, “I’m trying to stage the kind of Dream that I've always wanted to see myself; a production that takes the play back to its beginning, perhaps for a wedding in an Elizabethan country house. And for me ‘Elizabethan’ means splendours and conceipts, not Merrie England, tea shoppes and bare stages of well scrubbed wood.”

One tradition Hall wanted to break away from, was that of using Mendelssohn’s music in his production. The score from the music specially composed by Raymond Leppard for this production is now looked after in our RSC archive; along with production photographs, photographs of some of Lila de Nobili’s costume designs, reviews, prompt books and programmes.

For more information about the Film Festival visit the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website.