A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Elizabethan dramatist William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is a marvelous moonstruck comedy set in the ancient Athens of the legendary hero Theseus and his Amazon queen Hippolyta, where romantic love runs amok, making asses out of mortals and fairies alike. The Actors from the London Stage, who will perform this play Nov. 11 and 12 in Reynolds Industries Theater for Duke Performances, is a critically acclaimed five-man troupe of veteran performers who perfected their craft at such world-renowned British theatrical companies as the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, Royal Shakespeare Company, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

This year’s quintet, comprised of three men and two women, is touring college campuses, performing its patented version of five-man Shakespeare with minimal scenery and costumes. The emphasis is on the powerful poetry and wonderful wordplay that makes Shakespeare’s timeless tragedies and comedies as relevant today as they were in his lifetime.

In Actors from the London Stage productions, all the performers play multiple roles and sometimes change character in mid-stride or mid-gesture. The result is a fresh new approach to the comic and tragic masterpieces of the Immortal Bard. By carefully enunciating each word, and making its meaning crystal clear via intonation, gesture, posture, and facial expression, the actors make Shakespeare’s plays more comprehensible to the contemporary audience. Indeed, Actors from the London Stage presentations routinely rank among the 10 best productions of any given Triangle theater season.

In introducing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Duke Performances employs an apt quotation from pioneer psychotherapist Sigmund Freud: “You are always insane when you are in love.”

Duke Performances adds, “Modern audiences tend to resist the idea of magic, but many Elizabethans still believed in fairies, only their creatures were much darker and more sinister than the bland images manufactured by Walt Disney. But just as insanity, poetry, and dreams possess their own fantastic logic, revealing an unsettling yet truthful vision of ordinary life, the dark woods of countless myths and fairytales expose the flip side of civilization, revealing the tenuous boundaries between reason and madness, lust and love. Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with its almost surrealistic plot, initially appears to be a trivial diversion, but upon closer examination, and in disguised form, it reveals deep truths about our hidden emotional life. Five seasoned actors from major London acting companies will play all the roles
in this magical drama.”

This year’s Actors from the London Stage lineup includes Guy Burgess, Caroline Devlin, Jan Shepherd, Christopher Staines, and Nick Tigg. This is Burgess’ third tour and Tigg’s second tour with the AFTLS. Burgess and Devlin previously toured in the AFTLS’ spring 2003 production of The Tempest, which played the Reynolds Industries Theater March 21 and 22 as part of the Duke Institute of the Arts (now Duke Performances) series. Shepherd and Staines are making their first tour with the Actors from the London Stage.

According to the AFTLS web page:

* “Guy Burgess trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He has appeared in numerous theatre, television, and film productions…. [Guy played ] and Dr. Welby in ‘EastEnders’ on the BBC. This is his third tour with AFTLS, having previously toured in the fall 2000 production of As You Like It and the spring 2003 production of The Tempest.”

* “Caroline Devlin graduated from The Drama Centre London in 1995 and has enjoyed working at such theatres as The Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh where she was a regular member of the company for various seasons, playing many parts…. Caroline [has numerous] television and radio credits [and] has developed a project entitled The Spirit of Scotland in Story and Song…. This is Caroline’s second tour with Actors from the London Stage, having previously toured with the spring 2003 production of The Tempest.”

* “Jan Shepherd trained at Mountview Theatre School, where she was awarded a Laurence Olivier bursary. Her [numerous] theatre roles include [appearances] on London stages…. Her television credits include ‘The Glass,’ ‘Bugs,’ ‘Chandler and Co,’ and ‘Waiting for God.’ Jan can currently be seen in The Real Tuesday Weld’s video ‘The Ugly and the Beautiful.’ This is her first tour with Actors from the London Stage.”

* “Christopher Staines studied at Oxford University and then trained at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. His theatre roles at the National Theatre include Hamlet, which also toured the US, David Hare’s Amy’s View, and She Stoops to Conquer…. Television and film credits include: Mrs. Dalloway, ‘Highlander,’ ‘Foyle’s War,’ The Student Prince, ‘This Life,’ ‘The Queen’s Nose,’ ‘The Ruby Ring,’ and Pride and Prejudice. Radio credits include ‘The Rose and the Ring,’ ‘The Decameron,’ ‘Antigone,’ and ‘Dossier Ronald Akkerman.’ This is Christopher’s first tour with Actors From The London Stage.”

* “Nick Tigg studied English at University College London. After graduating he was a founding member of the London Small Theatre Company…. Since then, he has performed in many theatres throughout the world including: the Royal Shakespeare Company…, the National Theatre…, and the National Theatre Studio…. He has toured with his own company, The National Theatre of Bergamo, and performs regularly with his band, The Ukulele Evangelists. This is his second show with Actors from the London Stage, having previously toured with The Winter’s Tale…. He has written and performed much original music for the theatre and has contributed the music to the AFTLS Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Measure for Measure.”

Founded 30 years ago by University of California-Santa Barbara professor Homer Swander and British actor Patrick Stewart — better known as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame — and formerly headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Actors from the London Stage now makes its home in the Marie P. DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Its spring and fall tours visit 16-20 U.S. colleges and universities a year. The Thursday and Friday night performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are part of a one-week residency program (Nov. 8-14 at Duke University) during which the Actors from the London Stage conduct classroom workshops, and perform readings of selected texts and on-stage demonstrations.

Duke Performances presents the Actors from the London Stage in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Thursday-Friday, Nov. 11-12, at 8 p.m. in Reynolds Industries Theater in the Bryan Center on Duke University’s West Campus in Durham, North Carolina. $20 ($5 Duke students). 919/684-4444 or http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?organ_val=2885. Duke
Performances: http://www.duke.edu/web/dukeperfs/calendar.html#acto. Actors from the London Stage: http://www.nd.edu/~aftls/current_tour/. University of Virginia (Shakespeare Resources): http://etext.virginia.edu/shakespeare/. University of Virginia (1623 First Folio Text, edited by John Heminges and Henry Condell): http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaMNDF.html.
University of Virginia (1866 Globe Edition Text, edited by William George Clark and William Aldis Wright): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobMids.html.