The Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night's Dream

The 1937 Christmas production at the Old Vic was A Midsummer Night's Dream was directed by Tyrone Guthrie.

Although the Old Vic could not afford high salaries, its reputation attracted some great names, and the film star Vivien Leigh appeared as Titania. The company also had a reputation for launching the careers of young actors, and here we have a young Ralph Richardson playing the foolish rustic Bottom the Weaver as an absurdly serious cockney. Bottom is the 'leading actor' amongst the group of workmen or 'mechanicals' who decide to put on a play to celebrate the marriage of Theseus and Hippolita.

The production was an affectionate pastiche of a Victorian version, with large choruses of muslin-clad fairies flying in on wires, and dancing to Mendelssohn's music in ballets choreographed by Ninette de Valois. The show was designed to appeal to children and among the many who came were the two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. Elizabeth was so fascinated to see how the fairies flew that she leaned right out of the box. Helpmann and Leigh were introduced in the interval, but during their bow and curtsy their wire headdresses became tangled and had to be pulled apart by the royal party, much to the princesses' amusement.