JULIET Forster and Damian Cruden have worked together at York Theatre Royal for 11 years, and now the associate director and artistic director are in tandem once more for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.

Forster is directing the comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cruden, the bloodiest of tragedies, Macbeth, as the duo find ways to work with their shared cast.

Experiencing “Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean theatre” for the first time during this week’s tech rehearsals, Forster says: “It doesn’t feel like an outdoor theatre, it doesn’t feel like an indoor theatre, but something different altogether, that to be fair is very like Shakespeare’s Globe.

"There’s a lovely intimacy to it, which I wasn’t expecting, and the Rose Theatre wraps all the way around you, so it’s probably closest in style to when I worked on Two Planks And A Passion and The Crucible in the round at York Theatre Royal, but then it has all that openness too.”

Forster’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream involves gender-swapping the leads, Antony Bunsee now playing Titania and Amanda Ryan, Oberon. “We’re performing in an Elizabethan theatre this summer, so this is a nod to a time when Titania would have been played by a man, but also in the 21st century gender and gender roles have never been a hotter subject, with all the exposure of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns,” says Juliet.

“We’re at a point where we’re reassessing how we are as men and women with each other, and here’s a play that is entirely built on male/female inequality, so the opportunity to explore all this is really interesting.”

York Press:

"Theatre allows us to imagine ourselves differently," says A Midsummer Night's Dream director Juliet Forster

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is already full of changing identities, mistaken identities and role-playing, and this new element further heightens that realm of possibilities.

“Theatre allows us to imagine ourselves differently, so I thought, what if Theseus and Hippolyta had the chance to explore being each other, would that lead to more harmony? Can we understand each other better through walking in each other’s shoes?” asks Juliet.

“Only the roles of Titania and Oberon are transposed in my casting, so it’s not a gimmick. There’s a narrative dimension there that reflects our times.”

The comedy in Shakespeare’s “most successful comedy” is character driven. “It’s the situations they’re in that are funny, like what happens to Bottom, and it’s also very visual, like with the donkey’s head, and with the lovers, while none of it’s written into the script, you can recognise how these characters are motivated, and it always ends up as a very physical, funny scene, so there’s lots to feed the comedy, which is why it’s so popular.

“There’s light and shade, like in all comedies, so you can play the darkness in ‘Dream’ too, but it’s all in perfect balance, which is what Shakespeare is exploring: the light and shade in life. You can see this play as the comic opposite to Romeo And Juliet, where there’s still the potential threat of things going wrong but because this is a comedy, everything is resolved in the end in a good and happy place.”

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions present Shakespeare's Rose Theatre, at Tower Street, York, from June 25 to September 2. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.