Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 August 2022
A crucial feature of Sean Holmes’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first performed in 2019, was the recruitment at each performance of a different audience member to play Starveling, with the sympathy and encouragement of the rest of the cast. He had very few actual words to speak, but, during the Pyramus and Thisbe performance, his job was to keep pumping the organ that (supposedly) kept the lights functioning on the amateur stage; at the end, sent back to his seat, he was generously applauded. Though in the 2021 revival this part of the play was somewhat diluted by the need to keep him at a safe distance from the actors, it still produced some enjoyable moments and a final round of applause. In retrospect, it also strikes me as emblematic of 2021: it was a year in which plenty of amateurs got to play Shakespeare (in numerous online Zoom reading groups) and in which, even when theatres reopened, focus was as much on the audience as on the play. Theatre, never considered a particularly safe medium, suddenly had to think of safety at all costs (and the costs were often horrendous).