I finally had my first opportunity to interview a queen—that is, actress Amy Ambrose, who plays Queen Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Reading Rep Theatre. Ambrose stars in Paul Stacey’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s fantastical comedy, focusing this time on a troupe of actors performing for Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. The family-oriented production, running May 11 through June 5, also includes cast members Dave Fishley as Oberon/Bottom, Charlotte Warner as Hermia, Jonty Peach as Demetrius, Mark Desebrock as Lysander, and Beth Eyre as Helena.
Ambrose’s theatre credits include Spitting Image (King’s Head Theatre), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Brixton House), and Prurience (Southbank Centre). During her career, she’s appeared in television shows such as EastEnders and Casualty as well as in films Monochrome and After Louise.
During our early morning Zoom call, Ambrose spoke with me about revisiting A Midsummer Night’s Dream, having fun in rehearsals, and dancing to music selections befitting a queen.
Recommending A Midsummer Night’s Dream Before Hamlet
Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play?
My favorite is The Two Noble Kinsmen because it’s Shakespeare’s last ever play. I feel like he puts everything he’s ever done into one play.
If someone is new to watching Shakespeare live, why is A Midsummer Night’s Dream a good starting point?
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a lot of it is comedy-based. Usually, the way for you to understand Shakespeare’s text is [from] the intention that actors have on the lines. A lot of lines rhyme, which is also quite funny in itself.
If it’s your first experience with Shakespeare, I think you can get into the rhythm quite easily and understand the comedy. Then you feel you understand the whole scene. It’s such an achievement, so that in future you understand that if you were to see Hamlet or Lear, it’s the intention and not always necessarily what they’re saying. It’s how they’re saying it.
Incorporating Pop Hits into A Midsummer Night’s Dream
What do you like about Paul Stacey’s adaptation?
We’ve got Beyoncé in it. (laughs) I would say that’s probably my number one.
What is your favorite Beyoncé song?
I would have to say “Crazy in Love.”
How does incorporating recent pop hits help audiences better experience the classic plays?
When there’s music that you can have an emotional connection with, [it] helps with [the] storyline of the show. Certain music will evoke an emotion, and you go, “Oh, that’s what that means.”
Modern adaptations for younger audiences are really beneficial to create that. For a fairy queen, obviously, there is no one better to do that than the queen herself, Beyoncé!
During the pandemic, we’ve been having our own individual experiences with music. To be able to listen in a collective environment is going to feel so great. It’ll be such a celebration for the audience.
Playing a Dancing Queen
What is unique about the costumes this time?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written by Shakespeare for Elizabeth I’s Jubilee. Our theme is as if we are putting it on for the current Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee. There are some Elizabethan nods to costume with a modern twist in things like the frills around the neck, then a bare chest and some lipstick.
What is it like to play Titania?
I played Helena before at Brixton East and now I’m playing Titania. Helena is a lover and it was very active because there’s the lover’s scene, with all this arguing and running around through the forest. I thought by playing Titania that I might get a rest in this one, actually sit in my fairy kingdom, and tell people what to do.
On my first day—okay, she dances all the time! There is no rest, but I enjoy playing a fairy queen. In real life, I teach kids, so I don’t often feel like a queen. It’s very nice to have my couple of weeks of being a queen.
Are your friends taking you seriously?
No! I wish they were. Also as a cast, we’re very different from who we play. Sometimes we carry it through to lunch and find ourselves as those people. It’s like, “Oh, my God! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to boss you around.”
Rehearsing in the Theatre Ahead of Tech Week
What is valuable to you about this rehearsal experience?
We’re really lucky at Reading Rep that we have the rehearsal space right next door to the theatre. That means we get a chance to rehearse in the space and then again actually in the theatre itself. The whole set is up right now, which is amazing as we’re [only] on our second week. All of our changes in costume and everything can be done. It has never happened to me as an actor to actually perform and rehearse on the stage [this] early.
You mentioned you dance all the time as Titania. Is that more than you’ve danced for any other show?
I’ve never done dancing like this in a Shakespeare. We’re going to be very fit, I think, by the end.
For more information and to purchase tickets for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, visit the Reading Rep website.