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For the first time in its 30-year history, this major theatrical event will take place indoors at the Gatehouse theatre rather than in its familiar outdoor setting of Stafford Castle. Another Festival first will see musical theatre favourite Kerry Ellis make her Shakespeare debut, starring as Titania in this year’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Kerry chats to What’s On about the challenges of playing the queen of the fairies... 

Actress Kerry Ellis is best known for her stellar roles in a host of blockbuster West End shows - including Wicked, Cats, We Will Rock You, Les Misérables and Oliver! - but this summer she’s swapping musical theatre for Shakespeare and starring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre.
Taking the part of fairy queen Titania, Kerry is looking forward to the challenge of playing a lead Shakespearian role for the first time.

“Whenever something unusual comes along, I’m super-excited,” she says. “But then reality hits and I’m also slightly nervous, even slightly daunted by it. 
“Shakespeare comes with a massive responsibility. People know and love the plays, a lot of people have studied A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and there’s a big weight that comes with that show. So it took me a few days to think about it, not because I didn’t want to do it, but I was asking myself ‘can I do it, can I deliver a performance like this?’”

Kerry decided to do some research.
“I knew the story and that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was one of the comedies, but I didn’t know it in detail. So I watched a version, with my two kids, in which Michelle Pfeiffer was Titania. I think what blew my mind most about it was that my kids, who are nine and seven-year-old boys, sat and watched the whole thing with me, and I couldn’t believe how engrossed they were in it. They were asking me questions and laughing and really just letting the language go over them.
“So I thought ‘I really need to play this role, I need to push myself and go for it.’ And now I’m really excited about it.”

Often cited as Shakespeare’s most performed play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a tale of magic and mixed identities. Two pairs of lovers elope and escape to the forest, but once there, they have a spell cast on them by a mischief-making fairy named Puck. Also in the forest, fairy queen and king Titania and Oberon are fighting over possession of a changeling child. With Puck’s intervention, who will be triumphant?

Kerry believes the play is a great introduction to Shakespeare.
“Give it a go because you will enjoy it. You’ll laugh and have a good time. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is accessible for people; it’s Shakespeare for everybody, and this production is going to be so much fun.”
She has been working hard to develop her character.
“What I love about the relationship between Titania and Oberon is that they are both like alpha-males and lock horns. The fire in their relationship is what brings them together. It’s almost like a sport; it’s exciting for them to kind of push each other. They are both very feisty, and I think what attracts Titania to Oberon is that he pushes her boundaries. If it was anybody else, she wouldn’t let them get away with it.”
As well as delving into the character, Kerry has also been brushing up on her Shakespeare ahead of the play.

“Shakespeare is something new for me, and I have a responsibility to deliver this language in a way that people understand. So I’ve been doing lots of prep - it’s almost like going back to A-level English! I’ve been doing lots of research and discovering the text. I watched Helen Mirren, who has done some talks on Shakespeare, and she was so brilliant, so insightful and helpful. 
“For me, it’s about understanding the text before I go into the rehearsal room because that’s where it all happens. I did my first half-marathon a few weeks ago, and if I hadn’t trained for it then I wouldn’t have been able to do it. And it’s a similar thing with a show - if you’ve done your training and you’re prepared, then you can just enjoy creating the performance. When I do a musical, I do all my research, then forget it all and do my own take on it.”

Alongside theatre, Kerry has a successful recording and live-concert career. Last month she released her fourth studio album, Kings & Queens, which was launched with a handful of concerts, one of which took place at Birmingham’s Town Hall. 
“I like being busy! And performance is performance - it’s about telling stories and connecting with the audience. 
“I remember doing The Importance Of Being Earnest before the pandemic. It was my first proper play, and the thing which struck me the most was that it was all exactly the same as a musical, except that I could hear my footsteps walking on and off stage! You never hear your footsteps in a musical because there’s always underscoring, clapping and noise. 

“The Importance Of Being Earnest is also a comedy, and I think the key to a comedy performance is being as truthful and as honest as you can. If you try to be funny, it doesn’t work. If you play the truth and play the character, that will make people laugh.”

Kerry has been to the Gatehouse as an audience member in the past, but this will be her first time on stage at the theatre.
“It’s quite an intimate space and the visuals are really good. I’m excited to get up there. It’s been a while since I’ve been so excited to do a show... I think it’s going to be a fun and brilliant production. And Stafford will be a nice place to spend a couple of weeks.”

by Diane Parkes