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Stopping off at two Midlands theatres this month, a brand-new version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream sees the comic character of Bottom the Weaver being played by Tweedy the Clown, a vaudeville-style entertainer hailing from Gloucestershire. What’s On caught up with him to find out more...

What sets this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream apart?
We're aiming very much for a family audience, to try and encourage younger people to come. I've got a large ‘young’ fanbase, and we've put a lot of slapstick in the play. Shakespeare was famous for his clowns, so we thought, let's have a real, actual clown in the show. There's going to be a lot of physical comedy in there. It's going to be a good, fun version, aimed at the whole family.

What makes Tweedy the best man to play Bottom?
Oh! I dunno. I'm gonna play it my way. A lot of the time when I’ve seen Bottom, he’s arrogant and not a likeable character, so I'm kind of playing it more as myself - or my character - and he's just really excited to be there. I'd like to think he’s a more likeable character… I don't know if that makes me the perfect person for Bottom, but that's my take on it, and that's how I'm going to play it.

What have you had to consider when bringing clowning into the show?
With A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I kind of find that the clowns - the ‘mechanicals’, as Bottom and his compatriots are dubbed in the play - are quite separate from the rest of the story. It almost feels natural to me that you've got the serious bits, and then the clowns come in and do funny bits. It’s like in the circus: you watch a daring act, where you might be on the edge of your seat and get a bit nervous, and then the clowns come in as light relief.

You were also in Waiting For Godot with the Cheltenham Everyman. Have you set your sights on any other classic works?
That was the last play I did. Not really. I’d be interested if the right play came up, but nothing’s jumping out at me. I'd always wanted to do Waiting For Godot, and then they approached me about this. I'd always fancied doing a bit of Shakespeare, because of that Shakespeare clown tradition.

Are you going to improvise on stage and be spontaneous?
I'll stick to the words but physically improvise all over the place - which I won't be able not to do. If something happens, I just naturally react to it. Obviously that keeps it fresh and interesting for the audience as well.

This production is hot on the heels of the RSC’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford-upon-Avon, with Mathew Baynton as Bottom. Have you seen it?
No, I was going to, and then a couple of people - including Mat Baynton - kind of said ‘I don't think you should because it might influence you too much’ and affect my characterisation. I’d think ‘Oh, that's really good, that bit, I'll do it a bit like that…’ But he did tell me it's gonna be filmed - I do really want to see it.

Speaking of Stratford, Tweedy’s Massive Circus is premiering there, from Friday 24 May. What can Tweedy fans expect?
Yes, it's a brand-new show - I'm devising it now. It's in a tiny little Big Top. Basically, I'm trying to put on a massive spectacle circus and, as you can imagine, it all goes a bit wrong. It's a very small cast. Essentially it's a clown show. There's a narrative in there, there's circus in there, but it doesn't turn out to be a big spectacular circus. It's opening at Stratford and will also be in Cheltenham, from 4 July.

They say never work with children or animals, which is a bit of an occupational hazard in the circus… Do you have any experiences which corroborate that?
I had a Shetland pony as a sidekick one time, who just didn't like me. First of all he would rear up and come at me, and then, on the last day in the ring, he got hold of my little finger and wouldn't let go. I’m there going ‘He’s got my finger!’ which the audience were finding hilarious. I tried to open his mouth with my other hand and opened it a bit, but then he clamped down on those fingers as well. That wasn't great, but my fingers are alright now.

You wouldn’t think a Shetland Pony had it in him!
No! ‘Little Man’ Syndrome…

How do you make sure you're always at the top of your game?
Practising things, trying to come up with new ideas… But the main thing is just enjoying it and letting the audience in. If I stopped enjoying it, then I wouldn't be a good clown anymore.

And how did you get started in clowning?
I was going to go to art school to do animation, and then had a realisation: actually, this is very boring! You’re basically sat in an office, drawing. Then I thought ‘No, I want to be the cartoon; that's what this is about.’ There was no internet then, because I'm quite old… Nowadays it’s so easy! You just Google ‘How do I become a clown?’ and there’s all these options. I did a season at Butlins as a red coat, saving up to go to circus school, but it went bust. So I sent a questionnaire out to lots of circuses, just as personal research. I got two back, out of about 50. One was from a clown in Cirque du Soleil - which was some Canadian show that I hadn't heard of! The other one was from Zippos circus, and he said the best way was to learn from other clowns, by being on the road. He offered me a job as a publicity clown, handing out leaflets and doing school and promotional shows - but then the clown got stuck in traffic in my first week. I jumped in and got offered a job off the back of that. A lot of people ask ‘Where did you train?’ because there are clown schools. Everyone goes on about Gaulier, but I've never been to those places. It's the same with stand-ups - they don't go somewhere to train; they go and try. That's basically what my training was: going in front of an audience. I just learned on the road.

Have you noticed the demand for your act change over the years?
It took a while to get to this stage. Initially, I'd always have nothing on in January, February or March, and I'd become a delivery driver or something like that. It's been a long, hard slog, but I've loved every minute of it.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays Malvern Theatres from Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 April and Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from Wednesday 24 to Saturday 27 April