Writer Toby Hulse on To Dream Again

We had a chat with Toby Hulse, the writer behind To Dream Again, to ask him all about how he got his ideas and what made him become a playwright in the first place. 

What was your starting point when beginning to write To Dream Again?

I knew Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream very well, from studying it at school and university.  At least I thought that I knew the play very well.  And then I came to direct a cut-down version for young audiences. To try and make the plot clear we got the characters who were influenced by the Love-In-Idleness flower to wear pink heart-shaped sunglasses, to show how the flower had made them magically in love with the wrong person.  When we came to work on the final scene I asked the actor playing Demetrius why he was still wearing his sunglasses.  “Because no one has taken them off,” he answered.  It was only then that I realised that the ‘happy ending’ of Shakespeare’s play is only possible because he is still feeling the effects of the flower, and the idea for To Dream Again was planted in my brain.

Then I started thinking about how complex adult relationships are, and, when couples with children separate or divorce, how important it is that the children understand that they are still loved, despite the difficulties that their parents are going through.  And it is just as important that the children realise that it is not their fault, nor is it their responsibility to try to put things right.

I have also always been interested in the stories that we tell about our own past, and how we shape them, not because we are trying to lie, but because we are trying to make our lives fit a pattern that makes sense.  Some of these stories are helpful, but not all of them, and there are times when we have to face up to the reality of where we are right here, right now.

Do you need an appreciation of Shakespeare to enjoy To Dream Again?

Absolutely not! To Dream Again exists in its own world, and can be enjoyed with no knowledge of Shakespeare at all.  However, if you do know the play, its characters, story and words, then there are all sorts of hidden jokes in To Dream Again waiting to be discovered.  And I hope that anyone watching To Dream Again who doesn’t know A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be inspired to read it, or even better see it.  

Shakespeare’s play is a comedy, how have you worked humour into the play?

The term ‘comedy’ in Shakespeare’s day simply meant a play with a happy ending.  Despite all the sadness at the end of To Dream Again, I believe that it too has a happy ending.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream is also very, very funny.  It is full of the most ridiculous situations, and has some great jokes in it.  It was important to me that To Dream Again was just as funny.  The humour comes from the character of the plumber Robin Goodfellow, and his alter-ego Puck.  Robin is loveable, immediately sympathetic, with a fine line in nonsense, and the odd magic trick.  In essence he is very like the character of Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s great comic creations.  Puck is just as he appears in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – cheeky, playful, perhaps even wilfully naughty.  He appeals to the imp in all of us.

What do you hope will children and families take away from the show?

The great actor and comedian Rik Mayall made a speech to students at Exeter University, giving them advice about how to live their lives – you can find it on YouTube.  His final piece of advice, which is also what I would like children and families to take away from the show, is ‘Love is the answer.’ Simply that. Love is the answer. I believe that he is right.

How did you become a playwright?

I always wrote plays.  When I was seven or eight I wrote my first two plays, one for my Cub pack about Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake (I got them terribly mixed up!), and one for my grandfather about the Battle of Waterloo.  When I was at university I started adapting stories and novels to put on the stage, because play versions did not already exist.  And then when I was working for Bristol Old Vic, I was asked to write my first original play, a Christmas show called No Loud Bangs.  I think that everyone has a special way of seeing and understanding the world – some people are physicists and see the world as a set of mathematically describable patterns, some people are dancers and tell us how they see the world by dancing, some people are bakers and help us understand the world with amazing cakes.  I see and understand the world through characters talking and interacting on stage.  I would probably be more popular if I could bake cakes!

If you weren’t a playwright, what would you be instead?

I used to be a primary school teacher – I taught Nursery and Reception.  I think that teachers have the most important job in the world and, apart from all its paperwork and pressures, it is easily one of the most enjoyable jobs in the world.  If theatres suddenly stopped wanting to put on my plays, then I would happily go back to teaching, and take my classes to see all the best shows that I could find.

To Dream Again runs on Polka’s Main Stage from Fri 10 Mar – Sun 2 Apr. Click here for more information and to book tickets.