A Blessed Bottom: how booming Brian inspired his daughter’s Shakespearean role

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When people ask me if it’s hard having Brian Blessed as a father, I always joke: “Well, we don’t go up for the same parts.” This may no longer be true. Thanks to evolution in casting and inclusive theatre companies, doors that were shut are flying open. I never expected that at the age of 47 – when most actresses used to be shoved into the artistic attic to perhaps be dusted off a decade or two later – I am having the most exciting time of my career.

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Playing Bottom, in a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Guildford Shakespeare Company, is the most delicious playground an actor could wish for. While my father has never played the part, I hope to bring a piece of him on to the stage. He is a great case study. Popping over to my parents’ house for a dog walk and a cup of tea inevitably involves Dad acting out whatever film he watched last night and, Bottom-like, playing all the parts. Despite the fact that I see my parents most days, Dad remains in performance mode.

I have experienced many a one-man-show about five inches from my face. It’s a bit intense, but people would pay good money for it. Dad would agree he is not backward in coming forward and maintains a charmingly undisguised high self-regard. Like Bottom, it all comes from a place of joy, imagination and a desire to make the world a happier place and not to let reality get in the way of that. My father loves to quote from Cervantes: “Too much sanity may be madness and maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” Hear hear!

As Pyramus, the character Bottom portrays in the Dream’s “play within a play”, I lovingly use the perception of Dad – the bombastic, booming Brian Blessed persona. It is largely a misconception of him as an actor. He has great ability to be subtle, quiet and intelligent – just check out his performance in I, Claudius. My Pyramus is more Vultan from Flash Gordon than Augustus. I even get the beard at one point.

I will steer clear of spoilers but when our glorious director, Abigail Anderson, revealed her ideas for how she was going to present the fairies, I was moved to tears – much to the amusement of the cast. I suppose one never gets too old for magic. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is filled with it, which is probably why it remains so popular. I think I cried because it awoke a long-forgotten memory of childhood. Dad always turned dog walks into an adventure – pirates or dinosaurs or space. There would be a mission – we would walk to find a piece of moon rock fallen to Earth, or to hunt for a T-rex bone. One of the favourite games was to find the wood fairies. My parents hid costume jewellery in an old tree to be a fairy den. Tiny me was agog. Just beautiful.

I’m (forgive the pun) really blessed to have grown up with a father with such imagination, energy and positivity. And to share the gift of silliness with him. In a world where it is easy to focus on the dark, we need the Brians and the Bottoms of this world to bring a bit of light.

And Shakespeare. And fairies.

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