Hackney or not Hackney, that is the question

Tree surgeon to photographer isn’t, perhaps, the most usual career trajectory. Becoming a photographer who recreates Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in East London’s Hackney, perhaps even less so.

Dorset-born Tom Hunter first arrived in London to work as a tree surgeon in Regents Park, where he fell in love with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream having seen the open air production for free, in return for letting the audience sit on the logs from trees he had felled.

Inspiring our second Shakespeare-based-art blog in as many weeks, Hunter has created a series of nine photographs using scenes from the play, which will be displayed in an exhibition opening in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre next week.

There shall the pairs of faithful lovers be Wedded
There shall the pairs of faithful lovers be Wedded

Now very much a Hackney dwelling Londoner, Hunter has taken key scenes from the magical, bonkers play and dragged them into an urban 21st Century setting, creating striking images that reflect not only his current resting home – a vibrant, sometimes shadowy borough in the North East of London – but also his West Country roots.

There sleeps Titania sometime of the night
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night

Hunter scoured Hackney high and low for a suitable cast, which includes samba dancers, a stripper, youngsters from the borough and a local band.

In one image, London’s staunchly city-dwelling pearly kings and queens are pictured in their native East London, but surrounded by the countryside insignia of horses and hounds.

And I serve the Fairy Queen, To dew her orbs upon the green
And I serve the Fairy Queen, To dew her orbs upon the green

Meanwhile, Titania takes the form of a Hackney Samba Queen; and the enchanting Helena is a stripper, playing on the notions of performance, and also draws parallels between the Elizabethan Maypole and the strip club’s pole.

O, how ripe in show fullstop Thy lips, those kissing cherries,  tempting grow
O, how ripe in show fullstop Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow

Hunter says, ‘All these people are involved in their own performances. They live in parallel worlds, which rarely overlap. I really love the way Shakespeare has mixed everybody up…as our society gets more complicated, it gets more disconnected. The groups never seem to touch.’

For the exhibition, the photographs are hung in the chronological order of the play, meaning that while each is very much an individual image, they also work as part of the larger narrative.

Tom Hunter: A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from 4 November  – 1 April 2012 at the PACCAR Room, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

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