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Bard's band of brothers; Actor Dan Wheeler will be donning a dress for his role in the latest Shakespeare play to be performed by an all male troupe in Coventry. He chats to CATHERINE VONLEDEBUR.

PERFORMING in all-male Shakespeare ensemble Propeller is like being in a boy band or sports team, says actor Dan Wheeler.

The acclaimed Worcestershirebased theatre company has just embarked on a British tour with its award-winning production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and a revival of The Comedy of Errors.

"It's probably like being in a sports team. We all get on very well and all hang out together when we're not on stage," says 31-year-old Dan.

"It sounds a bit cheesy but Propeller is a bit like family - we go out for a drink with the producer. It's like having 13 brothers.

"But we are not an all-male company- lots of women work backstage including our costume supervisor, wardrobe mistress and stage directors."

In Shakespeare's most magical comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Dan cross-dresses as Helena and in the farcical The Comedy of Errors he plays estranged twin, Antipholus of Syracuse.

"It seems an odd thing to say, but the gender thing is the least interesting," he explains.

"I approach playing a woman like I do any character, really. You think about the similarities and differences to yourself and play the part truthfully. Men and women react to emotional situations in a similar way.

"Because we have men dressed as women it makes the audience do a lot of work - they tend to get drawn-in quicker than they normally do.

"There are a lot of knowing lines and double-entendres - more obvious when you have two men on stage.

"I am so much for women playing women in theatre. The fact Shakespeare never saw that is a great tragedy. But for us it's about telling the story in a very different way."

Propeller returns to Coventry's Belgrade Theatre next Tuesday until February 15, following highly-praised previous performances of Richard III, Twelfth Night, Henry V and The Winter's Tale.

"The two plays work well together. A Midsummer's Night's Dream includes all the things that made the original successful - the same music and design; but all the actors are new and bring new things to the roles," says Dan.

"The Comedy of Errors is a full-on farce all about mistaken identity. With two sets of twins the possibility of confusion is limitless.

"My character's been searching for years for his long lost twin brother and ends up on this island.

"Everyone recognises him because of his twin. He gets invited in by his twin brother's wife and waited on by his twin's servant. It's wonderful but terrifying for him.

"The mood is that of imaginary holiday island. There's lots of Calypso music, colourful shirts and sombreros. I play the guitar, mandolin and bass guitar.

"Both plays are magical. A Midsummer's Night Dream is very obviously a story told by fairies; whereas The Comedy of Errors characters think what is happening to them is magic."

Propeller is renowned for mixing a rigorous approach to the text with a modern physical aesthetic. Other influences include mask work, animation and classic and modern film music and music from all ages.

Both productions are directed by Edward Hall, artistic director of Propeller Theatre Company and Hampstead Theatre, London. He is also an artistic associate of the National Theatre, the Old Vic, and The Watermill Theatre, Newbury.

Propeller's base is at Broadway in Worcestershire, but the company rehearses in London where most of the cast live. LAMDA-trained Dan joined the company two years ago.

"I was a fan of the company before joining. The first Propeller show I saw was Twelfth Night in 2007. I'd never before seen Shakespeare performed that was incredibly faithful to the text and original sentiment of the play; and accessible at the same time. The set was beautifully designed and did not feel it had been imposed," he says.

"The company do exactly the kind of work I am passionate about. I love all the live music and physical action. It's lovely to watch actors play live music and a big chorus of actors singing together. You can see someone playing Bottom in one scene and coming on in the next playing a harmonica. There are no stars in Propeller. It's why its perennially successful.

"I had been writing to the company for six years and finally got an audition based on the fact someone I worked with on a previous job recommended me. That's often how it works. I had two of the most nervous auditions of my life."

Last year he toured with Taming of The Shrew and Twelfth Night.

"It's a lovely company to work for and we get to tour the world. We toured Europe and a part of the US you do not necessarily normally go to - Minneapolis in the Mid-West. You discover some hidden gems. We're big foodies and I am a real sucker for American food.

"None of us have any acrobatic skills but there's a lot of running and jumping -you see people sweating from the level of physical intensity."

? Tickets for Propeller's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Comedy of Errors start at PS11 to PS25. Ring 024 7655 3055 or go to www.belgrade.co.uk.

The brightest of the Belgrade's young talent is marking the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth with a fast-paced, physical production of the Bard's last play, The Tempest. It will be performed by the Young Company, in association with Frantic Assembly, at the B2 auditorium from March 3 to March 8. Tickets are free, but donation towards supporting the work of the Community & Education Company are welcome.

'"It's probably like being in a sports team. We all get on very well and all hang out together when we're not on stageDAN WHEELER

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Dan Wheeler in The Comedy of Errors and |(top) in A Midsummer's Night Dream
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 7, 2014
Words:960
Previous Article:PICK OF THE SHOWS.
Next Article:Life story of legend; Sir Alan Ayckbourn, one of Britain's most performed playwrights, talks to CATHERINE VONLEDEBUR.
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