Russell T Davies: ‘You never stop coming out of the closet’

Russell T Davies talks about Maxine’s appearance in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘, coming soon to the BBC!

Russell T Davies is showing me a snippet of film on his phone in a Manchester restaurant. There, on the screen, is Maxine Peake as you’ve never seen her before. She’s standing in a forest as a proud Amazonian queen, with shield and on-trend Miley Cyrus faux hawk hairstyle.

Truly, Peake has never played a role further removed from her performance as charming simpleton Twinkle in Dinnerladies. I put on my glasses. Is that muscle tone? Now she’s shouting angrily in iambic pentameter. “She’s posh and rough at the same time,” says Davies. “Only Maxine could do that.”

Then something even more unexpected happens. From across the clearing comes a lightning bolt that smacks into Peake’s chest. It looks like a Doctor Who/Game of Thrones mash-up, but what we’re watching is a scene from Davies’s new 90-minute adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, part of the BBC’s spring season of plays commemorating 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. Matt Lucas will be Bottom (naturally) and other cast members include Bernard Cribbins, Richard Wilson and – my personal favourite – Elaine Paige as Mistress Quince.

“Dreams, chases, people changing identities and species,” he says. “If that’s not an episode of Doctor Who, I don’t now what is.” Clearly, you can take the man out of Doctor Who, but not Doctor Who out of the man. “I’ve wanted to make this for 30 years,” he says, setting about his eggs benedict. But his obsession with the play goes back even further. “It was the first drama I was in.” He pauses. “I was 11 when I gave Swansea my Bottom.”

Davies has been sent the footage of Peake getting zapped so he can sign off on the special effects. The lightning bolt was fired by Theseus at Peake’s Hippolyta: in Davies’s reboot of the Bard, the former is a fascist ruler holding the latter as a prisoner of war. He insists, however, that he’s been faithful to the play. “I have only changed five words” In fact, he argues he’s been more faithful than Shakespeare. “Its title is its greatest enemy. It’s not summer. The seasons have been turned upside down. It’s a tough, wintry place.”

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be broadcast in spring on BBC One.

Read the rest of his interview here.