A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare
Puck and Oberon: the best I’ve ever seen
Directed by Erica Whyman
Designed by Tom Piper
Music by Sam Kenyon
Royal Shakespeare Company,
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Saturday 16th July 2016, 13.15
SEE ALSO 27th FEBRUARY 2016 INITIAL REVIEW:
Hippolyta – Laura Harding
Theseus – Sam Redford
Egeus – Peter Hamilton Dyer
Philostrate – Jon Trenchard
Hermia – Mercy Ojelade
Helena – Laura Riseborough
Lysander – Jack Holden
Demetrius – Chris Nayak
Puck- Lucy Ellison
Titania – Ayesha Darker
Oberon – Chu Omambala
Titania’s First Fairy – Theo St. Claire
Moth- Lila Clements
Cobweb – Aimee Gray
Peaseblossom – Mari Izzard
Mustard Seed – Ben Goffe
WITH THE BELVOIR PLAYERS, BELFAST
Bottom – Trevor Gill
Quince – Margaret Gorman
Snug – Robert McGregor
Flute- Christopher Curry
Starveling – Jessica McGreevy
Welcome Hills School, Stratford-upon-Avon
Music performed by Oberon’s fairies:
Cello- Jamie Cameron
Piano – Tarek Merchant
Guitar- Alex Tomkins
Flute – Jon Trenchard
Music performed live by:
woodwind / fairy – Adam Cross
trumpet / fairy- Andrew Stone-Fewigs
double bass / fairy – Ayse Osman
percussion / fairy – James Jones
I often see plays twice. Sometimes it’s because visiting friends ask me to recommend something I’ve seen, so I go again. Here, we just had to see this production twice. The Play For A Nation concept is such a wonderful idea … SEE THE FEBRUARY REVIEW. The cast list has been re-arranged in the meantime. I usually tack on “revisited” reviews to the original, but with the changed lists above, this is long enough to stand separately.
We contemplated seeing it outside of Stratford because taking the play to the provinces was central to the concept (not that they came to the central South unfortunately). In each town, a different local amateur company provides the cast for the “Rude Mechanicals” (Bottom and company). Belfast was a possible choice (because we wanted to go there anyway), but in the end it was simpler to go to Stratford again, in the last month when the amateur companies nationwide who played the rude mechanicals, assembled to do two days each. This was from the 15 June to 16 July, when the play returned from its tour to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. We chose the last day of the long tour and RSC run, with the Belfast Belvoir Players, because my companion’s Belfast childhood made that the amateur group the one we most wanted to see.
Often, when we see plays early on, and then late (last year The Rehearsal at Chichester and Measure For Measure at The Globe), we prefer the first version. It has an added life and tension. This was one of the few where we thought a 5 star production had improved. If you look at the February review, they had two understudies on stage then … but that wasn’t the reason at all, both had acquitted themselves very well.
On this re-review, the four lovers had moved from “brilliant” to “perfect.” When we saw them in February, they were very good, but in the meantime their timing has been refined with experience of where the laughs come, the physical business is totally confident, and facial expressions and reactions had been added. I thought Laura Riseborough’s tall, gawky Helena the outstanding lover last time, but the other three had all added enough to match her. Chris Nayak’s reactive acting throughout was particularly noteworthy. One of the features reviewers love is when Lysander calls Hermia a dwarf, and Ben Goffe, as Mustard Seed, and a genuine dwarf, races on and kicks him in the leg. In February it was very fast indeed. Now, Lysander has learned to wait afterwards, rubbing his leg in surprise , to highlight it and milk the laughs. That comes from playing to audiences, finding out what works, and embellishing it.
Lucy Ellison as Puck, Chu Omambala as Oberon
It still has the best Oberon and Puck I’ve ever seen. After nearly five months, Chu Omambala was even more languidly and fluidly cool, and Laura Ellison’s magnificently perky Puck was even funnier. We had noticed that early publicity showed Oberon and Titania, and once audiences had reacted to Lucy Ellinson, posters tended to Oberon and Puck.
Ayesha Darker as Titania
You can see why Ayesha Dharker’s Titania is so important to the concept. The king and queen are both stunningly attractive people. The height difference enhances it and her brilliant scarlet costume against his white suit look superb.
We noticed Jon Trenchard’s Philostrate (doubling on flute) more than we had before. A tiny part turned into a triumph.
Trevor Gill as Bottom playing Pyramus
The Belfast accents (except for Wall) brought an added dimension to the mechanicals. Again, you don’t see the professional / amateur join. The amateur companies are all going to be different workings of the Mechanicals plot, which I had wondered about. Trevor Gill’s little Bottom (i.e. short) pouted and demurred beautifully when denied the extra roles, and he had the opportunity to go from Belfast to loud exaggerated RP when Bottom was declaiming lines from the play at rehearsal. Christopher Curry’s Thisbe didn’t attempt the high pitched voice or feminine bits, but came across refreshingly well, delivering the final speech full on. Added bits were good. When they handed out the parts for Pyramus and Thisbe, they all got scripts, except Lion who merely got a tiny square of paper – presumably with just “grrr” on it. Two pleasures were a sudden joyful extract from “I’ll Tell Me Ma” when their play was preferred … “Is she handsome? Is she pretty? She is the belle of Belfast City!” and Lantern’s forlorn Irish addition of “So it is” to “and this is my dog.”
Thisbe, Wall, Pyramus: The Belvoir Players
The conversation through the wall was between the legs, with Pyramus getting the back angle … and Thisbe getting the front, under the apron, leading to hilarious grimaces and mouth-wiping afterwards.
Christopher Curry as Flute. He’s been told he is to play Thisbe.
A joyful, exuberant production was even more an inclusive “a play for the nation” with the children. This was a slightly older group than February, and they didn’t have their “evacuees” labels (as I say in the earlier review, I reckon it’s 1940) and little suitcases. They were from a special school, and their parents … indeed all of us watching … will be so proud of them acting, following all the arm movements, delivering the lines. I also found the tenderness and care of the cast taking them on and off heartwarming. Of course A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the few plays to allow a 50 / 50 gender distribution in the cast, as well as a colour blind casting. Yes, indeed, truly a “play for the nation.”
Five star last time. This time it was better.
A DAY IN STRATFORD … A RAMBLE …WHAT A DAY!
I had an accident-prone day in Stratford. We drove from Norwich, an uneventful trip. However, while looking for cheap art supplies in The Works store, a beefy Korean lad stood on my big toe, said “Sorry” turned round and stamped on it again, even harder. I limped along Sheep Street. You’d think with its tourist trade, car parks alone would make Stratford-upon-Avon wealthy enough to maintain its streets. I trod on a paving stone, it pivoted, dropped at least a centimetre and propelled me face first onto the ground. I just managed to get my hand down, but am severely bruised along one side. For an elderly person, that could be a broken hip, go to hospital and never come out again. There were several rocking stones on the side going up from the RSC. Then I had a narrow escape in the narrow toilets next to the Swan … no, don’t worry. A man with a large blue backpack swung round, I jerked my head back and the backpack just missed me … and my glasses. Oddly, earlier this year, a similar bearded man with a blue rucksack took off someone’s spectacles in the same toilet with his backpack, and just walked away. Was it the same clumsy bastard? Who are these people? I assume cyclists, packing up their lurid lycra in a backpack. Then in the interval, moving back to the theatre my wife yelped just behind me, then two hands pushed me hard in the back. Two women next to us were saying “Look at him … did he push you too?” A man in his 70s (pinkish trousers, blue shirt) was pushing his way urgently through the crowd by pushing both hands out and just pushing people very hard in the back. Panic? Lunacy? Senility?
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream RSC 2016, ‘A Play for the Nation’ at Stratfordplus
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – RSC 2011
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Headlong 2011
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Filter 2011
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Selladoor 2013
- A Midsummer Nights Dream – Handspring 2013, Bristol
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Grandage 2013
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Globe 2013
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Propellor 2013
- The Globe, 2016, directed by Emma Rice
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream RSC 2016, ‘A Play for the Nation’ at Stratford
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – BBC TV SCREEN version 2016
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, 2016
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bath Theatre Royal, 2016