Victoria Kingham is captivated by a fairytale production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

In the abstractly beautiful, slightly other-worldly, Victorian-Gothic setting of Fairlight Hall, we saw what must be one of the best productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that ever appeared to mortal eyes. The actors seemed to manage their parts effortlessly, with verve, wit, and intelligence. In a thoroughly modern way, the action and all
the scene and costume changes took place in front of the audience while the plot, the humour (especially the humour!) and the dramatic structure remained integrated and impeccably presented. 

Erected carefully over what is usually a koi pond was the simplest yet most effective of stage sets: side doors, middle door, peering window above, trap door in front ground. Plastic garlands represented the forest, a variable pile of six bentwood chairs served as scene change indicators. In a play which is partly about the effects of artifice, all these devices could hardly have seemed more appropriate. Highlights of the performance: the particularly credible despair of Helena (Joanna Bending), refusing to believe anything but that she was being put down and mocked by all three friends; the coiled energy of Puck (Ben Simon), his lively movements just enough to be humorous when necessary, not tediously predictable; the characterisation of the compliant and slightly inelegant junior fairies; the furry ears and wirework muzzle of Bottom’s ass-face; the careful dialogue editing; the versatility of all the actors, the sheer funniness of the players and the play-within-the-play. All of this fully rendered without appearing over-farcical and without sacrificing the serious topics (class distinction, power, dream-versus-reality, fiction-versus-fact, love). As a special bonus, the arrival of the dawn (for Oberon and Puck) was almost simultaneous with the arrival of the sunset behind us – hard to believe this had not been specially timed.

CREDIT: Bobby Delaney, Dukes Theatre 

Thus the cast of only six of the Duke’s Theatre Company under the inspired direction of Chris Donnelly (who also plays Bottom and Egeus) managed to make of this play something which reached beyond its own dramatic boundaries, and the audience was made to feel that they, and the idyllic landscaped surroundings, were part of
the performance. It was an extraordinary achievement, fulfilling the director’s stated intention of ‘not hiding, but celebrating’, the doubling-up and tripling-up of the actors’ parts. The play hinges on power: the power of an absolute (but benevolent) monarchy and its acolytes held in fealty by uneducated, honest, anxious-to-please subjects; the power of kings over queens, of fathers over daughters, of fantasy over reality. The precision of the production emphasised this most Shakespearean topic while enabling the play to be thoroughly entertaining and understandable in a modern context. There was elegant stage movement, and superb artistic handling by the whole company. And, while the audience were joyfully aware of the dramatic artifices, we were still captivated by the fairy tale.

The Duke’s Theatre Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was at Fairlight Hall as
part of a national tour.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.