Review: Midsummer Nights Dream

Midsummer nights dream review

Once again, a delight to return to the beautiful setting of Guildford Castle Grounds for the Pranksters’ summer open air production, this time a return to Shakespeare with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was a lively, whacky ‘Dream’, set in the 1970s, which charged along at a furious pace, yet still kept the magic of Shakespeare’s words and the spirit of the piece alive.

The glorious setting at the bandstand of the Castle Grounds, with their wide sweep of lawn under a majestic tree meant that no scenery was necessary. A picnic blanket and basket, plus a few copies of the text of the play, a sword, a ‘wall’ and a rather cute soft toy were the few props needed.

Both lighting and sound were very effective throughout, with 1970s music used very appropriately.

A fine array of 1970s ‘gear’ was in evidence. There were Doc Martens and beribboned hair for the fairies, with gossamer skirts and black leather biker jackets. Oberon sported a Noddy Holder style badged top hat and tartan trousers, plus the Pranksters so useful long black leather coat. Titania looked suitably regal in flowing red gown, and tartan shawl. Puck looked amazing in shiny silver trousers, red top and Ziggy Stardust face makeup. The ‘rude mechanicals’ were transported to a  1970s building site and sported overalls, high-viz waistcoats, and in one case an amazing moth eaten baggy dark yellow jumper. However, in their performance scene at the nuptial banquet, they were transformed with wonderful Tudor style costumes for Pyramus and Thisbe – who sported an amazing pair of long plaits. Bottom’s woolly hat sprouted donkey’s ears; the yellow jumper of course was topped by a shaggy lion’s head for Snug the Joiner – marvellous. Costumes were so well thought out, amusing, and added greatly to the audience’s enjoyment of this zany piece.

Director Jennifer Haynes had gathered a very strong cast together to delight the audience with this fast-paced and very physical in places ‘Dream’. Sometimes one feels when watching a play that this or the other character had been miscast, or was not in a position to do right by the role, but certainly this was not the case here.  The team of rude mechanicals were wonderful with clearly defined characters each and every one. All revolved around the team at Shakespeare Construction Ltd, and Typing Pool Supervisor (remember typing pools?  I think you have to be a certain age to!) Rita Quince (Pru Lunberg) took charge of handing out the roles to the actors of the newly formed company amateur dramatic society. Some were pleased with their roles, especially the very sweet lion (the joiner, John Snug, played by Jonathan Young), others were a bit miffed, especially the bearded electrician Flute (Sam Gould) who had to play Thisbe. Nick Bottom the brickie, played with great gusto and to perfection by Ollie Bruce, couldn’t resist wanting to play all the parts! Snout the foreman (Rick Buckman Drage) came into his own when playing the chink in the wall.

The Management Team also made a fine job of it. Phil Snell excelled as the MD/Theseus, a man of great common sense.  Although his wife Hippolyta (Tessa Duggleby) was disgusted at his taking the part of his Chief Accountant Egeus (David Clegg) in the battle over who was to marry the latter’s beautiful daughter Hermia. Not surprising when one considers that Hermia was either to marry her father’s choice, Demetrius, the account’s trainee, or enter a nunnery or be put to death!

The lovers were also extremely well cast and gave very strong performances. The marvellous Amy Scott made Helena very vulnerable, hurt as she was by firstly what she perceived to be the cruel teasing of Demetrius and Lysander, and then worst of all, the ill treatment handed out to her by her childhood friend Hermia.  Caroline James as Hermia also put in a fine performance as the innocent, confused, wronged young girl (who eloped clutching her favourite soft toy!). Their partnership was very sensitively played.  Lysander (Office Boy) played by Dean Brewer, and Demetrius (Joe Hall) made a great job of the two burly lovers, and the action got very physical at times, which was great boisterous fun.  I think fun was the key word with this ‘Dream’, this is what Pranksters do so well with their summer Shakespeare productions, there are always surpises and fine little innovative details, yet they lose nothing of the sensitivity and beauty of the text. All is finely balanced.

The Fairies also were a delight. Oberon (J P Judson) in his Noddy Holder hat, and Titania, played on the night we attended by Eleanor Shaikh, were well matched. Peaseblosson (Alex Gold), Cobweb (Alice Gray) and Mustard Seed (Livvy Gorham) were a great trio, with some good dance moves. Malin Karp, in her Ziggy Stardust outfit, was a perfect Puck, her eyes and voice full of mischief.

So once again, Director Jennifer Haynes, ably assisted by Jenny Swift, thrilled their audience in the stunning setting of the Castle Grounds with their buzzing Midsummer Night’s Dream. The acting was superb, the costumes dazzling, the humour was sublime.