A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare was directed by Jan Rae. It was performed in the gardens of Bell House, on the 16th, 22nd and 23rd June 2019.
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Theseus - Hugh Blake-James
Hippolyta - Philippa Watts
Egeus - Andrew Cunningham
Hermia - Juliet Benning
Lysander - Mark Kelleher
Demetrius - Yohann Philip
Helena - Abi Gaston
Peter Quince - Roger Orr
Nick Bottom/Pyramus - Katrina Rublowsky
Frances Flute/Thisbe - Jane Jones
Robin Starveling/Moonshine - Marcia Bennie
Snout/Wall- Judy Douglas
Snug/Lion - Hayley Blundell
Puck - Alex Curran
Fairies - Kate Boydell, Emily Lamm, Lucinda Lane
Changeling - Alice Blake-James
Titania - Louise Norman
Oberon - Paul Sykes
Director - Jan Rae
Production Manager - Elizabeth Holden
Stage Manager - Gill Daly
Assistant Stage Managers - Mike Shaw, Kevin Edwards and Tracy Brook
Costumes - Philippa Watts
Hair & make-up - Denise Biffen
Front of House - Ian Jones
Publicity Design - Michael Marsden
Box Office - Anne-Lise Vassoille
Three Marriages and a Reconciliation
(Review by Mike Foster)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a special play, favoured by Elizabeth I. It is an addiction, a guilty pleasure, which can improve with every outing, particularly when set outdoors.
The latest performances, in the grounds of Bell House, are AMND III for the Dulwich Players, and director Jan Rae has excelled. The play was word perfect and possessed pace aplenty. The actors were well-rehearsed and evidently enjoying themselves.
The audience started the play facing the court of Athens but turned their seats round to view the forest of the fairies. The manoeuvre worked a treat, particularly for elderly members of the audience wary of a lengthy promenade.
The court was presided over in courtly fashion by Theseus (Hugh Blake-James) betrothed to Hippolyta (Philippa Watts), bringing an appearance of order to Shakespeare's chaotic world.
Sadly, Theseus supports his old friend and proper meanie, Egeus (Andrew Cunningham) who wants his daughter Hermia (Juliet Benning) to marry Demetrius (Yohann Philip), even though she loves Lysander (Mark Kelleher), while Helena (Abi Gaston) loves Demetrius, who loves Hermia. Got that? Suffice to say the right couples ended up living happily ever after, following a series of twists and turns. I enjoyed the performance of the lovers, and their energy as they rushed across obscure corners of the set in search of each other. As usual, I got confused with their comings and goings in the forest. But dreams are like that.
Fairy King Oberon (Paul Sykes) played a whimsical role, reminiscent of Jeremy Corbyn, beard tinged green, no doubt after spending too long in the allotment. Paul played a nicely understated role, offering Oberon gentle authority and a sense of mischief, reinforced by possession of a love potion and an antidote. Shakespeare, incidentally, provides Oberon with a few lines in honour of Queen Elizabeth: “a fair vestal, throned by the west.” Quite testing, particularly if she was in the audience.
Oberon’s wife Titania (Louise Norman) cut a headstrong figure, emphasised by her wild fairy hair. Titania was clearly a handful for Oberon, who was jealous of the attention she gave to a changeling boy (Alice Blake-James). I have seen Louise perform over the years, and this was surely one of her very best outings.
Puck, aka Robin Goodfellow (or Hobgoblin) is Oberon’s retainer. Alex Curran took a risk in presenting her character with an array of facial tics. But the device worked. It gave Puck an air of unpredictable anxiety, as she dashed hither and thither, carrying out Oberon’s commands. Perhaps she was troubled by her orders? Perhaps she was worried by the rift between her King and Queen which was not a good omen for mankind.
Four fairies attended Titania (Kate Boydell, Lucinda Lane, Emily Lamm and the hard-working Alice Blake-James). I liked the way they rallied behind their Queen and flattered Bottom after he fell victim to Puck’s enchantment. The fairies also had the challenge of singing out of doors (no mikes!) which they did beautifully to yet another Shakespearean musical composition written by Paul Grimwood.
Nick Bottom is a leading actor with a group of Rude Mechanicals who spent much of AMND III popping up and down to rehearse for a play, which they vainly hoped would entertain the Athens court. Bottom, of course, played Pyramus, the lead part in the play, and tried to play all the rest as well. Katrina Rublowsky, with her natural sense of timing and strong delivery, was a revelation in the part. Due to Puck’s magic, Bottom donned an ass’s head, and successfully acted through it. Which is a good moment to applaud the backstage team, comprising Gill Daly, Tracy Brook and Kevin Edwards for getting all the right props and presenting them in the right order. The costumes (Philippa Watts) and make-up (Denise Biffin) were masterful.
The Rude Mechanicals were led by Peter Quince (Roger Orr) who tried to impose order on Bottom's ambitions with forlorn success. Flute/Thisbe (Jane Jones) battled on with an air of suppressed exasperation. Slow-witted Snug (Hayley Blundell) played the role of a lion with true enthusiasm. Marcia Bennie was wonderfully doleful as Moonshine. Wall, beloved by all the people who have played it , (and Donald Trump), successfully fell to Judy Douglas. I was intrigued to see that Judy presented a rounded chink between thumb and finger, through which Pyramus speaks to Thisbe, rather than the normal "scissors" manoeuvre. It is an innovation which could catch on.
As well as backstage, Gill Daly took on the choreography for the end-of-play dance, with Andrew Cunningham putting the tedious Egeus to one side at the end to play guitar for his own composition. Roger Orr also played the guitar with a guest appearance by violinist Simon Wood. A musical end to a magical performance.
The author played Wall in the first Dulwich Players production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1998.