A Midsummer Night's Dream
PUBLISHED: 13:42 07 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:06 20 February 2013
Katie Jarvis is enchanted by the Cotswold Players' performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream
A Midsummer Night's Dream
So you find yourself in the centre of Stroud, on a main road with cars rushing past, where the buildings are perfunctory and the surroundings of little note. The people around you behave conventionally enough and the world continues to unfold in a way you can mostly predict.
And then someone, without you really noticing, plucks a purple flower and during a momentary blink squeezes its juice, which drips soporifically onto your eyelids. And when you open your eyes, theres a wood in front of you gnarled, twisted branches and bowers of leaves - peopled with brocaded Elizabethan nobles and the very naughtiest of naughty fairies.
Cue: the Cotswold Players and A Midsummer Nights Dream.
Dear theatre-goer, the life of a (very part-time) theatre critic is not always an easy one. Especially when it comes to reviewing amateur productions. You want to be nice; you want to be kind; you so need to be honest. And then let me tell you this: Ive seen some professional performances that couldnt hold a tallow candle to this production.
Lets face it, director Graham Bill and his team had their work cut out. This is the Dads Army of Shakespeare comedies, where the audience (or, at least, the man in front of me) can chant a plethora of well-loved phrases. Dont tell him, Pike! was a line Shakespeare missed out on; but he made up for it by furnishing us with so many other gems: the course of true love never did run smooth; Ill met by moonlight; and one of the most beautiful speeches ever to grace mans lips: I know a bank where the wild thyme blows.
But create that bank is exactly what Graham and his team did. Even before Theseus and Hippolyta stepped regally onto stage, it was clear that quality was the keyword. The scenery was stunningly beautiful and evocative all credit to Rod Clifford and his inspired helpers from the wood itself and the Mechanicals workshop, to every bower and ridge the actors inhabited. Nor did the sumptuous costumes disappoint both created for the production and hired from Bristol and the RSC.
And then the cast. Were they acting? Im pretty convinced it really was Hermia on stage (do google the multi-talented Joy-Amy Wigman), tossing her head at the idea of marrying Demetrius Demetrius? Are you kidding? when shes got the hots for Lysander. And Helena (Claire Rees-Jones) the prudish Harry-Potter-Hermione of MSND who has no idea whether shes coming or going with the fluctuating passions of Demetrius. The Mechanicals cant fail to be brilliant in any half-decent production; this lot were magical. Geoff Butterworth, John Salter, Tom Smith, Patrick Howell, James Blofield well done. And Alex Nixon-Malaure has to have a special mention: is there a BAFTA for most hilariously tortured death expression ever?
The fairies, too, were an interesting bunch, whose patience was clearly pushed to the limits by Bottom and co. Very funny and very beautiful musically. (Indeed, the music in general was superb, particularly the original compositions by Rob Kempner.)
And then theres Puck, Oberons jester and lieutenant as played by Nic Sims. Half animal, half spirit, he morphed from bouncing cricket to sniggering sprite: Lord, what fools these mortals be! A superb performance from a lad whose name will grace many a poster in many a location in years to come.
To name all involved in this onstage and off would be too immense a task. Not to do so is woefully negligent. And I apologise.
The production marks the 100th birthday of the Cotswold Players founded by the novelist Constance Smedley and her artist husband Maxwell Armfield in the summer of 1911. They staged a Pageant of Progress in Fromehall Park, Stroud. Despite 1,300 performers and only one rehearsal, it reportedly went without a hitch.
In 1957, when Strouds Cotswold Playhouse opened, A Midsummer Nights Dream was the chosen play. So this seasons director, Graham Bill, decided it would be fitting to Dream on. There have been so many clever productions of The Dream, including the current production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre that I thought it would be refreshing to go back to basics and have it set in Elizabethan times, he writes, in the programme.
We chat, just before the play begins, and he tells me how the players have taken advantage of the RSCs Open Stages project, giving them the chance to attend workshops and learn from the masters.
All I can say is that the result is wonderful and not all due to the RSC. Graham, your clever skills and agile brain were evident in every twig, in every leaf; in the gossamer of the fairy wings, and the Bottom of the Mechanicals: strange and admirable.
The Cotswold Players Present Williams Shakespeares A Midsummer Nights Dream on October 5-8 and 12-15 at the Cotswold Playhouse, Parliament Street, Stroud: www.cotswoldplayhouse.co.uk (tickets available through the tourism office on 01453 760960).