Tag Archives: Emilia Harrild

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

★★★

Roman Theatre of Verulamium

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 OVO at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium

Reviewed – 26th May 2022

★★★

 

“It isn’t strictly Shakespeare but it’s a fine evening’s entertainment”

 

The English summer outdoor theatrical season is amongst us and there can be few sites more delightful for enjoying an evening’s entertainment than the Roman Theatre of Verulamium (St Albans). The stage is beautifully lit (Mattis Larsen) in reds and blues as the evening draws in, and head mics are worn by all performers (sound by Michael Bird) that removes the necessary but sometimes irritating shoutiness of outdoor projection. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, for obvious reasons, a summer favourite and there is a huge amount of fun to be had in this production directed by Adam Nichols and Matt Strachan – including an opportunity for a legitimate stage invasion – but this is not one for a Shakespeare purist. With a large percentage of the original dialogue paraphrased into modern(-ish) language, and much of the plot condensed and developed, it is surprising that there is no ‘adapted by’ credit which is surely merited.

The action is initially set within the confines of a Blackburn working man’s club of the 1970s, with references to closing mills and striking miners, and with the locals sporting dodgy facial hair and Lancashire accents to reinforce the period feel. The style of the production is set as Lysander serenades Hermia with some verses of the Bay City Rollers’ hit Bye, Bye Baby and the audience is encouraged to join in. The dialogue, mixing the Shakespearean with the vernacular, goes along the lines of, “Stand forth Demetrius, cum ‘ere lad”.

A gender-ambiguous Puck (Guido Garcia Lueches) is barely dressed in a low-cut singlet, the shortest of shorts and the highest of platform boots (Costumes Emma Lyth) – half Eurovision, half Eurotrash. Leaving the club singing Abba’s Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man after Midnight), Puck draws the locals into an imaginary Disco Land where the fairy magic is to take place. Verses of pop song are interspersed with spoken Shakespearean text whilst the would-be young lovers show us their moves (Choreography Sundeep Saini).

Lyle Fulton plays a rather pathetic but ultimately endearing Lysander who with a guitar in hand and a song for every occasion wins us over by his appealing nature. Emilia Harrild is a feisty Hermia – little but fierce – who endures the worst insult when described as a “Yorkshire teabag”. Charlie Clee plays Demetrius inexplicably as a sullen and rather unattractive suitor; an approach which is explained by a striking late plot twist. Eloise Westwood as the naive Helena provides the performance of the evening. Even before her moving last solo song, her star quality shines out amidst the pantomime going on around her.

In the traditional manner, the roles of Theseus (Ben Whitehead) and Hippolyta (Emma Wright) are doubled with those of Oberon and Titania. Emma Wright shows her stage versatility with an impressive transformation from down-trodden housewife to spectacular dancing queen. I can’t relax into Oberon’s “luurrv” style of delivery but many around me enjoy his fairy meddling, “Get ready to party, and don’t Puck it up”.

In the most radical change of the production, the hempen homespun have ambitions to become a pop band rather than to stage a play, so Pyramus and Thisbe does not get an airing. They are transformed into disco fairies and Bottom (Daniel Hall) becomes a Saturday Night Fever dance icon (white suit, gold medallion, black quiff) rather than the traditional ass.

In the final scene, back in the club, the band The Mechanicals perform a non-stop 70s megamix medley (Musical Director Tom Cagnoni) and the full cast dance out the night. It isn’t strictly Shakespeare but it’s a fine evening’s entertainment in the open air.

 

Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Elliott Franks

 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 OVO at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium until 11th June

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Vinegar Tom | ★★★ | October 2021
Hedda Gabler | ★★★ | November 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

VINEGAR TOM

Vinegar Tom

★★★

The Maltings Theatre

 VINEGAR TOM

Vinegar Tom

The Maltings Theatre

Reviewed – 29th October 2021

★★★

 

“As a period piece, both of the time it is set, and the time in which it was created, Vinegar Tom is a haunting piece of theatre”

 

Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom, just opened at the Maltings Theatre in St. Albans, marks the 45th anniversary of the play’s premiere by the feminist theatre collective, Monstrous Regiment. Written at the same time as Churchill’s Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Vinegar Tom explores similar subjects set in an England coming apart at the seams during the Civil War. Both plays present political (and polemical) material which resonates just as powerfully today, but Vinegar Tom is the more overtly feminist piece. It also incorporates music hall touches well suited to the style of a 1970s touring company like Monstrous Regiment, but which, ironically, date a show for twenty first century audiences no longer familiar with the music hall tradition.

Vinegar Tom is not about witches, as Churchill herself says. Instead she aimed to write a play for Monstrous Regiment that highlighted the plight of women living on the fringes of society. Her play is also about how unique, nonconformist women end up on those fringes (both then and now). With no means of visible support, and vulnerable as spinsters or widows, such women initially struggle as objects of suspicion among their neighbours. Ultimately, they become victims of a paranoid age looking for scapegoats. Despite the disclaimer, Churchill creates a compelling and believable narrative for the origins of witch hunts in seventeenth century England.

The Maltings Theatre revival of Vinegar Tom, directed by Matthew Parker, is a bold attempt to place the themes of the play front and centre. On a barely there set, designed by Sorcha Corcoran, Parker has assembled a talented cast (with particularly spirited performances by Emilia Harrild and Melissa Shirley Rose). The set is complemented by Alice McNicholas’ beautiful costumes. The music (composed by Maria Haïk Escudero) introduces a rock element to the show. This update is a departure from the more folk influenced music created for the original production by Monstrous Regiment. This revival features instead, cast members in period influenced costume picking up electric instruments for the songs that punctuate each scene’s end. These musical moments are arresting visuals, and certainly introduce a more “ominous” vibe. But the overall effect overwhelms Churchill’s dialogue, and the shape of the original play. The lighter, more comic (and teachable) moments recede.

In all Churchill’s plays, it’s the words you listen for. And in Vinegar Tom (the play takes its name from the cat of one of the characters) the lyrics are as powerful as the scenes that precede them. Each scene in is a punch in the gut about women’s treatment in the seventeenth century (and by extension, our own). Escudero’s music is potent, drawing on many rock influences, and the performers who play it, are more than up to the task. Ultimately, however, the power of the musical element is just too much for the play—and the space. The Maltings is an intimate black box theatre well suited to the original, touring, production of Vinegar Tom—but in this 2021 update, the intimacy, and hence the impact of each scene as the actors play it, gets lost. It’s not impossible to reimagine Vinegar Tom as a rock musical, but it would be a different beast.

As a period piece, both of the time it is set, and the time in which it was created, Vinegar Tom is a haunting piece of theatre. It stands as testament to the quality of the work produced by 60s and 70s feminist theatre collectives. So do make the trip to St. Albans if you have never seen this play before—it’s vintage Churchill, and a timely revival.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Pavel Gonevski

 


Vinegar Tom

The Maltings Theatre

 

Other shows recently reviewed by Dominica:
The Ladybird Heard | ★★★★ | July 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | June 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | July 2021
Rune | ★★★ | August 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | October 2021
The Witchfinder’s Sister | ★★★ | October 2021
Rice | ★★★★ | October 2021
Love And Other Acts Of Violence | ★★★★ | October 2021
One Man Poe | ★★★ | October 2021

 

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