Tag Archives: Michael Bird

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

 

HEDDA GABLER

Hedda Gabler

★★★

The Maltings Theatre

 HEDDA GABLER

Hedda Gabler

The Maltings Theatre

Reviewed – 16th November 2021

★★★

 

“The direction of the ensemble is excellent with characters naturally filling and moving in the space”

 

OVO presents Ibsen’s classic tragedy from 1890 in a version by Richard Eyre.

The onstage action throughout all four acts takes place in the same set – the living room of Tesman’s house (Set Design by Simon Nicholas). Minimal furniture – a table, chairs, chaise longue, all rather unassuming, is enough to set the scene and the period. A backlit gauze at the rear of the stage allows us to see into the back room of the house and provides the opportunity for some effective and dramatic projection, not overdone. (Lighting Design by Matt Dugee). With the audience sitting closely on three sides, we are brought as witnesses into the heart of the domestic drama.

Before the start of Act One, we get a first glimpse of Hedda as she rises from bed and looks around her new home. It is clear she disdains all she sees except for a white piano which is at odds with the remainder of the dark furniture. A soundtrack of piano music here and in preludes between the Acts (Composer David Podd) foreshadows what is to come. A similar entr’acte at the start of Act Three is enacted by Thea – a near balletic scene, again showing prophetic movements.

The direction (Director Janet Podd) of the ensemble is excellent with characters naturally filling and moving in the space, never looking harried or hurried. All characters have their strengths and the fluency and pacing of the production will improve with further performances.

Hedda’s husband of six months, George Tesman (Lyle Fulton) with a near-permanent inane grin fumbles and bumbles about and is closer to buffoon than university professor. His nemesis Eijert Løborg (Diljohn Singh) is played in a gentle sweet manner. His final words to Hedda as he uses her maiden name of Gabler rather than Tesman is a rare moment of poignancy. Judge Brack (Marc Ozall), his hair black and brilliantined, is stiff and imperious, a dangerous sort to play with. I would have liked to see his deviousness more overtly from the start, but Hedda must be bored in her marriage indeed if she is willing to entertain notions of “forming a triangle” with this tedious man. Thea Elvsted (Jane Withers) is broken and bowed, close to tears and, with one exception, movingly sotto voce throughout.

The production revolves, as it should, around the moods of Hedda, and Faith Turner is superb: disdainful, condescending, enigmatic and cruel. Hedda wants to play all the men she meets and yet she says she cannot condone infidelity. Neither, it seems, can she abide her husband’s touch. The disastrous touchpaper is lit as soon as Hedda admits, “For once, I want to control a man’s fate.”

Janet Podd writes in her programme note that Hedda has been brought up by her father in boyish ways, learning to ride and shoot, and to be in control of her own destiny. As a woman she is deprived of this until the final moment when she opts to take it back. At the end of Act One, when Ibsen allows his main character to play with a pair of pistols, it is a fair sign that things are not going to end well.

 

 

Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Pavel Gonevski

 


Hedda Gabler

The Maltings Theatre until 27th November

 

Also reviewed this year at this venue:

VINEGAR TOM

Vinegar Tom | ★★★ | October 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews