Tag Archives: Richard Baker

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Arundel and Ladbroke Gardens

A Midsummer Nights Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Arundel and Ladbroke Gardens

Reviewed – 25th June 2019



“this setting could have been made for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Tatty Hennessy born to direct”


Stepping into a normally locked, private garden a few long days after the Summer Solstice is the perfect entry to Shakespeare’s fantastic interplay of human passions and fairy spells. Arundel and Ladbroke Gardens supplies a cluster of trees and shrubs, to be adorned with bunting and soft lighting and it’s not long before this Shakespeare in the Squares production transports you sufficiently to block out the Notting Hill noise beyond the hedge.

This is Tatty Hennessy’s third production with the company, her last being a 1970s Music Festival setting for As you Like It, an interpretation that played better than most because it followed the cultural, fashion and musical spirit of the work rather than indulging a historical theory. Indeed, the idea of a 1920s Midsummer Night’s Dream initially suggests some convoluted connection being made, between two eras of post-war fallout. Thankfully, it is again the decade’s cultural resonances that are reflected, with costume (Emma Lindsey) and music (Richard Baker) bringing out the play’s themes of attraction, love, magic and bacchanalia with effortless aptness. The aesthetics of burlesque and 1920s Music Hall are a fine fit for the lusts and jealousies of Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena, just as suited to the Mechanicals’ ham-fisted style of entertainment and afford the fairy characters a louche, decadent manner whether carelessly casting spells or settling back with popcorn to enjoy the emotional carnage they’ve caused.

The casting for this troupe of players, most of whom must double up as musicians and singers as well as other characters, is a triumph of talent logistics. Paul Giddings trisects Theseus, Oberon and Quince, bringing a quizzical authority that plays differently but superbly to each. Gemma Barnett’s combination of delicacy and bravery works as well to fair Hermia as to the Fairy as to Snug’s hilariously pathetic lion. Yet the versatility comes with no loss of individual stamp as Hannah Sinclair Robinson elevates Helena to a point where she competes for notional title of Comedy Lead with James Tobin’s left eyebrow, which cocks winningly as it brings some drag queen insouciance to Puck.

Ensemble playing is hearty and energetic with the cast’s movement (Yarit Dor) reaching into and around the audience, enhanced by the cast’s ad libs and some witty design details (Emily Stuart with Eleanor Tipler). If sometimes laughs are pursued too ardently it’s an understandable side-effect of the show’s mission to help even a child in the back row enjoy Shakespeare.

Finding new ways to access Shakespeare never grows old and, aside from the Portaloos and sirens, this setting could have been made for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Tatty Hennessy born to direct.


Reviewed by Dominic Gettins

Photography by James Miller


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Various London Squares and Gardens until 11th July


Last ten shows covered by this reviewer:
Fool Britannia | ★★★ | The Vaults | January 2019
Cheating Death | ★★ | Cockpit Theatre | February 2019
The South Afreakins | ★★★★★ | The Space | February 2019
Tobacco Road | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | February 2019
How Eva Von Schnippisch Won WWII | ★★★★ | The Vaults | March 2019
Butterfly Powder: A Very Modern Play | ★★★★ | Rosemary Branch Theatre | April 2019
The Fatal Eggs | ★★★★★ | Barons Court Theatre | April 2019
Tony’s Last Tape | ★★★★ | Omnibus Theatre | April 2019
Fuck You Pay Me | ★★★★ | The Bunker | May 2019
Much Ado About Not(h)Ing | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2019


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The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance

Wilton’s Music Hall

The Pirates of Penzance

The Pirates of Penzance

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 26th February 2019



“The cast were in fine voice throughout what must be something of an operatic endurance test”


The Pirates of Penzance, along with The Mikado, is probably the most well known and loved of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. ‘I am the very model of a modern Major General’ and ‘A policeman’s lot is not a happy one’ have long since become part of the English cultural kit-bag, and Wilton’s is the perfect setting for Sasha Regan’s revival, imbued as it is with nostalgia, and the ghosts of early revue, vaudeville and musical theatre. The plot is utterly nonsensical, involving a crew of sentimental pirates (they have a soft spot for orphans), an indentured crew member there under false pretenses (his nursemaid thought she was apprenticing him to a pilot), a Major General and his bevy of daughters, and a well-meaning but terrified posse of policemen. Amidst this chaos, our hero Frederic (the pirate-by-proxy) falls in love with Mabel, one of the Major-General’s daughters, and, predictably, after various travails, finally marries her. Suffice it to say, that no-one goes to a Gilbert and Sullivan for the plot!

Gilbert and Sullivan’s enduring appeal lies in the marvellous marriage of music and lyrics that this extraordinarily brilliant duo brought to the stage, and Sasha Regan’s talented cast – with superb musical direction from Richard Baker – performed with skill and evident relish throughout. The opening number smacked a little too much of all-boy burlesque, but ‘I am a pirate king’, two songs later, brilliantly delivered by James Thackeray, steadied the ship and it was pretty smooth sailing henceforth. For the most part, the production successfully trod the delicate line between affectionate high camp and embarrassing caricature, though there were moments, in the first half particularly, which needed to be reined in. Each of the play’s female leads (Alan Richardson as Ruth; Tom Bales as Mabel) was at their most compelling when at their least performative, and Tom Bales beautifully captured the yearning and romance in Mabel’s duet with Frederic, ‘Stay, Frederic stay’. David McKechnie was a splendid Major-General – full of pomp and pathos; and Sam Kipling gave a lovely comic cameo in the role of Edith.

The cast were in fine voice throughout what must be something of an operatic endurance test, particularly for the female leads; Alan Richardson as Ruth stood out in particular in terms of vocal strength and clarity. Lizzie Gee’s choreography was full of fun, and the ensemble work was terrific. Particularly memorable were the young ladies’ fluttering entrance through the gallery, the antics of the moustachioed policemen, and the fast and furious ‘A paradox’. The show cracked along and seldom lost pace, and although some of the lyrics were lost in the bigger ensemble numbers (‘Stay, we must not lose our senses’), the judicious combination of well-articulated singing and Wilton’s acoustics ensured that W.S.Gilbert’s sparkling wordplay delighted as it should.

The Pirates of Penzance was Gilbert and Sullivan’s fifth collaboration, which premiered in New York in 1879. One hundred and forty years later, its loony plot, catchy tunes and witty lyrics still have the power to entertain a packed house, and reduce an audience to tears of laughter. A great deal has happened in that time however. Ironically, Sasha Regan’s all-male production actually takes the sting out of some of the book’s more toe-curling moments with regard to women – I’m thinking particularly here of Frederic’s early treatment of Ruth – but it does seem dated in all the wrong ways to see an all-white cast in 2019, and it is to be hoped that this issue will be addressed when taking the show forward. Let’s get some more pirates on board!


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Scott Rylander


Wilton's Music Hall thespyinthestalls

The Pirates of Penzance

Wilton’s Music Hall until 16th March


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Songs For Nobodies | ★★★★ | March 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★½ | June 2018
Sancho – An act of Remembrance | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Twelfth Night | ★★★ | September 2018
Dietrich – Natural Duty | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Box of Delights | ★★★★ | December 2018
Dad’s Army Radio Hour | ★★★★ | January 2019
The Good, The Bad And The Fifty | ★★★★ | February 2019


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