first night

A Midsummer Night's Dream


Castle Theatre Company
For anyone willing to venture beyond the sticks and stones of DST’s usual theatrical venues on a cool but sunny Tuesday evening, they would have been richly rewarded.  A short ten minute walk along Framwellgate Waterside just up the quiet road past the Radisson lies Crook Hall (dating from the thirteenth century I might add) and its enchanting gardens in full summer bloom through which the cast of Castle Theatre Company’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ merrily led their audience.
 The diversity of the garden’s myriad of locations were used to wonderful effect for the realms of folklore and romance which Shakespeare’s play inhabits;  the imagination of the audience was stimulated over and over as we picked our way along narrow paths and creaking old gates into each new walled garden, orchard or leafy woodland.
The lovers’ scenes in particular between Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius and Helena took on a touching charm and sincerity as they were enacted out on neat grass lawns bordered with pretty flowering shrubs, clipped hedges and elegant statues of classical women. It encapsulated perfectly the whimsical, light hearted trials of the lovers in Shakespeare’s play. Kate Hunter must be credited with a simultaneously earnest yet highly witty turn as the jilted lover Helena who carries off her predicaments with perfect grace whether she is being flung in the air or man-handled by her amorous suitors Guy Hughes and Michael Forde. Elissa Churchill as Hermia perhaps becomes a little more aggressive than necessary in the confrontational scene with all four lovers as she vaults like a wild animal on to Helena’s back, but her hurt and vexation are nevertheless tangible, and she exits the scene with a moving humility.
The folklore element of the play is additionally given real gravitas within the setting of the gardens. Titania’s fairies, in their soft turquoise dresses, were often glimpsed fleetingly through the trees and bushes before appearing before the audience. When Titania is lulled to sleep by the singing fairies in a small enclosed patch of woodland the effect is remarkably striking given the evening birdsong from the gardens and soothing gush of a fountain nearby. Tash Cowely commands a wonderful presence as an icy and imperious Queen of the Fairies Titania, although in her scenes with Bottom she is trumped by the farcical absurdness of Gareth Davies with his ass’ head being fussed over by the crooning fairies, or braying and kicking in his sleep.
James Hyde as Puck of course wins the award for most eccentric costume dressed in nothing but striped black and white leggings and red braces, and also for admirably managing not to look even a tiny bit cold given the chilly evening. Beckoning the audience after him, he danced and hopped round the gardens looking every bit the mischievous imp of Oberon. One scene enjoyed by all was when the audience found themselves looking out over a large, peaceful moat pool, on the whose far bank Puck can be seen goading Demetrius to pursue him, mistaking him to be his rival Lysander.
The third strand of the play, that of the Athenian workman putting on a play ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ culminated in a very funny performance at the Duke’s wedding to Hippolyta at the end of the play. The audience, becoming wedding guests at this point, were provided with chairs and blankets (being exceedingly grateful of the latter) to fully enjoy the frivolities, led by Gareth Davies galloping into view as if he still believed he was a donkey. The workmen (…) provoked laughs from all, although despite being  highly entertaining sadly some of their accents obscured Shakespeare’s dialogue making it a little hard to hear.
However this was a beautifully performed and directed production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ all in all. I was anticipating the transitions from location to location around the garden to be slightly awkward or tricky, but every scene followed seamlessly from the next. The invigorating setting of Crook Gardens made the performance a very special one indeed.
* * * *
Sophie Pelissier

16 June 2012

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