A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Guildford Shakespeare Company
Rack's Close, Quarry Street, Guildford
From 20 June 2017 to 01 July 2017
Review by Sheila Connor
“Over hill over dale thorough bush thorough briar”—the words of First Faerie were never more appropriate than for this part-promenade production at Rack’s Close, Guildford.
For this most magical of Shakespeare’s plays, the setting could not be more perfect with the undulating contours of this former chalk quarry forming natural raised stages at each point, the surrounding trees creating mystery and a little apprehension.
No scene shifters are required as the audience is escorted from one scene to another, beginning at the Duke of Guildford’s Headquarters, taking in a tea-break rehearsal at the Dennis Factory Amateur Dramatic Society (DADS) before trekking on to a clearing in the heart of the woods where mystery and magic take over.
Director Lotte Wakeham (new to the GSC) has moved the play from Athens and set it in Guildford in 1967, the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Love is in the air with preparations for the marriage of Duke Theseus and his new bride Hippolyta, but not everyone is happy. University student Hermia faces death if she doesn’t obey her father and marry his choice, but she is in love with Demetrius.
Sarah Gobran’s Hippolyta touches her shoulder in a gesture of sympathy before striding away in obvious displeasure, closely followed by Owen Oakeshott’s previously pompous Duke pleadingly calling, "darling".
It’s little touches like these which make the GSC so very special. Subtle and they go almost unnoticed yet, as well as amusing, they give depth to the character and add to the understanding of the play while always keeping faithfully to Shakespeare’s text.
The Factory tea-break has introduced us to the six characters rehearsing their play and we meet them later in the middle of the woods, but this is the faeries’ domain in the Swinging Sixties era and Yoga and Meditation are the order of the day. Oakeshott is now guitar-playing hippie Oberon and Gobran’s Titania is a true dreamy "flower child" with floaty dress and "flowers in her hair" until, annoyed, she strides off to "These Boots Were Made For Walking" while "Hit the Road Jack" has given Oberon his marching orders.
These little snatches of '60s music occur throughout, all suiting the action and particularly funny at the play performed by the DADS when each of the players is given a tune to suit.
Of course, the faerie magic causes everyone to fall in love with all the wrong people, and Matt Pinches as Bottom gets a donkey’s head and a lot of laughs, while the other Mechanicals run off in fear. Emma Fenney, terrific as an exuberant, exciting, mischievous Puck, is sitting happily half-way up a tree enjoying a picnic while also enjoying the chaos she has caused below.
The last move is to the wedding and the comical highlight of the play within a play performed by the DADS. Here, Pinches is playing a knight in "shining" armour again, having a horse head and a tail to control, and it all becomes quite hilariously silly slapstick knockabout with the "factory workers" performing “to their own satisfaction”.
Excellent work from Ailsa Joy (Hermia, Peaseblossom and The Moon), Megan Tyler (Helena and Snug), Owen Findlay (Lysander and Tom Snout), Jack Whitam (Demetrius and Flute) and Paul Trussell (Egeus and Peter Quince).
This company set themselves such a high standard that it would seem impossible to keep it up. They do—every time! This is a production to put a smile on your face and leave it there for a very long time—a truly fabulous magical evening, and on balmy midsummer night, too.