A Midsummer Night's Dream

William Shakespeare
The Lord Chamberlain's Men
On tour
(2006)

Pproduction photo

In the 16th Century troupes of travelling actors were known as rogues and vagabonds. These people had to be kept under control – they sometimes used the stage to reflect their own opinions on religion and politics - and in 1559 Queen Elizabeth issued a proclamation calling for all players to be licensed. In 1594 the troupe to which Shakespeare belonged came under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey, and were known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, and four hundred years later (and with the permission of the present Lord Chamberlain) this new company was formed with the aim of providing a true Shakespearean experience, travelling the country and performing the Bard’s plays in “the most beautiful and historic locations in Britain, bringing literary and architectural heritage together”. Following a very successful inaugural year touring Macbeth, this year they have chosen the Dream, the most magical play for an open air venue.

In keeping with their aim, they encourage their audience to bring a picnic and prepare to be entertained even before the show with the performers mingling among the people, conversing and telling jokes while they apply their make-up and prepare themselves for their performance. I was really looking forward to this aspect of the evening as my companion and I set off in glorious sunshine for an hour’s journey to our destination. Two and a half hours later we were still on the M25, with Midsummer’s Dream rapidly turning into Midsummer’s Nightmare as the lightening began to flash, the thunder growled, and torrential rain lashed the traffic with nowhere to go.

Arriving at our destination – at last – we found the producer, Mark Puddle (a most charming young man) patiently waiting and, although they had suffered the storm and had offered to abandon the show, the five to six hundred strong audience voted for the performance to go on. That’s the British spirit – enjoy yourself whatever the weather, and in fact there was no more rain that evening.

In keeping with tradition this is an all male cast (the first ‘women only’ show took place in 1664) and, arriving just before the interval, my first impression was of Andrew Young’s Titania not only appearing feminine but sounding so too. The same could not be said for Helena (Garry Jenkins) and Hermia (Joe Elwood) who were a little more ungainly, but they came into their own in the ‘fight’ scene between the four lovers.

Usually in an open air venues it is the surrounding scenery which provides most of the set, but this company travel with their own theatre – as near as possible to the design of the original Theatre at Shoreditch which was dismantled and carried over the river to eventually become the Globe. They recreate this act, erecting and dismantling at each venue just as the sixteenth century players would have done, and a very versatile stage has been constructed with a number of trap doors for unexpected entrances, the essential central ‘tower’ and three sets of curtains, the whole colourful appearance being beautifully enhanced by the dark green of the surrounding trees, and particularly effective during Puck’s (David Hughes) final speech which he began from the top of the tower.

With no amplification it is a test for the actors’ voice projection having to reach such a large audience (more than eight hundred expected on the following evening) with competition from traffic noise and any wildlife, and they all coped superbly with only a fraction of sound loss when they turned away from the audience. As it began to grow dark I wondered how they would manage lighting, but there’s only so far you can go for authenticity and, candles not being an option, electricity illuminated the stage. Costumes too have to compromise on fabrics, but there was a full and realistic ass’s head for Edward Harrison’s Bottom.

This is not a sophisticated production. Sticking closely to the concept of reproducing the style of Elizabethan England, dancing is country style and music is jolly. The seven actors each have to double up in several different parts, which again would be true to the period, leaving a lone Duke to watch the comical play by the Mechanicals, just as well on a small stage.

Increasing the pleasure of a very enjoyable evening (the audience was attentive and appreciative throughout) was the feeling that we were participating in a re-enactment of a bygone age - and maybe next time I’ll manage to see it from the beginning!

Tour Dates

30 July - 6.00pm
Ickworth House, Bury St Edmunds
01284 769505

02 August - 7.30pm
Shrewsbury Castle, Shrewsbury
01743 281281

03 August - 7.30pm
Chirk Castle, Chirk
01691 777701

04 August - 7.30pm
Waddesdon Manor, nr. Aylesbury
01296 653226

05 August - 7.30pm
Waddesdon Manor, nr. Aylesbury
01296 653226

06 August - 7.30pm
Ham House, Richmond
0870 4288933

10 August - 7.30pm
Trelissick, Cornwall
01872 862090

11 August - 7.30pm
Upton House And Country Park, Poole
08700 668701

12 August - 7.30pm
The Vine, nr. Baskingstoke
0870 428 8933

13 August - 7.30pm
Pembroke Castle, Pembrokeshire
01646 681510

16 August - 7.30pm
The Valley Gardens, Laxey Village, IOM
01624 694555

17 - 19 August - 7.30pm
The Valley Gardens, Laxey Village, IOM
01624 694555

20 August - 7.30pm
Smallhythe Place, Tenterden, Kent
0870 2404068

23 August - 7.30pm
Kingston Lacy, Winbourne Minster
0870 3000579

24 - 26 August - 7.30pm
The Riverbank, Henley Management College
01491 843404

27 August - 4.00pm
Hatfield House, Hatfield
01707 287010

28 August - 7.30pm
Haselbech Hall, Haselbech
08711 368292

30 August - 7.30pm
Cathedral Ruins, Coventry
0247 6524524

31 August - 7.30pm
Cathedral Ruins, Coventry
0247 6524524

01 September - 7.30pm
Cathedral Ruins, Coventry
0247 6524524

02 September - 2.30pm/7.30pm
Cathedral Ruins, Coventry
0247 6524524

03 September - 3.00pm
The Bothy, Finchley
0208 4554640

Reviewer: Sheila Connor