Thisbe

Samantha Sutherland
Door Ajar Theatre
Theatre Royal, Stratford East (Gerry's)

Joey Hickman, Anne-Marie Piazza, Samantha Sutherland, David Osmond & Jennifer Wilson as fairies Credit: Alex Brenner
Anne-Marie Piazza, Jennifer Wilson as fairies & David Osmond as Demetrius Credit: Alex Brenner
Joey Hickman as Puck & Rosalind Burt as Thisbe Credit: Alex Brenner

What happened in the wood outside Athens? As a theatregoer you probably know A Midsummer Night’s Dream and will remember. Fourteen years after the events in that play, Thisbe, the teenage daughter of Demetrius and Helena, only knows she’s not supposed to go there.

Thisbe likes her dad Demetrius perhaps a bit too much. She’s jealous of her mother Helena who gets all his attention. They always seem to want to get her doing things that leave them alone together but never, no not ever, allowing her to go off to the woods.

Fairies begin the story with a lively, if repetitive, opening number: “Something Happened in the Woods!”. Door Ajar is a company of versatile actor-musicians but that repetition is not just a musical riff; it helps establish an understanding with those in the audience who may be deaf or have poor hearing and this production incorporates British Sign Language as a continuous element in the performance. Jennifer Wilson does most of the signing but others take over or duplicate when she is too involved in other action.

Rosalind Burt is a fresh faced, independent and rebellious Thisbe. It is not just the fairies who look mischievous. In her knitted beanie, she too could be a perky pixie. When the other actors don a similar beanie, they also become Thisbe: five feuding aspects of her lively personality, sometimes agreeing but more often in contention.

Joey Hickman’s sprightly Puck livens things up with his accordion. His voice sinks to a basso profundo when he’s being very serious and he trills on a tin whistle when making magic. He takes charge much of the time and provides Thisbe with the flower of Love in Idleness that caused such confusion in Shakespeare’s play. Here as there it’s used to signify the wayward fickleness of love with and the woods she is not supposed to enter are the world of sexuality that awaits her.

Horn-rimmed spectacles and a jacket turn David Osmond’s fairy into Demetrius, strangely perturbed when visiting still-happy couple Lysander (Hickman again) and Hermia (Samantha Sutherland). Thisbe’s parent may not know about the flower magic but Anne-Marie Piazza’s Helena certainly remembers the way the others treated her under its influence.

This play raises the question of how long fairy magic lasts, what happens when sexual attraction fades. With its reminder of the resentments and insecurities that persist in what seems a happy marriage and its presentation of the jealousies and changing relationships within a family it neatly dramatises common adolescent problems but layered with humour.

In its 75 minutes, it doesn’t dig deeply but troubled youngsters will see that others share their problems, perhaps find it puts them in perspective. Roberta Zuric's lively production makes sure there is always something to laugh at and, with designer Helen Coyston’s cut- out forest and David Hewson’s music emphasising the theatricality of the presentation, the emphasis is on entertainment.

It is an entertainment that is widely embracing, for the signing is beautifully integrated in the playing. However, with this very wide thrust stage and a full house, non-hearing punters should ask for a seat with especially good sight lines.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton