Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theatre at Baddow,Parish Hall, Great Baddow, Chelmsford

Shakespeare is justifiably considered to be a genius towering over all other playwrights: his work being timeless and unlikely to suffer serious damage by being mucked about by others. There is, however, something else other than the word "unlikely" to be considered. Is it being done simply for the sake of it? Or because you can't cast it otherwise? If you are going to dabble with his words and plots be sure the changes all fit seamlessly, are justifiable, and that you know precisely what you are doing.
If you can't cast it - don't do it; and that applies to any play. 
The premise behind TAB's production was to make this play accessible to modern young people using gender-blind casting to accentuate just how much modern society is changing as, and how, we live. in so doing it raised some intellectual and emotional questions in my response to this experiment.
If, however, the first change is your motive you risk cutting your youthful audience off from such serendipitious delights as a bellows mender. How then are they to relish their history and Shakespeare's gift for precise language: "Oh Bottom! Thou art translated!"
This is not just pedantry. I have witnessed at first hand how a fractious, over-excited teenage audience at the Barbican was silenced immediately into rapt attention as the curtain went up on the famous production with Alex Jennings as Oberon. With it's gaudy purple and pink upturned umbrella bower and the large electric lightbulbs scattered through the heavens, it was a joy to behold. 
If the second change is your motive then why not carry it out in its entirety? That is by swapping: Oberon and Titania; Theseus and Hippolyta; even Egeus?  Plus doubling of the chief Fairies and leading mortals would have eased your casting problems. Even Brook's acrobatic Dream and Bogdanov's controversial Romeo and Juliet with motorbike gang worked because care had been taken. Closer to home at KEGS Jon Vaughan's open air Dream production with Puck changed into a bat, worked wonderfully because sunset time coincided as the bat descended the buildings upside down.
It will also add to your challenges if you try to both direct and act at the same time. In this production Director Jim Crozier chose modern dress which led to some moments of confusion at the start as his Theseus and Fabienne Hanley's Hippolyta appeared in very dressed down and nonaristocratic fashion.The Lovers in their relatively casual Primark-style clothes also looked unlike the children of extreme privilege. Peter Nerreter's Egeus in his smart tailored suit was spot on.
Nicholas Milenkovic was an elegant Philostrate, observing events. Ruth Carden, Andrea Dalton, Mabel Odonkor and Nikita Eve were the lovers Hermia, Demetria, Lysanda and Helena quarreling in lively fashion until the ultimate solution of their difficulties. Barry Taylor was a noisy Oberon constantly moving in circles, who needing to find his inner stillness. Natalie Patuzzo's Puck was eager and appeared to almost worship her master, yet somehow missed the magic of the role. Diane Johnston's Titania was a beautiful, flighty, naughty creature, utterly enamoured of Bob Ryall's sturdy portrait of the leading actor of the Rude Mechanicals complete with a fine donkey's head.
The "amateur dramatic team" consisted of Roger Saddington's Peter Quince directing the play within a play, plus Liam Mayle's highly effective Flute who enjoyed himself enormously as the melodramatic heroine Thisbe; David Saddington's Starveling whose reactive facial expressions were worth their weight in gold; Malcolm Johnston's Snout; and Wylie Queenan's Snug. 
The Fairies were a marvel - very different and entertaining. From Donna Stevenson, Angie Budd's Peaseblossom, Sarah Dodsworth's Cobweb, Sheila Talbot's Moth to Leonie Parker's Mustardseed they were a surly, mutinous tribe. So much so that you never quite knew what they would get up to next. 
Going back to the question of costume brings us to the final scene. This was a magnificent spectacle with gorgeous evening frocks and suits which easily and appropriately suited  a ducal level of society. Apart from one short elasticated dress threatening to cause a wardrobe malfunction of its own.
Scenery was mostly very basic but when the interior of the forest was revealed with its skeletal painted trees plus Titania's netting bower it came together and worked really well thanks to David Saddington's team. As did the final scene.
More attention to verse speaking and care for Shakespeare's words would have been useful in the area of audibility. While the usual TAB problem of shoes clattering across the wooden floor raised its ugly head again.
It was good to hear original music created by Owain Jones, but the master stroke came with the joke of setting the final Bergamasque to Up All Night.
Definitely interesting to experience this experimental production, but in the final analysis for me it was like the infamous parson's egg - good in parts.
Mary Redman
June 8 2015

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