As I sat down in the beautiful grounds of the National Trust’s Dyrham Park, I was hoping the rain would stay away, which thankfully it did. Which meant I could enjoy The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the open air, rather than under an umbrella.
As hot air balloons glided past and birds sang and swooped above it was the perfect backdrop to this magical tale.
Although this comedy was written 400 years ago, it is still hilarious and a great piece of comedic theatre. The cast threw themselves into it, and were clearly having a great time which was infectious for the audience. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are an entirely male cast, and the 7 men carried the entire play. With their chameleon like skill they seamlessly acted their roles switching from male to female and then to fairies! It was also wonderful to hear actors that could project their voices so not a word of this script was lost. Roddy Peters as Bottom is to be commended as he did this whilst wearing a donkey’s head too.
With a basic set which is creatively used and excellent costumes, they managed to transport us back in time and out of this world into theirs. The simplicity of acting, some music and costumes actually shows that a great script and cast is all that is really required, yes it’s nice to have all the whistles and bells sometimes, but this was so refreshing and actually more effective than some of the effects driven theatre I’ve seen. Andrew Normington, the director utilised the talent he had and let that and the play shine.
The play opened with a traditional Elizabethan song, followed by the cast serenading an audience member who was there on her Hen do. I love touches like this, theatre is at its strongest I feel when there is an acknowledgement by the cast of the audience, Shakespeare in particular.
Oliver Pengelly was a powerful Oberon and the perfect foil to Morgan Brind’s short and comic Puck. Their interplay as they realise Puck has mucked it up (try saying that fast 10 times), was perfect.
Peter Bray was a fabulous fairy. As Titania the Queen Fairy he floated in his gown and his falling for Bottom after he’d been changed to a donkey was very funny.
For me though, the highlight was the scene where the characters act a play for Hippolyta and Thesus. It literally brought tears of laughter to my eyes. Thomas Judd as Snout, had the audience in the palm of his hand with his portrayal of “Wall” and then “Lion”, great facial expressions and asides to the audience. Jonny Bower as “Moonlight” likewise had great reactions from the audience. Tristan Bernays added the final flourish to this scene with Roddy Peters as the tragic double suicide was completed with some great laughs along the way. As Hippolyta says, “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard”. The comic timing by all in this scene was just stupendous.
It was great to see a mixed aged audience laughing and enjoying this play, I think many of the young people were not expecting to have such a great time, no doubt dragged along by parents (with the best of intentions). As we all left chuckling and smiling, Shakespeare had worked his magic again thanks to this bewitching bunch of fairies.