Although most companies reduce their shows to an hour or even less at the Fringe, there are a few who offer full-length productions, so it was good to see the whole of The Dreaming by Howard Goodall and Charles Hart, in an entertaining production by Viva and King’s School, Ely. Originally commissioned by the National Youth Music Theatre, The Dreaming is an inventive reimagining of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set before World War One.
The company had the great advantage of having the original director of the NYMT production, Jeremy James Taylor, to guide them and an interesting mix of ages in the cast, with a few older adults playing some of the smaller parts. After three nights in Ely, the show played for only 5 days in Edinburgh and I joined the full house for the final performance.
Goodall’s elegiac music was in the safe hands of a small orchestra led by Musical Directors Alexander Goodwin and Richard Hayward, and choreographer Chris Cuming achieved much with a great many actors in a small playing area. What was disappointing was the extent to which the production was played out front, particularly by the older cast members; more than half of the audience were seated at the sides at the Edinburgh venue, but much of the action was directed not at them but at those in the centre block. I assume this was because the Ely venue is end stage rather than thrust and the limited time for re-blocking, but it was surprising all the same.
One performer who did acknowledge the side blocks of audience seats and made real contact with the audience was Corbin Abassi as Jack. This was a very well-sung and confident performance, and all eyes were drawn to him when he appeared on stage. In this production, the majority of the humour came from the confusion of the lovers, very well played by Daniel Lane, Riley Williames, Zara Minns and particularly the spectacularly exasperated Joseph Beach.
The woodlanders were well-drilled and led by a strongly sung Eloise George and Jordan Thorpe. Appropriately, perhaps, among the villagers rehearsing their play, it was the youngest members of the group that carried much of the humour with Freddie Bowles and Pierre Taffara-Cox making the most of all opportunities handed to them. The Bottom equivalent (not a phrase I ever expected to write in a review) was played by Ben Clark, transforming into a convincing half man half goat.
Sadly, this was another production in which at least one audience member, presumably a parent, ignored the request not to take photographs. In a thrust venue, with him seated at the side, this was particularly distracting with the red light of his camera phone visible to audience and performers.
The cast were well able to rise above this and any other distractions however to give an excellent account of this intriguing piece which deserves to be seen more widely, highly suited as it is to young voices and large casts.