A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Paul Johnson | 31 Jul 2014 23:31pm
When reviewing Shakespeare, it’s not the play one critiques but the director and cast’s interpretation and creativity. With no licensing fees or copyright issues, one can pretty much do as one likes. The RSC’s highly successful Open Stages project is a perfect example of this with literally hundreds of weird and wonderful adaptations going on up and down the country.
While CODA’s production this week doesn’t fall under the official Open Stages banner or attempt to rewrite one of the Bard’s best-loved pieces, the inspired decision to stage it outdoors in the rejuvenated and picturesque Wandle Park, with a cast list so small you could almost count the actors on a single hand was a brave… and a fantastic one.
The ethereal nature of A Midsummer Night’s Dream perfectly lends itself to the open-air performance; among the elements and whatever nature has to throw at you. Wandle Park’s bandstand might not be the most illustrious of green spaces but, after an eighteen-month closure, the beautifully landscaped parkland – which not long ago was just a bleak and desperate open space – provided the perfect backdrop and magical air of anticipation for this production.
Staged in-the-round (I suppose you’d expect nothing less from a bandstand!) and with no set to speak of except two large boxes, all focus rightly falls on your actors to deliver. And deliver they do; scenes are well thought out to ensure whatever viewpoint the audience is watching from, they are fully immersed in the action. This is done in a natural, uncontrived manner, with actors using both the bandstand and its peripheral area mingling delightfully with their enthusiastic onlookers.
Having the action take place right on top of the audience is where this production hits all the right notes. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is all about that fuzzy and hazy crossover between the human and fairy worlds, and this is reflected before the show even starts with wandering Mechanicals emerging, merging and mingling with the real world, selling their bags of sweets and programmes.
Robin Goodfellow is of course pivotal to the success of any worthy Dream but in CODA’s production Leah Graham completely steals the evening as a spritely, back-chatting and brilliant puck with the inspired female casting working sublimely. Her lithe figure enables her to bounce, trounce and generally enamour her audience in a performance that exudes energy, character and buckets of cheekiness. Her successful interaction and asides to the bemused and delighted crowd is a great skill to possess especially at amateur level.
With the absence of any little CODA fairies, Graham even manages to drag four unsuspecting victims from the audience to wait on Michael Hall’s appealing Bottom. Choosing three children and a huge lumbering man at this performance was hilarious with the cute factor eventually overtaking the humour. It’s a great shame that of all the production photos I saw on CODA’s Facebook page, I couldn’t find a single one of Leah Graham’s memorable performance!
Another star turn is Charlotte Leonard’s Hermia/Snug the Joiner/Fairy. With another energy-filled display, she cleverly covers her three roles with not one word out of place and with unending enthusiasm. I’m not sure she has a pause button! The whole cast smoothly double (or triple) their roles between Lovers and Mechanicals, with David Sanders somehow managing to take on Theseus, Oberon and Peter Quince – with the foppish latter displaying echoes of Tim McInnerny’s Lord Percy in Blackadder.
For the sake of a balanced review, it would be wrong not to mention one or two areas where I think the production could be slightly more effective, such as the big four-way fight scene between the Lovers. While CODA’s foursome did an admirable job there’s still a lot of extra comedy to be had from these characters that I feel may not have been fully explored. When all four go head-to-head strong character work from the earlier scenes can pay dividends.
Director Ellie Dawes’s decision to cast such a small company of actors obviously makes it difficult if and when ‘both’ of an actor’s characters appear in the following or, worse still, the same scene which does happen in this play. However, this is cleverly handled by some quick (occasionally mid-scene) changes at the edge of the stage – almost like Crude Mechanicals themselves?!
Costume choices for the whole production are well thought out and go a long way to aid the actors changing personas without any delay to the proceedings. The lovers complement the bandstand perfectly in cream trousers and striped blazers – as their Athenian robes. Then, as Mechanicals, brown aprons are donned. Titania and her fairy cleverly add wings to their other costumes to denote their fantasy status.
Dawes has made some great choices for this production. Although quite long (it looked like without any cuts), everything gelled together well, highlighting her creativity. There was something almost magical as the sun set, the sounds of the park faded out and Shakespeare’s perfect verse floated across the balmy air. With shows until Saturday (including a matinee), get yourself down to Wandle Park for a few hours of romance and laughter.
- : admin
- : 30/07/2014