Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ — Guildford Shakespeare Company
Rack’s Close, Guildford, 16th June – 2nd July 2022
A magical feast of fun and laughter — GSC does it again.
‘If you go down to the woods today…’ you won’t find bears as in A A Milne’s song, but you will find magic all this month. Rack’s Close, Guildford’s best-kept-secret forest, is the venue for the GSC’s latest production. On an idyllic Midsummer’s Day eve we were absolutely enchanted by this scintillating ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’, directed by Abigail Anderson.
Anderson writes that she aims to make the story ‘clear and exciting’, and she succeeds superlatively. I’ve seen many productions of the ‘Dream’, but never been engaged so fully from the outset with the personalities and motivations of the characters in this fast-moving, farcical and intricate plot. In Scene I the exposition of the four young lovers’ relationships and problems is achieved speedily and dramatically, and Helena (Annabelle Terry) makes her stormy entrance, foreshadowing even more furiously feisty behaviour when the four become hopelessly entangled under the influence of the magic drugs of the spirits of Nature in the forest beyond Athenian civilisation.
This is followed up immediately by the introduction of the Mechanicals, who provide Shakespeare’s satire on literary romantic love and the world of play-writing and production —'Pyramus and Thisbe’ — and the iconic character of Bottom the weaver (Rosalind Blessed.) We in the audience loved being cast as potential actors and cheered with the rest when Snug (Dewi Mutiara Sarginson) sat next to us and was chosen to play ‘Lion’ (later in the play the Lion was quite a star!)
The main theme is the madness (and comedy) that romantic love can lead to when human society’s expectations are overturned by natural impulses (personified by the fairy court’s interference with human relationships in the forest on the magic night of Midsummer.) In Anderson’s production this modern interpretation of the reality of magic and the supernatural world is beautifully balanced with the beliefs of the 16th Century in magic, spells and sprites.
The whole cast is brilliant: I’d single out for special mention the outrageously funny Bottom played with huge gusto by Rosalind Blessed; Annabelle Terry, the dangerously scorned Helena (and the hilariously assertive Wall); and Daniel Kriler, a mischievous Puck who ‘puts a girdle round about the Earth’ using some intriguing modes of transport.
‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ is always a comic highlight, and is so in this production, but it takes a fresh approach to bring to the climactic fight among the four young lovers the kind of knockabout comedy we saw in Rack’s Close this evening —they literally ‘tear strips off one another’!
Matt Eaton’s inventive soundscapes included invisible munchkin fairies (perhaps unfairly making Shakespeare’s incantations rather hard to follow) and a very convincing dawn chorus.