Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, says Puck. And there we were, in a real forest a stone’s throw from Guildford High Street, transported by the Guildford Shakespeare Company’ magical (and hilarious) production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is a tale of young love (which never did run smooth, as young Lysander points out), dysfunctional marriage in the faery and the mortal worlds, trickery, sorcery, and the equally illusory world of the workers’ dramatic society.
Director Lotte Wakeham has set this production in Guildford, and the date is 1967, with all the fashion fun, timeless musical favourites (and some emerging feminist angst) that the sixties engendered! Oberon is a preening rock star with a huge ego, a beautiful brocade coat and John Lennon glasses; Hermia, the ‘pretty one’ of the four lovers, is a rock-chick in kinky boots. The mechanicals’ play is put on by the Dennis Factory Amateur Dramatic Society and the young people are all students at the new Surrey University (which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.)
These local references drew us very willingly into the play, and so did the actors’ frequent breaking of the ‘fourth wall’, as when a member of the audience is beckoned to hand Helena (the ‘plain one’) her crutches as she slips on the grassy bank up to the ‘stage’. Those crutches came to feature large in the quarrels among the lovers: as weapons, as wings, as defences – the business and the invention were endlessly comic! As Helena, Meghan Tyler was splendidly cross with the boys she believed were teasing her, and fiercely Celtic when she came to defend herself in the battle royal that Oberon stirs up among the young people.
Sarah Gobran as Hippolyta, the reluctant bride of starchy, arrogant King Theseus, and as Titania, has an excellent line in lip-curling scorn and beautiful floaty dresses. Ailsa Joy is a fiery, passionate Hermia, with brilliant dance and fight skills as well as great comic timing.
The Mechanicals, as always, steal much of the show. Matt Pinches is irresistibly comic as Bottom, whether officious at the drama rehearsal, confused and braying as Titania”s bewitched lover, or playing Pyramus in an outsized breastplate astride a furry hobbyhorse. His talent for rendering ordinary lines into side-splitting gobbledegook never ceases to surprise and delight.
Emma Fenney as Puck, Oberon’s tireless secretary and fixer, is a light-footed but down-to earth spirit, sometimes wrong-footed, forever perky, who holds all these worlds together.
This ‘Dream’ is a masterpiece of fun, invention and imaginative comic business,, all set in a world that’s new to most of the audience: the beautiful hidden depths of the forest behind Rack’s Close. If there are tickets left, go quickly to the GSC’s website and snap them up for a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
This review also appears on the Theatre page of Essential Surrey Magazine.
Tickets at https://www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk/booking-start.php