Wednesday, 26 June 2019

REVIEW: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Arundel & Ladbroke Gardens


What a wonderful idea to bring Shakespeare to private squares across London. It’s a dreamlike opportunity to enter these squares we never get to access but try to peek into discreetly when we happen to walk by them (who doesn’t want a private garden, right?). And when the show is A Midsummer Night’s Dream shortly after actual midsummer, you can’t ask for a better occasion to go out. During the show I attended, the sunset provided excellent lighting, shining through the trees and landing elegantly on the actors’ faces. I actually looked up to check whether that wasn’t just light attached to one of the trees above me.

Director Tatty Hennessy places the play during the 1920s in Britain, a country bruised by battle and economic hardship. Theseus and Hippolyta are a British-German couple rigidly following order and law, preventing the young lovers Hermia and Lysander to marry. Meanwhile, a group of actors are chaotically preparing a play to present before the Duke and Duchess. A few miles away, deep in a magical forest, fairies are quarrelling, disturbing nature, and casting spells on each other and the humans who enter the forest.

What I really enjoyed about this show was the way the multi-rolling flowed between the “noble” characters and the actors (Mechanicals). The elegant lovers Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius turn into awkward and hilarious people rehearsing their play. Moreover, I loved that Bottom is a woman. Jodie Jacobs, who also sings beautifully, grabbed the role “by the bottom” and flowed through it, also playing Egeus in parts of the play. You can’t ignore the vocal work she does in this show. I loved the moment when she suggests herself for the role of the lion and states “I will roar, that I will do any man's heart good to hear me”. 

When watching Gemma Barnett specifically as she switched between fair Hermia and the awkward voiceless Snug, the change in physicality made me think of the various directions life can take you, highlighted here by the court versus the forest. 

Act Two is one hilarious moment after another, especially when both male lovers
fall for Helena and compete with each other in a stylised movement sequence choreographed by movement & fight director Yarit Dor. The final play presented by the Mechanicals is also a joy. 

The costumes designed by Emily Stuart are delightful. James Tobin’s face as Puck is golden and contoured, and he wears an enviable sequin jacket and sparkly red trousers. The slightly spacey Titania wears a Moroccan-inspired outfit. The props and wigs used during the final Mechanical play, for example brooms and mop heads as wigs or old nightgowns, are brilliant. 

The cast is excellent, with the multi-rolling particularly impressive, with special shout outs to the elegant and comical Hannah Sinclair Robinson (Helena/Flute), Gemma Barnett (Hermia/Snug), David Leopold (Lysander/Starveling) and Riad Richie (Demetrius/Snout), as well as James Tobin.

Hennessy also manages to breathe new contemporary meaning into the play and allows for slight ad-libbing when an ambulance whizzes by or Helena refuses to deal with two insistent seducers. You can watch this play so many times, it’s always different.

I highly recommend this show for the whole family, outdoor theatre lovers and of course Shakespeare fans who will enjoy a comedy in a beautiful garden.

Review by Sophie Tergeist 

Rating: ★★★★★

Price of Ticket: £15-£27
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