It seemed a dream
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, HCTC, 21st June 2009.
What could be a better way to spend the eve of the summer solstice than sitting outside on a picnic rug, glass of wine in hand, watching ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’? The Hill College Theatre Company’s one-night-only performance of Shakespeare’s comedy, directed by Georgina Leach, was perfectly suited to the sultry evening (if we ignore the fact that it was threatening to rain). Deep-bellied laughter (though perhaps not always for the right reasons) was set against frantic anxiety, as the characters in the two plots chased each other round Trevs’ quad (which grew increasingly muddy, as Hermia (played by Mei Loh) soon discovered).
The simple was a good choice, as it pushed all the focus onto the cast and, bar the benches and trellises, the only feature was a barrel from which Puck emerged. In a delightful coincidence, this focal point of the stage reflected the strength of Tom Spencer’s performance as the mischievous creature. Nimble on his feet and with his words, he flitted around the feet of a suitably majestic Oberon (Mike Hutchison), whose deep voice contrasted with Puck’s high-pitched tones, suggesting the former’s ultimate morality and the latter’s fickleness.
The King of the Fairies and his Queen (Maria Pipkin) and their entourages worked well in the outdoor setting; their forest green costumes flecked with gold complemented their natural yet powerful characters which they portrayed. One small criticism, at the end of the play the King and Queen speak in verse, but rather than being lilting it was a little stilted, as they paused at the end of each line rather than each phrase. This seemed to have been done on purpose, but as it wasn’t entirely clear the overall effect detracted from two otherwise compelling performances.
The colour co-ordination in the costumes of the two eventual couples was well thought out as the audience didn’t have to keep checking who was who. They were nevertheless less exciting than those of the fairies, another visual reminder of their reality and the dreamlike aura that surrounded the fairies and the characters in the sub-plot. Archie Dallas (Lysander) donned a snugly fitted blue shirt which looked suspiciously feminine and did not stop being funny each time he ran on stage. It was a good accompaniment to a character who won many a chuckle as he seemed to revel in the beauty of his aptly selected metaphors rather than that of his girl. This self-love did, however, make it difficult to ascertain the sincerity of his love for Loh’s gentle yet ferociously loving Hermia, while his potion-induced love for Helena was touchingly and at times amusingly credible.
Indeed, all members of the love square seemed somewhat uncertain in their characters initially, but as the play progressed they fell in sync with one another. Hannah Noone’s Helena was a veritable spaniel as she ran in expectation, then in fear and always in love, around Emmanuel Chao’s Demetrius. Helena’s confusion at Demetrius’ sudden love for her made for a scene of well executed performances: Helena’s growing frustration as she staggered, exhausted, seeped into the audience. Likewise did Demetrius’, frantically gesticulating to convince her of his love.
The four generated as much laughter as they did sadness as the couples swapped around as if dancing a reel. Not as much however, as those in the sub-plot. Though at times I was in doubt as to whether I was watching caricatures or over-acting, the laughs came thick and fast and it ceased to matter. Lucy Martin as Quince gave a delightfully exaggerated performance as she orchestrated her motley crew of actors, creating an ironic parallel with the stern meddlings of Oberon and Puck. Favourite moments are Bottom (Kieran Dadhley) pulling fervently at his braces as he declared his suitability for all the parts in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, Ed Dove as Flute firstly rehearsing his role as Thisbe tirelessly, and secondly executing said role complete with balloon breasts only to pop one – intentional or not it epitomised the whimsical nature of the group. Ned French as Starvelling, Darren Starling as Snug and Claire Pattie as Snout completed the set as Moonshine, the Wall and the Lion respectively, embracing their characters’ insecurities and bumbling loveableness.
Audience and cast alike seemed to be riding on a wave of summer happiness as the play drew to a close. Fairies ran amock in the audience, pulling us into the dream, and the audience at times (unintentionally) took to the stage, as their voices were picked up by the microphones on the stage. This is perhaps something that could have been avoided but it largely it was not distracting. Egeus’ (Peter Elliot) anger from the first act subsided and harmony mingled with a touch of hilarity took its place. While it was perhaps not the most precise of performances, it was certainly one of the most enjoyable and even a little surreal – Durham’s own midsummer night’s dream.