Review: Stripped-down Dream brings midsummer madness to a winter's night in Stratford

Graham Tyrer as Oberon
Graham Tyrer as Oberon

Nick Le Mesurier reviews A Midsummer Night’s Dream, presented by Second Thoughts Drama Group and directed by Amanda Laidler at The Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford

Imagine it is midsummer. In Stratford upon Avon something stirs. A group of tourists barely notice a statue of William Shakespeare. But he notices them. He has been watching all the time, and on this most magical of nights he transforms the streets and buildings into an enchanted forest.

Vanessa Gravestock as Titania and Hannah Connelly as Peaseblossom

Vanessa Gravestock as Titania and Hannah Connelly as Peaseblossom

Enter Theseus (Bernard Hall), a bold administrator, seeking to keep the peace between his squabbling subjects. There is love in the air, but it is not leading to harmony. Theseus lays down the law: the younger generation will obey the older, or else. So, they depart to nurse their wounds and as night falls the fairies take over, mirroring the human world with their own quarrels.

In Second Thoughts’ stripped-down production of the Dream, produced in the round and on an almost bare stage, the magical realm is led by an angry mischievous Oberon (Graham Tyrer) who wants the child that Titania (Vanessa Gravestock) has stolen. And so in revenge, he works his magic. But it all goes wrong. His hard working and devoted servant Puck (Lindsey Gravestock) makes an honest mistake, and the order of the world begins to unravel.

Second Thoughts Drama Group has a knack of mixing some of the best local actors with up and coming talent. The result is a show that is sometimes uneven, but never less than vigorous, with hope for the future as well as pleasure in the present. I’ve watched some of the actors over the last few years and am impressed with the way they have come on. Stephanie Jepson, for example, has matured into an actor of power and agility. Her Hermia may be little, as the lines have it, but she is fierce indeed, especially in the scene where she and Helena (Georgina Wood) quarrel. To say sparks fly between the two women would be like calling an inferno a bonfire. There was a fantastic energy between them as they quarrelled that required discipline and skill.

The rude mechanicals delivered their parts with wit. Bottom (Jon-Luke Goodman), larger than life, and quite splendid in his double role as Pyramus, had only to don his ass’s head and he became the beguiled and flattered fool. The parts played by the rustics are not so large in themselves, but they make or break the play, and for me they made it. I particularly liked Gill Hines’s Wall, whose dry humour became her bricks and mortar, and Noel Dollimore’s stolid Flute and flamboyant Thisbe, resplendent in pantomime dame wig and heavy lipstick. And who could fail to love Lynda Jepson’s timid Lion?

The final performance of the play within a play had all the warmth and humour intended, as Theseus rose to the occasion and like a fine host acknowledged the good intentions, if not the perfect abilities, of the crew before him.

And so the dawn breaks, and we are sent on our way, warmed, enthralled, and not at all offended by the Dream of theatre before us.

* A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until February 8. Visit www.thebearpit.org.uk to book.