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Stage Dragon Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – GSC

Published on: 22 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 22 Jun, 2022

Daniel Krikler – an acrobatic, charismatic Puck – leaps out from the trees. Photo Matt Pereira

By Alice Fowler

What better way to spend a warm summer’s evening in Guildford, than watching magical outdoor theatre in a hidden, leafy enclave that traps the last rays of the setting sun?

On cue for midsummer, the Guildford Shakespeare Company bring us their latest production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set against the wooded backdrop of Racks Close.

This well-loved play is many people’s first taste of Shakespeare – with plenty of young people in the audience on press night to prove that very point. The question: how to make a new production different?

For GSC, director Abigail Anderson puts the fairies centre stage. Daniel Krikler is resplendent as an acrobatic, charismatic Puck, working his mischief from all corners of the stage – not to mention the large, ivy-clad tree at its centre, from which he often hangs to survey the action. Jim Creighton as Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Johanne Murdock, as their graceful Queen, also impress.

Anderson’s twist is to portray Titania’s fairies – Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed – through clever use of sound. Sound designer Matt Eaton and movement director Lucie Pankhurst have worked together so the tiny fairies – heard but not seen – seem to flit across the stage, while actors cup them in their hands with balletic movements, or even scrape one off the bottom of a boot.

All this requires a suspension of belief, which GSC audiences are happy to provide in spades. There is a Teletubby quality to the fairies’ voices, however, which for some may slightly grate.

The funniest and most lively scenes are when the four would-be lovers – Hermia (Dewi Mutiara Sarginson), Lysander (Benjamin Aluwihare), Demetrius (Joseph Rowe) and Helena (Annabelle Terry) tear about the stage, ripping one another’s clothes in desire and desperation. Terry’s performance as Helena, in particular, is a stand-out: her early scenes, when Helena is scorned by Demetrius, whom she loves, recalling the comic indignation of Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olsen in early series Madmen.

Rosalind Blessed, as Bottom, transformed into an ass. Photo Matt Pereira

Equally hilarious – and stealing every scene in which she appears – is Rosalind Blessed as Bottom. Like her father – GSC’s honorary patron, Brian Blessed, chuckling mightily on the night I watched – Rosalind has extraordinary physical presence. Set and costume designer Neil Irish does a wonderful job, transforming Bottom – clad in a colourful crocheted poncho – into a furry-eared ass.

The scenes in which Titania, bewitched by Puck’s ‘love in idleness’ spell, falls passionately in love with Bottom, are a delight to behold. Later, when the ‘rude mechanicals’ – led by GSC co-founder Sarah Gobran as Peta Quince – finally stage their play, Rosalind is surely channelling her father in her portrayal of a bearded, bellowing Pyramus.

Whispering sweet nothings: Titania (Johanne Murdock) falls in love with Bottom (Rosalind Blessed) Photo Matt Pereira

Next up from GSC, in July, is The Tempest, set around the company’s headquarters in Stoke Park. Book both summer shows at the same time, via the phone box office, and receive a £5 discount. With the forecast set fair, it’s time to pack a picnic and head down to Guildford’s most enchanted woods.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until July 2. Box Office tel. 01483 304384. See www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk

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