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A Midsummer Night's Dream

REVIEW OF Midsummer Night’s Dream – Goudhurst July 16 & 17TH 21

It was a magical production set in a real live ‘dingley dell’ at Ladysden Farm where you could look beyond the majestic avenue of trees, nodding poppies and wild flower meadows and spot a shadowy moon in the sky. Harrison Hardy, playing Moonshine in the Mechanicals play, has yet to appear dragging his dog and brandishing his branch, however the stage was well and truly set.

First there was a field to traverse, laid out ready for the Goudhurstian feast. A smell of roasting hog drifted across to tempt the groundlings. To quench their thirst - pavilions from Hush Heath were dispensing copious amounts of sparking golden nectar and from Ladysden where Anno gin, local cider, and ale from Cellar Head were on offer to the already merry throng. Hence, they wended their way to the stage itself.

The team at Ladysden had worked hard felling trees, clearing undergrowth and cutting up logs which created a backdrop ‘off stage’ but also a space for the actors to perch quietly on in their semi-circle of wings. Brilliant and imaginative direction of course as you feel a lingering presence in the woods of fairies and humans alike. Extra layers to the scenes the play is famous for - the play within a play – where the Mechanicals rehearse a piece for the wedding feast of the Athenean nobles, the Duke, Theseus, (Will Drew), and Hippolyta (Laurie McAughtry).

There are lots of surprises too, a live band, (Indigo Sea), the fairies dancing to a rhythmic beat and wonderfully choreographed by Rachael Payne. The music and dance successfully bringing out a magical and sometimes slightly scary atmosphere in the woods. Led by Titania and Oberon, the fairies wear mostly black slashed with streamers of red on their skirts and feathers dangling from their hairbands. Titania has a golden celtic- looking crown whilst Oberon flaunts a dashing military jacket. There are overtones of the Lost Boys and Indians in Peter Pan. Titania’s ‘changeling boy’ is a spooky voodoo-type head on a pole with flashing eyes. The Athenians are all dressed in blue and white, two colours of the Greek flag, whilst the Mechanicals, aka Athens Community Theatre are in the third colour, yellow, with the abbreviated initials ACT on the front of their yellow T shirs.

Will Drew gave a commanding performance as Theseus and opens the play with his decree that Hermia must marry her mother Egea’s(normally Egeus) choice of husband. The angry, indignant Egea (Rose Rahtz) wants her to marry Demetrius, and not the man she loves, Lysander. The penalty for disobedience says Theseus, is death or a nunnery. Emily Allen, who played Hermia, was very convincing as the distraught lover who was dashing around the woods in search of him, not to mention up and down the grassy aisles through the audience. There were gasps of concern for her as she was tossed between Demetrius and Lysander – both now enamoured of Helena due to the magic potion. However, as she was carried backwards away from her hated rival ‘Helena the Maypole’ the audience relaxed – no real mischief done. Well Helena, played by Charlotte Butterworth, was a right furious young lady stamping about the woods and successfully drawing the audience onto her side as she expounded on the unfairness of her situation. Tim Widdowson, as Lysander, also got lots of laughs for his outstanding performance and he was well supported by Tom Malt as Demetrius, the more serious but equally belligerent of the duo.

Peter Quince, played by T.J. Mills, had the tricky job of keeping the Mechanicals in order. Tom Snout (Jack Knight), Starveling (Harrison Hardy), Snug (India Shimmin), Flute (Anna Parish) and of course, Bottom the Weaver, who caused him the most trouble. Dan Griffiths gave a stunning performance as Bottom. His comic timing was impeccable as he begged to play all the parts or high stepped about as Pyramus talking in a strange growly voice. Both he and Anna Parish as Thisbe, played their death scenes to comic perfection with gruesome roars and gurgles. T.J. managed to get across a sense of quiet confusion and general lack of understanding of this ‘most lamentable comedy.’

Back to the fairy scene, James Maxwell as Oberon never faltered in his role, casting a brooding atmosphere whilst trying to cause his fairy queen, Titania, to bow to his commands. Titania, played majestically by Kitty Hind, was having none of it. She managed to change from a feisty partner of Oberon to a skittish woman declaring to Bottom ‘I love you’. She led her fairy troupe in some powerful dances, their arms arching over like wings – more swooping eagles than fluttering butterflies. Mayah Reid as Peasblosson was particularly strong in living her part and being elegantly powerful in her movement, whilst Matilda Stepek did an excellent job of leading the songs. Cobweb, (Betha Payne), Moth, (Emily Widdowson) and Nettle, (Violet Gilder) were a great supporting troupe of the all singing and dancing fairies. When bewitched they all fell backwards off the fallen tree they sat on getting one of the biggest laughs of the play.

The directors had decided to split the part of Puck, which was shared between Tommy Gilder and Cedar Thomas-Davies. Both dressed in brown breeches and white shirts, they darted around at fantastic speed circling the woods and swooping down to spread the magic potion at Oberon’s command. They got up to all sorts of mischief and the wrong lovers got bewitched. However, Oberon felt that Titania falling in love with Bottom, who was now sporting an ass’s head due to their magic, couldn’t have gone better.

Well, no wedding feast would be complete without an Events Manager and Rupert Williamson fitted the role of Philostrate, the Master of Revels, very well giving just the right level of ironic humour to what was on offer. He carried on his duties into the final speech of thanks, backing up Will Drew’s thanks to the Directors, Sean Gilder and Robin Weaver for the huge amount of hard work and creative energy they had poured into the production under very difficult circumstances. Thanks were also given to his wife, Lara Williamson, the Chief Producer, for the endless hours she had spent organising rehearsals, helpers, tents, beach chairs – and anything else that was needed!

It was a truly magical evening – this was so much more than yet another production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was real theatrical therapy for the children and adults taking part, and for the audience too, in a time when Covid is causing such mental stress to so many people. GADS is delighted that all the profits raised will go to support charities for vulnerable children and mental health, Dandelion Time and the Sam West Foundation.

Encore! (SF)

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