MICHAEL NUNN writes....‘On such a night as this’, what better things could there be to do in Lancaster around the Summer Solstice than to treat yourself to a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the city’s mediæval Castle?
This new and striking, all-local performance of Shakespeare’s well-loved comedy was a joint venture between Lancaster University and Lancaster Castle. Staged in the vast space of the Courtyard, with the austere John O’Gaunt gate and the elegant Governor’s Lodging as a background, there were separate playing areas, suitably and simply decorated, to indentify Theseus’s Ducal court in Athens, the ‘close and consecrated bower’ of Titania, and the expanse between the two as the ‘forests wild’ near the City.
The cast and production team of around 20 consisted of local actors, English and Theatre final-year students from Lancaster University, and four musicians playing traditional instruments, along with some technical support from Lancaster University’s Institute for Contemporary Arts.
The distinctive and ancient setting was the first impression that struck the capacity audience, which was quick to settle down on picnic rugs or chairs and open their hampers to dig out suitable, summery refreshment.
The action was interspersed with some evocative ditties from Alison Findlay’s Clàrsach (Scottish Harp), David Findlay’s English Concertina, Liz Bell’s viola and Duncan Bell’s Border Pipes (similar to traditional Northumberland Pipes).
After the solemn Court proceedings that initiate the contentions between the two pairs of lovers, we were immediately launched into the artisans’ ridiculously funny rehearsals of their contribution to the Duke’s imminent marriage.
Then the confusion really started.
With the mischievous, enigmatic Puck (Sammi Searle) and the various androgynous fairies wreaking their magical mayhem on the four adolescent lovers (Eleanor Kirby, Alexander Marlow, Rachel Mellor and Alexander Varey), and the feuding Fairy King and Queen (Ruth Gregson and Helen Katamba), the sense that we were all part of this Dream really hit.
Costumes, by James McCowan and Christina Horsepool, were simple and striking.
With the added contribution of a quartet of kestrels and the occasional pigeon, there was a real feeling that we were far, far away from the bustle of the City. Director David Findlay delivered some fast-paced action, nicely interspersed with manic comedy and real pathos, with excellent diction which resounded triumphantly in the rich acoustics of the Courtyard.
Musical interludes were judiciously interspersed using traditional tunes from the 17th century and after, such as ‘The Man in the Moon’, ‘Bear Dance’ for Bottom’s unfortunate ass-head episode and, as a triumphant and traditional bergamask finale, ‘Young Collins’.
The cast, too, delivered some mellifluous songs with new music composed by Eleanor Brindle.
The sell-out crowd on the last night was utterly enthralled from start to finish: even the youngest toddlers.
I was particularly impressed by the wide age-range of the audience, and delighted that so many youngsters were exposed to the delights of classical theatre.
I earnestly hope that this production, excellent in every way and a great stable-mate for demi~paradise’s biennial promenade Shakespeare production within the Castle, will become a regular fixture.
It will help secure all the more firmly Lancaster’s growing reputation as a cultural centre in the North West of England.