This year, to celebrate 40 years, Bournemouth Shakespeare Players have harked back to their past with the show ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ The company first performed Shakespeare’s well-loved comedy in 1979; their first ever open-air production at the Priory Gardens under their current name. To say the evening had nostalgic undercurrents is an understatement and whilst I was not around to see their initial version, I’m sure this one has done the original proud.
Set in the enchanting realm of Fairyland and the surrounding woodland, A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to the once Amazonian queen Hippolyta. After ensuing hilarity and several love triangles (or should that be love squares??) later, the play resolves with good fortune – or does it? In the words of Puck “you may have but slumber’d here, while these visions did appear.”
Artistic director, Daniel Sutton-Boulton, has decided to present his version of the play during the Second World War after an English caretaker – Francis Flute – falls asleep and dreams of lovers and fairy folk, donkeys and magic. What better way to set the scene than with Winston Churchill’s infamous speech “we shall fight them on the beaches…” However, perhaps the most poignant touch is the decision to cast women in the role of the haphazard ‘players,’ after 2018 has shone a spotlight on contemporary gender inequality. If you are not familiar with the play, you would never know the players were originally written as men – a credit to the skills of the director and the ladies in these parts.
Known to regular audiences at Bournemouth Shakespeare players, Liz Bal returned to play the part of Nic Bottom. With the production marketed on Liz’s image, there must have been pressure, but Liz lived up to the challenge. She dominates every scene she appears in and delivers her lines with excellent comic timing, reflected in the multiple laughs elicited from the audience. The fantastic opera voice is a bonus. Meanwhile, Chad Echakowitz delivers an outstanding performance as the mischievous ‘Puck,’ moving across the stage with ease. His dynamic range of facial expressions are a particular highlight.
In the role of the strong-willed lover Hermia, Maia Gibbons excels. With perfect diction and appropriate feistiness, she showcases her talents as both an experienced Shakespearian actress and comedienne. Playing opposite, lovers Calum Hearne, Robyn Coe and James Bourner – Lysander, Helena and Demetrius respectively – work together to pull off a particularly well-choreographed and comedic scene after Hermia is spurned by her lover Lysander, who ditches her for Hermia’s best-friend Helena.
Any actor will acknowledge Shakespeare can be one of the hardest theatrical styles to learn, remember and perform. This is perhaps even more so when you are much younger than your fellow cast members and this review would not be complete without a nod to young Russell Bal. Russell is convincing in the part of the fairy ‘Cobweb’ and certainly holds his own. I look forward to seeing more from him as he gets older.
The problem with open air theatre can be the difficulty in hearing certain lines – particularly when backs are turned to the audience. Luckily, projection was mostly perfected and I only occasionally missed lines, which was nevertheless a shame. However, this is not to the detriment of the overall performance. With a minimalist set, only complimented by four chairs, a well-balanced broom and some fairy lights (very effective as the evening got darker), the cast did a splendid job and I would highly recommend the production.
Open air theatre relies heavily on good weather and fortunately with our latest heatwave, there was no doubt the company would have its own good fortune. This is an ideal way to spend a sunny evening. Performances at 7.30pm until 21st July and again between 24th and 28th July. Tickets £14, concessions £12.