A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Arts University Bournemouth [AUB] Palace Court Theatre, Bournemouth KD Johnson 30 May 2024


I was excited to visit the Palace Court Theatre in its newly reawakened guise after 50+ years of not being used as a theatre. Bournemouth Little Theatre performed here before they moved to Winton in 1970. It was purchased by the Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) in 2020 or 2021 (sources disagree) and refurbishment is ongoing.  It opened as a performance venue earlier this year.

It may be not quite midsummer yet – but who cares?  A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the best‑known and most performed of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s usually jolly good fun and this production showcases the talents of the AUB’s graduation‑year students in Acting, Performance Design, Costume and Performance Make‑Up. Probably as a consequence of it being a student production, many of my fellow audience members are much younger than I – if only we could replicate that across other regional theatres! An advantage for me, in reviewing a well-known piece, is that enough of us know what happens that I am not going to be guilty of giving away the plot.

Even as we make our way to our seats we are confronted by “the mechanicals” – unnamed at this point – out on the stage and amongst the audience, arguing and testing, limbering up, measuring and generally doing some “business” that draws us into the atmosphere and breaks any barrier between the open proscenium and the auditorium. Here also we see the stressed-out Master of the Revels, Philostrate (Lorcan Adams), who plays a good part here and later (unrecognisably) as fairy Mustardseed.

Photo credit: Andy Beeson

The play opens for the set-up scene in Athens and the mechanicals melt into the background. Ethan Lewendon plays a convincing part as Egeus – with just stance and movement he becomes a bitter old man as he insists that his daughter (Hermia) should marry the man whom he dictates (Demetrius) and not the man she loves (Lysander).

The lovers escape, pursued by Demetrius, who is himself pursued by Helena. A gauze is torn down to reveal an inspired multi-tiered set – a tree, which sets the forest scene, provides Titania’s bower and split-level hidey-holes for Puck, Oberon and Titania’s fairies to watch the foreground action. It is a great piece of design by Phoebe Morritt and team. Front-of-stage lighting casts shadows through the branches and leaves onto the back wall, which further extends the forest setting.

We meet Oberon (Louis Reader), Titania (Signe Lundgren) and Puck (Liam Nisseborn). Puck and Oberon are the orchestrators of much of the chaos that occurs in the forest and these two performers spark off each other as an ideal team – watching the ensuing events from a perch in that tree. The magical gesture with which Oberon knocks-out Titania’s fairies, while he administers the juice of the magic herb, is a nice move. I love his robe with the eyes on it and also Puck’s hairy trousers, which evoke the image of a faun or satyr as also does the green goatee beard – credits to fairy-costume designer, Ella McAnuff, make‑up and hair designer, Holly Bogue, and their teams.

Renia Sevastaki impresses as spurned lover Helena, using a variety of facial expressions and gestures to augment her dialogue. The fight scene between Helena and Hermia (Nil Üzer) on the one hand and between Demetrius (David Isherwood) and Lysander (Charlie Sibley) on the other provides fast-paced and well-choreographed physical comedy.

Several of the actors double as Titania’s fairies and there are good performances there.

Everyone’s favourite part of this comedy is the variously inept and comedic performance of Pyramus and Thisbe by the mechanicals. Shayla Elliott-Lee, as Bottom/Pyramus, has the audience in stitches, ably supported by Sophie Shields as the exasperated Quince, a fine comic turn in a dress by Joseph Chase as Flute/Thisbe, Cal Leslie Dean as Snug/Wall and Jack Delacey as Starveling/Moon – I almost forgot Jennifer Jessica Jones as Snout/Lion, who also plays Hippolyta (sans moustache).

AUB manages to cram the entire play into an hour and three-quarters (with no interval) so there has obviously been some script revision somewhere – not so much that most people would notice but I do find the dialogue a bit rushed in places.

Other than that niggle, there is nothing not to like about this production and much to praise. These talented young people (both on-stage and back-stage) will hopefully go on to be involved in more good productions in their future careers.

Unusually and interestingly the costume and make-up design concept drawings are displayed on boards in the lobby as well as a cardboard maquette of the set – these are all well worth perusing on your way in or out and are presumably part of the respective students’ final‑year work.

I recommend that you get a ticket for tonight (Friday 31 May) at 7:30 pm or for either of tomorrow’s (Saturday 1 June) performances at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm. The cost is a very reasonable £13.20 for most of us but the concession price (which includes students) is a bargain at only £4.

[Editorial: Tickets: £13.20, Concessions £4 (Student, child, senior, disability and low income. You may be asked for proof of eligibility.); Available online.]