Watermill Theatre - A Midsummer Night’s Dream
19th February to 7th March 2020
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
A differentkind of magic
Watermill Ensemble’s tour comes full circle with Bagnor run
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until Saturday, March 7
It’s almost been three years since Paul Hart started the Watermill Ensemble, which in lesser hands might have seen a return to a repertory theatre that belongs very much in the past. Instead, with great vision and a clear sense of his own style, he has reinvigorated the idea of a core of actors working to produce a programme or performances with consistently high-quality results.
Since Peter Brook’s landmark productions of the 1960s, contemporary versions of Shakespeare’s plays have often sought to draw out new relevance from the rich poetry of the language. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, being so broad in themes allows plenty of material for directors to explore and so it is that this Dream toys with matters of ownership, gender inequality and the impotence of assumed power in the face of love and passion.
I should mention that it’s also brilliant fun.
With many of the original 2018 cast reprising their roles. I was anticipating much the same show as the one I’d seen when they started their journey. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see instead a fresh interpretation that had evolved into something that was as provocative as it was entertaining.
Here, we find strength in Robyn Sinclair’s Helena, whose pursuit of Demetrius (Mike Slader) feels more like the actions of a woman who knows what she wants, rather than a desperate woman scorned. Billy Postlethwaite’s Lysander is more cock-sure philanderer than gentle romantic lead.
The pompous foolishness of Demetrius and Theseus (Tom Sowinski) serve to highlight that, although they are, notionally, high born and therefore in charge, they are entirely at the mercy of the women (and fairies) around them.
Emma MacDonald brought new depth to her roles, particularly as Titania, giving a moving explanation as to why she could not give up her Changeling boy. Her Oberon (Jamie Satterthwaite) was commanding until he realised the error of his ways.
Their fairies were faded music hall stars in bedraggled top hats and tails, like ghosts from a forgotten era with Molly Chesworth’s Puck providing some genuine magic, in more ways than one.
Victoria Blunt was back as Bottom for just four shows and certainly made the most it, with every comic moment hitting the mark. Emma Barclay took over from February 24, reprising the same role, which she played on tour. The Mechanicals, led by Peter Mooney’s long-suffering Quince, gave ensemble members the opportunity to play it entirely for laughs, most notably Lucy Keirl, whose Hermia was delightful, but her Snug the Joiner was hilarious.
This is a relatively short run, coming at the end of the UK tour and residency at Wilton’s Music Hall. London, so be sure to catch this truly magical dream before it closes on Saturday March 7.
There are reviews from WhatsOnStage ("the more this ensemble works together, the more satisfying and the richer their work becomes" - ★★★★), Daily Info ("slick, sprightly... the ensemble are each individually fabulous... rompingly enjoyable", Wokingham Today ("This is the “Midsummer” the script’s always deserved, for while the lines remain the same, everything else has been brought dancing into the 21stcentury").
These are reviews of the original Watermill production.
10th May to 16th June 2018
Review from Newbury Theatre.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows Paul Hart’s Watermill Ensemble productions of Romeo + Juliet and Twelfth Night, and it’s the best one yet. In fact, it’s brilliant. Hart has taken many of his team of young people from the previous productions, added some new ones and come up with a production that is inventive, energetic, musical (yes, we get songs, and not with Shakespeare’s lyrics) and funny.
OK, we expect the mechanicals to be funny, but not so much the lovers. Here, they are funny, which makes them much more interesting. The other big change is Eva Feiler’s Puck, played as I’ve never seen him/her before: not confident, cocky and dashing about all over the place but diffident, timorous, scared of Oberon. This worked amazingly well and gave added poignancy to the play’s closing lines from Puck, “Give me your hands, if we be friends” delivered tentatively towards the audience, with relief when we responded with enthusiastic applause.
And what a good idea to add modern(ish) songs, belted out (with Tyrone Huntley in fine voice) or as a background to the action. Cupid and I Put a Spell on You, obviously.
Clever, too, to include some signing. Sophie Stone, playing Hermia, is deaf and there is some subtle signing between her and Huntley as Lysander which excludes Demetrius (Joey Hickman) who can’t sign. Similarly, the other lovers can exclude her by turning away so that she can’t lip read. Later in the run there are two fully signed performances with signers in costume and included in the action.
Emma McDonald, playing Hippolyta and Titania, was unfortunately taken ill on the first Saturday but the Watermill managed to get Rebecca Lee, who was in Romeo + Juliet and Twelfth Night, to step in and learn the part in two days before press night on Monday. She appeared on stage with a copy of the script which she only needed to refer to a couple of times. To get the words and moves so perfectly in such a short time was an amazing achievement and she thoroughly deserved the ovation she got at the end. Brava!
The cast were all excellent, but Victoria Blunt as a diva-ish Bottom deserves a special mention. The death of Pyramus is always good for laughs, but here she excelled herself. And the chink in Offue Okegbe’s Wall was very popular with the audience.
The key points of Katie Lias’s set were a scaffold tower and what you might call a big box, both on wheels and moved around as needed, as well as a full width red curtain which dropped down from time to time and provided the foreground for shadow puppets from the cast. The lighting, from Tom White, was very much in your face (literally, at times) and added hugely to the impact of the show.
This is a superb production, and the best Dream I’ve seen. Congratulations to Paul Hart and the team.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
A kind of magic
...truly a Dream you wish would go on forever
A Midsummer Night's Dream, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until June 16
The Watermill's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is an absolute joy. Inventively directed by Paul Hart, this vibrant magical performance sparkles with the enthusiasm and energy of the splendid cast.
Eva Feiler beautifully crafted a shadowy childlike Puck in this refreshing new interpretation of the well-known story.
Jamie Satterthwaite is impressive as Oberon, who is determined to take the Indian changeling child from the fairy queen Titania. Due to the illness of Emma McDonald, Rebecca Lee, a regular Watermill performer, stood in at the last moment as Titania and Hippolyta and gave a sterling performance.
The four lovers were excellent. Sophie Stone, who has many connections with Newbury, gave a gutsy portrayal as Hermia, with just the right spirit. Tyrone Huntley was an engaging Lysander. The scenes in which they both used sign language to communicate were powerful and moving. Huntley also has a splendid singing voice with an endearing rendition of My Baby Cares For Me.
Joey Hickman was suitably wimpish as Demetrius and Lilly Flynn's Helena was feisty, particularly in the fight scene with Hermia.
Leading the rude mechanicals, Victoria Blunt was outstanding as Bottom – a true tour de force performance, bubbling with energy and buffoonery.
The talented ensemble brought a zestful, fun-filled playfulness, as they practiced their play Pyramus and Thisbe, to be performed at the Duke's wedding, with hilarious results.
Music is an integral part of the show and showcases the talent of the gifted actors, with some unexpected tongue in cheek renditions including Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell on You, as Puck applied the magical flower juice.
Then there is Blue Moon, Rogers and Hart's romantic song that perfectly fits the atmosphere.
Karie Lias has created a fluid set design with a scaffolding tower – red curtains and the heavy ropes of an old fly tower suggesting a Victorian theatre. The costumes are simply exquisite and Tom White's imaginative lighting creates an enchanting atmosphere.
There is so much to enjoy in this spirited performance.
It is truly a Dream you wish would go on forever.
There are reviews from The Stage ("fizzing with humour, charm, and just a touch of chaos... a particularly light and delightful fairy tale... an overall sense of sheer fun that’s both rare and refreshing... " - 4 stars), The Spy In The Stalls ("this joyful new production... such a delightful Dream" - 4stars), WhatsOnStage ("the company transform a story familiar to many into a tale of the unexpected with game-changing casting coups... expect the unexpected in an evening of magical delight" - 4 stars), There Ought To Be Clowns ("an unalloyed pleasure... full of innovative touches which work separately like a treat and also combine into something really special... the world of Shakespeare in all its exhilarating imagination").