A few weeks ago, I interviewed Gemma Mayes, who was directing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was being performed outdoors at Lavenham Hall in Suffolk. I went along to see the finished product on opening night on a slightly overcast summer’s eve, and for what it’s worth, here’s what I thought.
The setting of Lavenham Hall provided a beautiful backdrop, and at times, part of the set as they used the Hall for entrances, exits, and to watch other characters from the window. The set itself was pretty simple, with a fairly plain, traditional makeshift stage as the centrepiece, although it was used sparingly as the cast made full use of the space in front, behind and either side of it, as well as the sprawling gardens around the audience. There was also a beautiful vintage blue VW camper van parked to the side of the stage to add context to the 60s ‘Summer of Love’ themed performance.
As far as the performances were concerned, there really was no weak link amongst the cast. Thoroughly impressive turns all round, beginning with Annie Eddington as Rita (rather than Peter) Quince. She got the proceedings under way in a confident manner, using every ounce of experience to charm the audience from the get-go. The Mechanicals were all brilliant too, with Malcolm Hollister the pick of the bunch as Bottom, which is exactly how Nick Bottom would’ve wanted it of course. He played the part as a loveable buffoon rather than completely earnest, and I really enjoyed his interpretation. Tom Eddington was also excellent as Francis Flute, his projection in particular being superb for outdoor theatre, and also hamming up the comedy well in the play within a play.
Peter Drew as Egeus was fantastic as the jowly, fusty, protective and domineering father to Hermia. He gave the performance a real lift when he came on stage with his obvious quality, and it was only a shame that he was playing such a small part, as he was great to watch in action.
The four lovers, Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander were portrayed beautifully by Katie Mayes, Carrie Lewis, Cian Harriss, and Mark Littlewood. Even when feuding, there was this lovely energy between them which is a difficult thing to manufacture. Their roles took a lot of energy as they ran around chasing each other, fighting, and a bit of dancing too, but whatever they did, they were joyful to watch.
Cian and Mark were perfect polar opposites, with Demetrius as an uptight traditionalist in his knitted tank-top, and Lysander the hippy in his groovy shirt and flares. Cian portrayed Demetrius as a strong, masculine type, and Mark, whether intentional or not, played Lysander as a very camp and flighty character.
Carrie and Katie as Helena and Hermia respectively were also brilliantly contrasting, not least in terms of their physicality. Katie was flinging herself all over the place during the show, at times placing a huge amount of trust in her cast-mates to catch her. Not that they didn’t all shine throughout, but Katie in particular, had the opportunity to show a bit more range after having been spurned by Lysander, and she took the chance with both hands and gave a heartbreaking performance as the jilted lover.
Flora Douglas as Puck was a whirlwind of chaotic, anarchic energy, and I absolutely couldn’t take my eyes off her majestic performance, for fear of missing some additional brilliant bit of shade that she cast onto the role. It wasn’t anything like I’d seen the part played before, but I can’t picture it any other way now. You could see Flora was enjoying herself massively in the role, scampering across the grounds of Lavenham Hall, laughing, screaming, and twitching all the way, like some crazed nymph. Flora gave the role her absolute all, was switched on the entire time, and my god did it pay off. It was a perfect performance.
The show was superbly directed by Gemma Mayes and Penny Mills - it was so clear the direction that they pushed the play into and the actors were all extremely well-drilled, which reflects brilliantly on them. It was a genuinely exciting version of the play, and it was refreshing to see such a unique stamp put upon it, without resorting to a cliched adaptation that you often see where it’s set in a futuristic or dystopian society. The Directors modernised the play whilst still respecting the text and it worked so well.
I was delighted that I could squeeze just enough time in before my holiday to see this absolute triumph of a performance, as it is one that will live long in the memory, and I’m already looking forward to them producing another summer show next year.