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A Midsummer Nights Dream

Nicola Mostyn enjoys a sunny version of Shakespeare’s magical play…but isn’t too sure about the rock and roll

Published on August 13th 2007.


A Midsummer Nights Dream

During Feelgood Theatre Company’s July production of Blue Remembered Hills in Heaton Park, cast and audience were subjected to frequent downpours. That was my first taste of outdoor theatre and it says something about the excellence of the production that the rain didn’t impair my enjoyment - in fact the occasional rumble of clouds and sporadic sheets of rain offered a pleasing sense of symmetry to Potter’s progressively ominous play of childhood games turned sour. And anyway, call me weird, but isn’t there something enjoyable about huddling up in a pac-a-mac and hunkering down for the next riveting scene? (Okay, just me then…)

Best of all were the mortal lovers, though, whose efforts to woo one paramour and shake off another were hilariously, impressively physical, their passion and angst always convincing.

Still, there’s only so much rainy-theatre one wants to experience and I’m sure Feelgood themselves were relieved when the weather changed for the better and the audience could at least think about leaving their wellies at home, as has so far been the case for their second production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (MND); Shakespeare’s frothy comedy of magic and mischief, fickle love and fairies.

Both Blue Remembered Hills and MND are plays with a forest setting, and this makes the most of Feelgood’s technique of performing their productions in various sites around the magnificent Heaton Park, rather than on a static stage. It’s an effective ploy: not only does it remove the partition between audience and players but it also seems to allow the actors the freedom to really let rip with their roles.

The play opens with the plight of two sets of Athenian (in this case amended to Mancunian) lovers. Hermia wants to wed Lysander, but her father disapproves and wants her to marry Demetrius. Helena loves Demetrius but he distains her, and loves only Hermia.

In a reflection of the discord in the mortal world, the King and Queen of the Fairies, Titania and Oberon, are at odds with one another. When Titania refuses to bend to her husband’s will, he charges his sprite, Puck with making some mischief by collecting a flower, the juices of which can make a person fall instantly in love. Meanwhile, back in the mortal world, a group of labourers are rehearsing a play about tragic lovers, haplessly and with amusing results, which they intend to perform at the Duke’s wedding. And so the stage is set for a story in which love is found, lost, betrayed and found once again.

With its enduring themes and other-worldly plot, A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be delivered in a variety of eras and costumes. Here, Feelgood have opted for a 1950s style for its mortals – all sticky-out skirts and natty suits - whilst the fairy King and Queen seemed to be favouring a sort of Hebden Bridge hippie vibe which, while it wasn’t very visually striking, does suit the natural environment.

Most interesting was the fact that, extending the 1950s motif, Feelgood have inserted rock and roll songs, sung a capalla, into the script. This was an effective way of beginning a scene whilst the audience were shuffling with their chairs and getting settled, and the voices of the cast were certainly impressive. But I’m not a fan of 1950s rock and roll and for me, it was a touch too Return To The Forbidden Planet. Although by giving this play of light and shade the sunny disposition of a musical, Feelgood have cannily broadened its appeal.

That aside, there is much to like about this al-fresco production. The large cast were excellent, with much comedy coming from the slow-witted handymen, particularly their leading man, ‘Sweet Bully Bottom’, and his oddly endearing egotism, while Eve Robertson was beguilingly cheeky and childish as the artful Puck. Best of all were the mortal lovers, though, whose efforts to woo one paramour and shake off another were hilariously, impressively physical, their passion and angst always convincing.

As dark fell on Heaton Park, it was mirrored by night falling in the play, another unexpected benefit of outdoor theatre. And as the muddled lovers and warring fairies were restored to a happy state, the production cranked up to its comic conclusion as the play within a play got its first, uproarious, airing and you saw quite clearly where Feelgood Theatre Company got their name.

Watching theatre in the outdoors is a uniquely enjoyable experience and Feelgood want to make their summer shows in Heaton Park a regular event. As an outdoor theatre convert, come rain or shine, I’m hoping their dream comes true.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Heaton Park, Until Aug 18, 0161 236 7110 www.feelgoodtheatre.co.uk £15. Weekend Family Workshop Sat Aug 18 3.30pm - 5.30pm.

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