Friday, June 30, 2017


Romford Summer Theatre at the Rockery, Raphael's Park

This year is Romford Summer Theatre's 55th season; it's no criticism to say that this production could have graced the Rockery at any point in that impressive history.
Chrissie O'Connor gives us a traditional take on the dream – Greco-Roman frocks, Mendelssohn's music – with a strong cast and a clear, positively-paced narrative. Not to mention an infectious sense of fun. No gimmicks, but the show does boast a child – Lucas Outram playing the all-important Indian Boy – and two canine characters: an elegant hound for the hunt, and a dog for Starveling's Moonshine.
It's the Shakespearean comedy best suited to this unique theatre space, perhaps, and excellent use is made of the “brakes” in the shrubbery, dotted with little lanterns as night falls, and the trees magically lit as the fairies lurk within the wood to watch the mischief play out.
Much of it concerning the hapless quartet of lovers; good work here from the young actors – the four-way tiff, the foggy fight with Puck, the lively dialogue between the girls – Eleanor Burgess and Amy Hollingsworth – Andrew Spong's eager Lysander and Jake Portsmouth's hilarious awakening.
The Court – the Duke and his Hippolyta well spoken by Colin Richardson and Emily Catlin – is graced by two experienced character players: Vernon Keeble-Watson's grumpy Egeus and Elliott Porte's pompous Philostrate, vainly trying to spare the wedding guests the ordeal of watching a bunch of amateur actors …
Those rude mechanicals – organised, if that's the word, by Paul Hollingsworth's Quince – stars Paul Sparrowham's Bottom. His ass-head is furry; his triumph in the role of Pyramus marred by paralysing stage-fright, alleviated by a handy flagon. His increasingly inebriated performance is pure genius, slurring his lines and relieving himself against Pete Farenden's Wall. Lots of clever detail here – the beards in the props basket, Mark Griffith's Snug conning the Lion's part, though it be nothing but roaring ...
The immortals are led by excellent fairy monarchs – Lindsay Hollingsworth's stunning Titania in her star-spangled gown, and Matt Jones's regal Oberon, with a touch of Herne the Hunter, his verse-speaking exemplary in I Know A Bank, for example. Four Fairies – we see them first in the overture – their dresses, colour-coded, reminiscent of fantastical festival-goers – included Chrissie LeFranc's Moth, with some magical flute-playing, and Kathryn Waters' white-wigged Cobweb; she's also the first fairy, doing a little light gardening before being ambushed by Richard Spong's Puck. He's a very mischievous hobgoblin, got up like a faun, searching the audience for Athenians, perching for a moment in Titania's woodland bower, freezing the mechanicals in mid-rehearsal.
This is not Athens, but Havering's Edwardian Raphael Park. Lucky to have no wind, or rain, a comfortable temperature and only the occasional waterfowl and birdsong to punctuate Shakespeare's sylvan comedy. A very pleasant evening; as Theseus says, “ never anything can be amiss, When simpleness and duty tender it ...”

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