A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the Pantaloons – raucous fun blown away by the wind

A little over a year ago my parents mentioned that there was a performance of Much Ado Ado About Nothing at Smallhythe Place, and asked if I wanted to go. As a fan of Shakespeare, I said that of course I would, but I had no idea what I was in for in watching the Pantaloons production. The Pantaloons are a travelling stage company who specialise in comedic interpretations of various stories – since I was left in hysterics at the performance of Much Ado About Nothing, I have seen them also perform The Importance of Being Earnest, and have heard of them performing Pride and Prejudice as well, both with the same reaction from the crowd, everyone entralled by their comedic abilities. So when I found out that they were performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, my favourite Shakespeare play, at Hall Place, I was very excited.

However, the day came, and there was one key issue: the wind. The Pantaloons largely perform outdoors, meaning that they are, to an extent, slaves to the weather. The wind really didn’t help them in this case – there were parts of it that I struggled to hear, sitting around four rows back to the side (being open air, people brought their own chairs or picnic blankets, so this is a rough estimate of space). The way they were positioned didn’t help – there was a wall that they could have positioned themselves against to help the audience to hear better. As they ran around the audience, stealing people’s picnics, and came closer to this wall, it was far easier to hear them, but this may have been just that they were speaking louder due to being amidst the audience.

The show was also the victim of the traffic around the venue. Hall Place is next to a very busy road, and so the actors were fighting with the noise of various vehicles going past, including no fewer than two police cars. The company was very professional throughout, using their great improvisational skills at various points to turn these issues into part of the comedy of the play with great skill, without a hitch or a pause in flow.

The wind and the traffic were in no way the fault of the company, of course, it was just such a shame that there were these issues that hampered the performance. A fair number of people actually left at the interval. I have to admit, if I did not already know the story, I would probably have had no clue what was going on, as was the case with a few members of the party I went with. The doubling of characters confused this as well – they had different accents, and slightly different clothes, but it would have been difficult to hear these accents if you were any farther back than we were, and therefore hard to distinguish between many of the characters.

The actual performance was absolutely amazing, and reminded me how much I love the Pantaloons and their hilarious interpretations of Shakespeare. The use of an audience member as Hippolyta, and the subsequent performance of a song based on audience submissions of various romantic things (pet names, places, and tv shows) was highly amusing, and went down very well with the whole audience. The comedy of the rude mechanicals was also very well exaggerated in a way that was very funny to a modern audience – I desperately wanted a t-shirt that said ‘Pyramids and Frisbee’ but alas, I did not have the cash. The performance of the whole company was good, but for me, the performance of Kelly Griffiths was standout. I have seen her in multiple shows before and the range of expressions her face goes through in one performance always leaves me in awe (and fits of giggles).

There was only one aspect of the performance that I thought didn’t work so well, and that was in the final section of the play. The performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is a comedic highpoint of the play, and is made by the comments of the various characters watching. Due to the very nature of the Pantaloons, having only five members of the cast and doubling a lot of the characters, this wasn’t possible, so the cast member playing Theseus, who also played Snout and Puck, went into the audience once his part playing the wall as Snout was over dressed as Theseus and said only around half of the lines, and as they weren’t in conversation they didn’t have the same comedic effect. The point of the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe seemed to be slightly lost, and my poor Mum, who went in with zero knowledge of the plot, was very confused as to what was going on at that point. In the whole play though, this is my only criticism, and this again was out of the hands of the company in a way, due to the very nature of their performances.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable production that had me laughing right the way through – I can’t wait to see the production of The War of the Worlds in the Spring!

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Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe – A disco in the highlands

A few weeks ago, a couple of my friends decided on a whim that they were going to go to see a show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Being so close to London myself, and having never seen a show at the Globe, I felt I could hardly turn it down. The atmosphere of the Globe is amazing, and if you are able to I would highly recommend getting a ticket at £5 for standing in the yard, which is what we did, and we thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The show opens on a cruise ship of some sort, and from the music and the dress, it is clearly Shakespeare with a seventies twist. This may sound strange, but somehow, it worked. Sebastian danced onto the stage in white platform boots and flared trousers, and Viola joined him in a sparkling purple jumpsuit. What’s not to love?

But then, as the twins were shipwrecked, it became clear that Illyria is only Illyria by name, and is in fact, Scotland. Duke Orsino, his court, and Sir Hugo all wear kilts, and Orsino dances to a song (supposedly of his own composition) with a Scottish folk music feel. The combination sounds bizarre, but it works so well, especially with the comedic ability of the actors.

The script was fantastic. Shakespeare’s original dialogue was peppered throughout with added lines, with exceptional delivery by all of the cast, providing extra comedy, bringing the story to the more modern audience.

All of the cast was fantastic, but there were three stand out performances.

Malvolio was played with such great characteristation, as Katy Owen made her own clear stamp on the character. I watched (and loved) her in the livestream of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Globe last year, playing Puck, but seeing her act in person was even more phenomenal. The energy she brought to Malvolio was unlike any I have ever seen, but at the same time it fit so well. Even the way Owen ran around the stage sent the whole theatre into fits of giggles.

Another stand out performance of the cast was that of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Marc Antolin. The combination of the fantastic costume design of Lez Brotherston, the direction of Emma Rice, and the performace of Antolin, resulted in a character that no-one in the audience could fail to find amusing. Despite his interest in marrying Olivia, mentioned only a couple of times, he was clearly portrayed as a gay stereotype in his dress, his strength (or lack thereof), and his whole manner. And here begins my problem with the performance.

Despite being a performance for Pride Month at the Globe, featuring a rainbow design to demonstrate this both within the design on the front of the programme for this play, and the poster for the whole season, there seemed to be a distinct lack of LGBTQ+ representation. The play of Twelfth Night has a huge potential for LGBTQ+ representation in various ways. For example, Orsino can clearly be read as bisexual, in that he loves Viola whilst she is Cesario. This is played on a bit in the performance, but it could be done more explicitly in my opinion. One aspect with huge potential that was just ignored was the potential for relationship between Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio tells Sebastian that he loves him, but this is completely ignored. There is the great potential in those few lines to present a gay character that is not a male gay stereotype, but is instead just a character who happens to be gay, and yet the lines pass without note. Having said all this though, I must mention the performance of Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste. He was simply phenomenal in the role, and his vocal range was awe-inspiring.

The only other issue I had with this production was the use of the same actors as a sort of chorus, dressed in white overalls and t-shirts, when they were not themselves in the action, for example to pull the bed Malvolio was on around the stage. This almost drew me out of the performance, reminding the audience that this was a performance on the stage, and the actors were merely actors. When the performance from each actor was so amazing, it felt bizarre to see them in what was effectively a different role within the same production.

Overall, the performance was a joy to watch, save for a few minor issues, and I wish I could go and watch it again for the first time!

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: the metatheatrical masterpiece brought to life

To be perfectly honest, when I saw that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was on at the Old Vic and I had the opportunity to get tickets, I was motivated to accept the tickets due to a combination of my inner Shakespeare fangirl and my love for Daniel Radcliffe without any knowledge of the play itself. Granted, I was interested in going to the theatre – I adore the theatre, and if it was cheaper I would be there at least once a week. But I was more than pleasantly surprised by what I witnessed that night.

The play opens with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, paused on their journey to Hamlet’s castle, after being summoned by King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to try and knock some sense into Hamlet. From the rise of the curtain through to the end of the first act, they are portrayed as clowns of the show, as Stoppard takes full advantage of their limited involvement within Hamlet to create a life for them. The first act is amusing, but the same lines in the second act become melancholy as the characters realise their helplessness in preventing their own doomed fates, at the whim of whatever being is controlling their narrative.

Radcliffe and McGuire’s chemistry is amazing, the rapport between them flowing naturally and creating great humour. Although Radcliffe’s cinematic training is clear throughout – he did not project enough, and his voice was lost somewhere in the stalls, often failing to reach me in upper circle. Oftentimes it felt like McGuire was carrying the dialogue due to this, but this was in part due to the natural balance between their characters.

David Leveaux made the stage at the Old Vic extradionarily deep, which at first appeared to me to be somewhat strange. But the production used this fully, with the travelling troop entering from the back and leaving via it, as well as dividing the stage with a half curtain to separate the two central characters from the main action.

The performance of David Haig was also standout. His character, combined with Alfred, played by Matthew Durkan, were the ones that generated the most laughs throughout the show due to a combination of Stoppard’s brilliant dialogue and their performances.

The chaos of the final moments of the play are beautifully punctuated by Theo Ogundipe’s yelling of Horatio’s final lines of the play, leaving every audience member stunned and barely able to remember the jokes that they had laughed so hard at in the first act. 

This is a performance not to be missed.