Monday, June 29, 2009
“Could we get any more British?” asks Duke Theseus, emerging as the umbrellas go up in Ashton Court Manor Gardens just before the start of A Midsummer Night's Dream on Sunday.
Open-air theatre is not like theatre and I don’t just mean the drizzle; it brings out the territorial imperative in the cultural classes as they impose their own auditoriums on the lawn rather like Libyan forces invading Chad. Nearly all the grass was covered with predatory blankets laid out by a stentorian-voiced man urging his party to “maintain the line”. Children trail soft toys, parents eat paella from plastic plates, pies from wrappers, salads from Tuppaware, crisps, cakes, scotch eggs… waiting for curtain up is one long munch-fest. Corks pop, babies cry, mobile link-ups are arranged: “you’ll see us at the front, it’s not Glastonbury!”
Shakespeare's Globe on Tour has responded to the challenge by doing the whole play as a flapper-era end-of-pier show, with something for all the family: teddy-bears & percussion for the kiddies, Puck dressed as a pole-dancer for the Dads, and for us girls there was Chris McGill as Lysander/Quince/Moth, somehow managing to be equally irresistible whether a bold lover, rude mechanic, or gigolo elf.
The 8 actors in Raz Shaw's production play every part, morphing deftly from aristocrats to clowns to fairies, so there’s plenty of opportunity for inventive displays of versatility though less for costume change: adding aprons worked well for status downsizing but tailcoats and cigarette-holders for Peaseblossom’s posse didn’t do it for me. The production worked best when it stuck to the stage, creating a magic box that had everyone, even passersby peering over the railings, wide-eyed; the de-rigueur racing around the grass seemed like a slightly desperate, and unnecessary, crowd-pleasing tactic.
It’s a long play, made all the longer by William Mannering’s extemporising Bottom - I can see why the bard fell out with Will Kempe who first took the role – but at the end, despite the weather, numb bums, and no interval refreshments, the enthusiastic applause was rightly raucous. The Tour continues till 31st August: Fiona Moorhead's photo courtesy of the Globe.
Plinth preparations continue: declaiming practice on Cley Hill, and lovely Mandie Stone from Love Arts is kitting me out in retro prom frock with custom-made headdress (purple red & green) for my hour at Trafalgar Square on July 18th. I'm almost starting to look forward to it...