Monthly Archives: July 2010

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, at the quadrangle of the Bodleian Library

cut! rain was not in my contract

British summertime isn’t summer without an outdoor Shakespearean Comedy with a cosy blanket, white wine, and, ahem, rain. Shakespeare’s Globe on tour and the Oxford Playhouse bring A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the four hundred year old quadrangle inside the Bodleian library. On the opening night, which began with drizzle, the company put on a performance that was just as stunning as its surroundings.

This is a world of ever-changing love triangles, bumbling players, and angry fairies. Hermia loves Lysander, Helena loves Demetrius, but Demetrius is supposed to be marrying Hermia. When the Duke of Athens tries to enforce the marriage, the lovers take refuge in the woods. They are not alone though, as there are amateur actors rehearsing a play and a dispute between the king and queen of the fairies.

The play is often brushed off as a children’s story, its risqué humour, which Dr Johnson deemed not the sort of thing Elizabeth I should have seen, is often forgotten. Director Raz Shaw does not shy away from its sexual nature, there are bare torsos, plenty of kissing, and a female Puck so sexy, dressed like Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles from Cabaret, she sets the men’s pulses racing with every entrance (and suspender-clad exit). The costumes are attractive and centre on the 1930s: Brideshead Revisited-inspired outfits for the lovers, old-fashioned aprons and hats for the players, and German Weimar burlesque-like masks and wings for the fairies.

Since the play itself is about theatricality, it is fitting that it is performed in the Bodleian library. It is a place that is home to every work of fiction ever published, and it is thought that Shakespeare himself had visited it during his lifetime. The setting lends itself to Quince and Oberon who are both directors: Quince directs his actors and Oberon the lovers. The fourth-wall is often broken, too, by an over-eager Bottom running into the audience and a flirty Puck planting kisses (as well as herself) on the male audience members. Wiliam Mannering steals the show, as expected, as the super-enthusiastic Bottom, and Bethan Walker proves she’s a fine actress switching from the cheeky Puck to innocent Snug.

This is a magical, must-see production that ended with a standing ovation. Even if it does, in true British tradition, start raining, this play shines.

Runs till 8 August, and tours the country including Emmanuel College, Cambridge from 10 August till 15 August.

To see or not to see: * * * * *


Your Bard: Rupal on Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories

Rupal is 24 years old. She is an English teacher working in Dagenham. She loves cakes, shopping, and writing complaint letters, but hates noisy school children.

What were your favourite things about the play?

I loved that the horror parts felt so intimate. There were lots of uneasy moments, too, where I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

What did you dislike about the play?

I would have liked one more story, as eighty minutes goes very quickly.

Who do you think it would appeal to?

It would appeal to anyone who thinks they are tough, but also not afraid to scream.

Ghost Stories, at the Duke of York’s Theatre

now where did i put that last rolo

It’s not often that a play comes with a health warning and a fifteen certificate. Ghost Stories, however, is no ordinary play. During its run in Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse theatre an ambulance was called for an audience member that had fainted, and in London’s Duke of York’s theatre there were more screams than the most death defying rollercoaster ride at a theme park. “It’s a full-on experience”, says writer Jeremy Dyson. Dyson has previously worked as a writer on the notoriously dark television comedy League of Gentlemen, and Andy Nyman has co-created and directed television shows for Derren Brown. Here they have produced a show that successfully scares and shocks.

As you enter the theatre it looks like the scene of a crime with tape, warning signs, flickering lights and eerie music. Parapsychologist Phillip Goodman, convincingly played by Nyman, begins a lecture. He asks the audience “who here believes in ghosts?” Half put up their hands. “Who here believes they’ve had a paranormal experience?” A quarter put up their hands. Philip is a sceptic and suggests that paranormal experiences are generated from the individual’s own fears. He gives a brief history of ghosts and then retells his most memorable case studies that are then cleverly re-enacted on stage: a teenager whose car stops in a forest, a security guard who is alone at 3am, and city boy who is alone in his child’s nursery.

The characters, stories, and jumps are predictable, but there is something inherently scarier about stage than screen. Despite the fact that you’re surrounded by plenty of people it is harder to suspend your disbelief when the action is right in front of you. At eighty minutes and with no interval, it is instantly gripping and unbelievably intense. One of the surprises of the show though is that it is funny, but with every comic moment there is a false sense of security that is followed by a fright. You have been warned.

Runs till November 7.

To see or not to see: * * * *