Theatre in Wales

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Shakespeare Like No Other

At Mappa Mundi

Mappa Mundi/ Torch Theatre/ Theatr Mwldan- A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , November-10-12
At Mappa Mundi by Mappa Mundi/ Torch Theatre/ Theatr Mwldan- A Midsummer Night’s Dream Cousins Hermia and Helena are a study in contrasts in Peter Doran’s vivid production for this now well-established tripartite production team. Lisa Zahra, in shapeless WW2 agricultural dungarees, is radiant in romance. Joanna Simpkins, in a tight tailored army uniform, is all strained sadness for a love that is unreturned.

This setting has been done before for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Dawn French once led the Mechanicals as Bottom. But there are some very characteristic Mappamundian touches. The first three minutes are a novel delight that a reviewer may not disclose. Its effervescence is mirrored in the final few minutes where the production moves into an exalted zone of vision and expressive feeling.

The magic woodland breathes whispers of sound, courtesy of composer Peter Knight. The production team includes designer Sean Crowley, lighting by Ceri James, video by Lloyd Grayshon. Other members are Jacob Hughes, Rebecca Long and Bethany Seddon. Beautiful projections include a side elevation of a Somerset-Avon country house- it resembles Brympton D’Evercy- that turns to a night scene of moon and stars. The cumulative design effect from Peter Doran’s team is outstanding.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has also played this season, for a rather shorter run than the Mappa Mundi annual tour, at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum. The Guardian’s resident theatre critic in Scotland judged that the lovers were lacking in romantic conviction. Here, they too come as impassioned contrasts. Sam Jones’ Demetrius is a very British moustachioed staff officer. Jack Brown’s Lysander is the brash over-here G I, who happily discards his jacket and shares his tin of sweets, a treasure in ration-era-deprived Britain.

Some company regulars appear. Matthew Bulgo is an authoritative Egeus, in wing collar and frock coat, and an entertainingly actorly Quince. Lynne Seymour is a sleekly elegant Hippolyta in shimmering white and a sensuous, balletic Titania, right down to her black ankle bracelet- movement advisor Kylie Smith.

Llinos Mai is a Snout with romance on her mind. James Peake moves from a sad-eyed Flute, in tin helmet and stripey pullover, to a Thisbe of squealing falsetto and tortuous arm gestures. Francois Pandolfo is a Puck like no other, a darting, epicene, teasing presence in Chaplin suit and cane. Liam Tobin’s Bottom is the bustling, bossing extrovert who conveys a surprised innocence in his line on “Hay: good hay, sweet hay hath no fellow.” Richard Nichols is the quiet commanding lord who holds sway in both the real and the enchanted worlds.

“To show our simple skill” says Peter Quince to his audience “That is the true beginning of our end.” The skills on show are far from simple in what is a fine coda to this year of Shakespeare celebration. The tour continues in Wales- Brycheiniog, Hafren, Rhos and Mwldan- and England until 8th December.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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