Blenheim Palace Outdoor Shakespeare 2010

A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Comedy of Errors from The Oxford School Of Drama
Blenheim Palace, Thu June 10th - Sat June 19th 2010

June 11, 2010
A Midsummer Nights Dream
The stunning Pleasure Gardens of Blenheim Palace set the scene for The Oxford School Of Drama’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sitting on bales of hay, enjoying the scenery, eating cake and... drinking a cup of hot chocolate. It was unfortunately cold and drizzling. But once the show started, we forgot about the weather and were transformed to the magical forest where fairies make mayhem.

The play (one of Shakespeare’s most well known, possibly due to the fact that it is a GCSE classic!) is given a revamp for this version and set in 1920’s Britain. Cue flapper girls and men in dapper suits. This was a new approach and made for some interesting scenes, such as the fairies breaking into impromptu jive dancing, however it is difficult to portray the play in any ‘real-life’ setting due to the surreal nature of the story itself.

What does work is the light-heartedness and general charm of the play. The characters are merry and seem rather pleasantly drunk! They sing, dance, pose, and poke fun at themselves. Emily Lloyd-Saini excels in her portrayal of Puck (a female Puck- nice twist on the original), skipping around joyfully, eyes wide in mischief, exuding a flirtatious chemistry with Oberon, King of the Fairies. Margaret Clunie plays a likeable Helena, and has some great comedy scenes when begging for Demetrius’s love, and later when she thinks that Lysander and Demetrius are mocking her when they declare their love – these scenes are conveyed seriously in some versions but Margaret's comic skills made this approach work very well. Hugo Brant, as Bottom had the audience in stitches. The use of a simple prop, a pair of novelty horse ears add to the humour of his scenes when Puck changes him to half-donkey. Titania, Queen of Fairies (played by Victoria Lupton) possessed a regal air which made her consequent infatuation and passion for Bottom even funnier.

There was little staging and even fewer props. But I really believed I was in the woods at witching hour. The cast ensured this by careful attention to detail, continuin in character until out of sight completely. So the fairies would float and dance away, ‘off stage’ and then until they reached the ends of the gardens and no longer in view – this was a nice touch. They also integrated well with the audience, running amongst our seats and sitting alongside us in parts.

Finally, the cast must be commended for performing so well in the rain and cold, especially on opening night – very professional. If I had to be picky, I would say that some of the actors need to speak a little louder especially as the ‘stage area’ is open-air and quite large, which can make hearing difficult.

After Puck’s famous closing speech, there was some more dancing to end the show. A little bit random, but certainly fitting in with the general eccentricity of the play itself. The audience enjoyed it, clapping and foot-tapping along. If you like the play, then do go and watch this version – it is joyous to watch, the actors are having fun and so are the audience. Recommended.
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