A Play For The Nation
The Grand Theatre, Blackpool, April 5-9
By Fiona Finch
WHEN April showers fleet across the Lancashire landscape where better to seek refuge than in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
The Royal Shakespeare Company, joined by talented members of Poulton Drama Group and a fairy train of local schoolchildren, are weaving their own brand of midsummer magic at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre this week.
The outstanding performance was from Lucy Ellinson as Puck, orchestrating the mesmerisation of hapless would or would not be lovers and making an ass of Bottom.
Athletic, idiosyncratic and knowing, she made the role of Puck her own.
Just to see her silhouette on stage, striking poses with distinctively angular body language, scampering across the set or sharing the cheekiest of grins, was to be transported to a world where any manner of mayhem was about to begin.
Nor was Puck the only one coaxing both applause and laughter in equal measure.
Laughter was abundantly earned by the performance of a cast which brought Shakespeare’s comedy into a 20th century setting, with many of the key characters in stylish 1940s’ influenced costumes. Mercy Ojelade as Hermia, Jack Holden as her suitor Lysander, Chris Nayak as Demetrius and Laura Riseborough as Helena proved a well cast and memorable foursome, particularly in their comic spellbound scenes.
It was a production which dispensed with tinsel and there was not a gossamer fairy wing in sight - the youngest sprites were dressed in day clothes and it was for Ayesha Dharker as Titania, Queen of the Fairies and Chu Omambala as Oberon, King of the Fairies, to step into the sartorial spotlight with a striking red dress and a be noticed white suit.
There was music (with four on stage fairy musicians) and merriment, as well as the obligatory confusion, in this telling of one of the most popular of Shakespearean comedies.
This production – which sees the professional cast joined at different venues around the UK by members or outstanding drama groups and local school pupils - is part of a bold “A Play For The Nation” initiative and triumphantly succeeds in bringing professional and amateur cast together seamlessly. In Blackpool Poulton met the challenge abundantly – and what a show it will be for them to remember with a five strong cast, with excellent comic timing, taking the part of The Mechanicals led by Anthony Henry as Bottom, Huw Rose as Tinker, Cathy Lloyd as Quince, Roger Lloyd-Jones as Starveling, Garry Houghton as Flute and Ian Rowe as Snug.
Meanwhile pupils from Larkholme Primary School at Fleetwood assumed the roles of impish fairies and cast their own charming spells, most particularly in the farewell blessing scene.
The set changes were in themselves a performance, a success for the designer Tom Piper whose frugal but inventive set no doubt translates well to different sized theatres on the UK tour.
When you leave the theatre the dream lives on, a measure of an assured and beautifully staged performance, bringing Shakespeare to a modern audience in a both imaginative and beguiling way.
The production is directed by Eric Whyman. Book your tickets now for an enchanted evening.
• Photos show Ayesha Dharker as Titania, Queen of the Fairies with Anthony Henry as Bottom and the cast members from Poulton Drama.