The “Dream”: a romp in the Courtyard
What a fantastic venue for "A Midsummer Night's Dream"! The courtyard of the English Seminar is a gem by any standards with its huge shady tree and medieval buildings, and Upstart Entertainment's performance of the "Dream" makes full use of everything it has – the fountain as a natural focal point, the mullioned first floor windows for a lovely declaration of love, the tree as a refuge for Puck and a place for Titania's bower (i.e. hammock).
The whole thing is a highly enjoyable romp from start to finish. It's usually far too easy to mix up the four young lovers, but not this time – right at the beginning, Egeus (Norman Koeth) makes it very clear that his daughter Hermia (Sophia Debrunner Hall) should marry this man, Demetrius (James Bailey), and not that one, Lysander (Thea Morris), even if it is against her will. Helena (Stacy Lucido), when she appears later, turns out to be a totally different type, and the way she throws herself at Demetrius is completely over the top and hugely entertaining. How she manages to run round the cobbled courtyard in high-heels without breaking anything I can't imagine. I wasn't too happy about Lysander being cast as a girl, but if you want to move with the times and have a lesbian couple, why not. It would at least explain Egeus' reluctance to accept Hermia's preference!
Meanwhile the fairy king, Oberon (Patrick Deslarzes, who has the ideal face for this part) has fallen out with his wife Titania (Nicolaia Marston), quite gorgeous in a strapless black dress, bare feet and towering hairdo with mask – very nice. Puck, or Robin Goodfellow (Alix Austin), is very spritely indeed with her frou-frou green skirt and fly-away hair, and suitably mischievous as well – having a girl take this part really works.
Then we come to the "mechanicals", who could well have stolen the show in any other production. Peter Quince (Ariel Steffen) tears his hair out (he has a lot of it!) while trying to rehearse a play with his fellow rustics for the duke's wedding. Bottom (Jacob Dixon) is hilarious especially with his donkey mask when Titania falls in love with him – a superb scene when Bottom "accidentally" brushes by Titania's hammock and wakes her. And I shan't forget Francis Flute (Frédéric Anklin) in a hurry – never have I seen such a wildly unsuitable Thisbe, or such a fuming, unhappy Flute at being given the part. His outraged body language when Thisbe is kissed, on the lips, by her lover Pyramus – Bottom – had the entire audience hooting with laughter.
This performance within a performance is a fitting climax to the play, celebrating as it does the marriage of Duke Theseus (Andrew Fernandez) and Hippolyta (Cécile Hertzog), as well the two young couples, all wearing beautiful bridal gear. Altogether this was a very entertaining evening, with unexpected highlights like the beautiful Indian fairy dancer (Gauri) and the rustics doubling as Titania's fairies. And it was great to have a bar in the courtyard next door, and even food (fine if you like pita bread with tandoori chicken). The programme is brilliant too – an entertainment all by itself!
Congratulations to Andrew, whose brainchild this was, Nicolaia, who not only acted the part of Titania but also directed the show, and their loyal and enthusiastic team of helpers. With performances of this quality in such a beautiful, intimate setting, I'm confident this first manifestation of "Shakespeare in the Courtyard" will not be the last and it will become an annual event as planned.