Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

By Dan Bavister

There is perhaps no Shakespeare play more fitting for a summer’s afternoon than ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. And there is certainly no better backdrop to such a play than the wonderful Fellows’ Garden in Durham Castle. This performance, of the perfect play, performed in the perfect locale, proved to be a stunning success. It also provided a brilliant primer for Castle Theatre Company’s summer tour around England and also New York and North Carolina in the United States, with the Durham Castle performance, rather fittingly, serving as the opening location among a succession of prestigious venues. 

The cast was charismatic and confident beyond their years, with every actor and actress contributing to the production’s overall success. In particular, provided a lighthearted and memorable rendition of Puck, the mischievous sprite at the heart of the play’s kaleidoscopic plot, dressed in semi-transparent shirt and mismatched black-and-white trousers, his performance laced with magnetic humour throughout. Standout performances also came from Emilia Lewis, with her expressive and compelling execution of Helena, alongside Samuel Kingsley Jones, whose performance as Peter Quince was full of character and clear stage presence. However, each member of the troupe added their own flair to the production, assisting its dramatic cohesion and amusing comedy. 

Shimmering with the heat haze of the hot summer’s day, the Fellows’ Garden rang with dignified melodies, expertly-rendered music originally composed by Emily Phillips, and expressive renditions of Shakespeare’s beautiful poetry. This was made better as it is accompanied very occasionally with contemporary songs as well, to lend it a modern twist, and add humour. Indeed, especially notable was the way director Eleanor Thornton’s adaptation made a very conscious and sustained effort to utilise their sublime surroundings. The cast moved with grace through the dappled shade of a grand old oak tree that towered over the gardens, while musicians unfurled their music from the raised flower beds running along the castle walls, and the couples sat dangling their legs from atop the crenelations as they called down to the assorted fairies and sprites below.  

Notable also was the masterful abridging of the Shakespeare playscript to facilitate a 2-hour performance – including 20-minute interval – which proved the ideal length: while the radiant poetry and rich humour of the original were preserved, an emphasis was placed on ensuring an enjoyable and lighthearted performance that never seemed to drag. This was further assured through slapstick fight scenes and comic innuendo, which served to hold the audience’s attention, ensuring a steady stream of laughter. And the warm weather, combined with the striking Castle architecture and gardens, provided the perfect surrounding for the audience, who remained enraptured from start to finish. 

Clearly, Castle Theatre Company retains its status as one of the finest theatre companies in Durham, with its gleaming reputation assuredly justified. Indeed, as they embark upon their summer tour of both England and the U.S., one thing is certain: Castle Theatre Company’s future audiences certainly have a great deal to look forward to. 

Image Credit: Castle Theatre Company

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