An outdoor performance on a perfect warm, dry summer evening; a Lego reproduction of the event venue; a friendly welcome from Karen James and her Front of House team; great seats and a fabulous performance of my favourite Shakespeare play – what more could I ask for? Well, Shakespeare at the George’s 60th Anniversary production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (MSND), directed by the imaginative and creative Dean Laccohee managed to produce far more!

We took our seats and focused on the stage – very empty, royal blue back cloths covering the Jacobean façade and four blue square boxes. When I had met the Stage Manager, Kevin Connor, earlier in the day, he had said that this would be a very different production of MSND. I was beginning to get excited…

To be a success MSND needs to have a good balance between the Lovers, the Mechanicals, the Parents and the Fairies.

The action started with the performers entering the stage from the central aisle of the audience with much merriment. Richard Sockett, as Theseus portrayed a larger than life rumbustious demagogue and a suitably impatient Groom. Hippolyta, played by Kim Cotton, was calm and yet strong in telling him that he must wait. I thought Judith Pawson was a credible Egeus and I quickly became used to her being Hermia’s mother. Stuart Nunn was a timorous Philostrate who complemented the other characters well.

Helena and Hermia played by Georgie Bickerdike and Katy Palmer managed that difficult task of being rivals and then friends and they both delivered their difficult and emotionally charged lines with passion. They were beautifully cast alongside Jordan White and James Barwise as Demetrius and Lysander. All four interacted very well and I was particularly impressed with their physicality during Act 3 scene 2 when both men believe they are in love with Helena. I enjoyed Jordan’s somewhat sulky demeanour as Demetrius which contrasted perfectly with the James’ over confident Lysander.

The Mechanicals led by Chairman Richard Brown as Peter Quince, resplendent with his Rupert Bear scarf produced just the right level of humour without turning the production into a pantomime. Their facial expressions when an inuendo could be deduced were just perfect. The master of this was James Rowe as Bottom/Pyramus, his asides to the audience were a delight and his transformation into the ass masterful. He was well cast as an excellent overbearing organiser who obviously wanted to be in charge and his subjugation of the suitably submissive Peter Quince was wonderful.

Ashton Cull and Andy Wilkes as Snout/Wall and Starveling/Moonshine were a great double act entering as inept stagehands, dressed in colourful dungarees, Laurel and Hardy style. Les Roberts was a delight to watch as Snug/Lion and produced possibly the most loveable lion I have seen in MSND! I like Flute/Thisbe being cast as a female, it makes many of the lines so humorous and Serenity Twinn’s portrayal was just the right level. She was able to bring the panto principal boy characteristics to the role, which made the infamous kissing wall scene with James Rowe all the funnier. And finally, an outstanding talented addition to the group, Museo – Helen Reece, who through her varied instruments, facial expressions and appropriate cameos, enhanced each scene.

The Steam-Punk fairies with graffiti trees originally hidden behind the blue back cloths and a BMX bike riding Puck. Now that wasn’t something I was expecting. Very strong performances by all in this dream world. The character Puck, Louise West, was an excellent different interpretation, with wonderful facial expressions matching each verbal encounter. The use of the BMX bike was inspired. Reuben Milne as Oberon commanded the stage, he had just that right amount of naughtiness to be a ‘loveable rogue!’ Titania – Josephine Hussey – as the demure Titania, not only managed to stay still on a swinging seat in full view of the audience for quite some time but was also the most lovely bewitched fairy falling in love with Bottom as the Ass. The four fairies played by Stephanie Dickenson, Emma Bone, Bethan Williams and Kerry Anne MacCuaig were a tight knit ensemble, each with their own character and each given a time to demonstrate that to the audience to good effect.

Costumes and make up by the large team headed by Helen Arnett and Red Elizabeth in this timeless, yet ultimately modern production were excellent, in particular the quick make up change for Bottom as the Ass and all the fairies especially the ‘masks’ for Puck, Oberon and Titania. The design of the set by Director, Dean Laccohee and props by Cherry and Smiley Mildwater was simple and yet worked, I particularly liked the ‘Wall’ and it’s ability to produce ‘the chink.’ Lighting by Max Richardson and Sound by Martin Avery produced the correct effect to support this excellent production.

During the interval we were invited to a reception where Huntingdon Youth Theatre were presented with a cheque for £1000 by Dame Norma Major DBE on behalf of the Trustees.

This production has completely changed my thoughts on how Shakespeare can be performed. I have to admit that before I’d seen it, I was more of a traditionalist. However, this production even with the Steampunks; mobiles; selfies; a copy Fifty Shades of Grey: and the second act starting with the Carpenters song Close to You – I loved it.

Thank-you Shakespeare at the George.

Review by Tracy Sortwell, NODA East District 1 Rep (4th July 2019)