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Cavorting Bottom delights as moon rises

June 10, 2017

Midsummer Night's Dream, Sudden Impulse Theatre, Princethorpe College 

Apparently there was a law in Athens which stipulated that a daughter must marry the man of her father's choice, or face death, or take herself off to a nunnery.

  Whether this was true or whether Shakespeare simply threw it in with a bit of poetic licence when he was writing A Midsummer Night's Dream is open to debate.

 But it did seem a rather appropriate threat as I watched this open-air production while sitting next to the nuns' graveyard in the beautiful grounds of Princethorpe College.   

 It was in this eighteenth century sylvan setting that members of the Sudden Impulse Theatre Company chose to stage their latest production and, if the weather holds, you can see it today (June 10) at 4pm.

  This could be the last chance before the  north Warwickshire-based company takes off on a tour of castles and grand homes - although you could catch them at Church End Brewery in Nuneaton, on June 14.

  Like many open-air productions, the play started in brilliant sunshine and ended with the audience huddled under coats and blankets.

  Meanwhile, as rabbits nibbled the grass, cows mooed in a nearby field and geese flew overhead, the cast flitted around in fairy costumes, or stripped off their shirts - and in one hilarious scene pulled down their trousers - as they fought over the affections of lovelorn Helena (Charlotte Edginton).

  Saul Bache and Christopher O'Reilly, playing Lysander and Demetrius, squeezed every ounce of humour from their fight scene after poor Hermia (Sophie Sherratt) is warned it's the nunnery or marriage if she wants to avoid an even worse fate.

  Most of us know this labyrinthine plot, which I felt might have benefited from the addition of a little period music.

  Having said that, Midsummer Night's Dream is always good fun. As Sudden Impulse director Simon Winterman points out, although Shakespeare set his story in the woods around Athens, he almost certainly took his inspiration from the woods around Warwickshire.

  Certainly the Bard's play-acting "rude mechanicals" could well have been inspired by Coventry mummers or the craft guilds' famous Mystery plays which we know  Queen Elizabeth I called for when staying at Kenilworth Castle.

  The plum role in this play within a play is, of course, Bottom, in this case performed with unrestrained delight by Phil Malkin who produced a series of donkey brays realistic enough to spook the cows grazing nearby.

  But of course, love blinds us to our beloved's defects (for a while) and so the fair Titania (Bridie Vowles), is irresistibly drawn to the buffoon with the absurdly long ears. But wait, all's well with the world again as Oberon (Sam Bates) forgets their quarrel and relents in time to reverse one bit of magic but leave another spell gloriously in place.

  As the bare-chested and surely goose-pimpled Puck (Louis Hayward) announces to the muffled audience on the first night:  "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

  Not if you can catch this production on a sunny day. Or simply in possession of a folding chair, overcoat and possibly a hip flask.

Picture: Phil Malkin as Bottom and Bridie Vowles as Titania.

 

*  For more details about Sudden Impulse tour dates and future productions visit www.suddenimpulse.co.uk

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