Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Olivia Race
Musical Director: Claire-Marie Seddon
Front Room Productions approach site-specific theatre with the energy, fearlessness and imagination of youth. But by now the still youthful triumvirate of Olivia Race, Claire-Marie Seddon and Creative Producer Alice Barber are pretty experienced, too, and there is the canny precision in their work of theatre people who know what’s what.
At the heart of Front Room’s production in the Walled Garden in Temple Newsam is a perfectly decent version of a much-cut A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Most of the characters are still there – no troupe of fairies and, of course, no Philostrate, but who would notice anyway? – and the essential plot-line remains: the pacing of Act 5 is the major casualty, with no nobles for the Rude Mechanicals to play off and be insulted by, and no fairies for the play’s final magic.
A cast of six is cleverly deployed on the basis of a Rude Mechanical for each actor, plus either a lover or a double of Hippolyta/Titania or Theseus/Oberon. That leaves Puck floating – or, rather, zooming round the garden on his scooter – played by whoever takes up the silly hat and big coat, a concept that works wonderfully well.
The back-story of Hippolyta as Mayor of West Yorkshire and Oberon and Titania as King and Queen of the Gardens doesn’t add a lot, but it doesn’t matter. What do add a lot are the music, the engagement with the audience and what we might term rather pretentiously the three-dimensional concept of the production.
There we have a very large walled garden with paths, gates, shrubs, flower-beds and a central fountain and an audience clutching chairs and being chivvied, persuaded, charmed and bullied (often very stylishly, in song) from one location to the next (seven or eight in all). Settled comfortably to watch a scene, the audience notices a distant approaching figure (if he’s on a scooter, watch out!) or unexpected mood music – it’s a clarinettist in the roses! One way and another there are more running figures than in Chariots of Fire – it’s brilliant use of site.
Current or not too old pop songs, with adapted lyrics, punctuate the action, performed with great style, though it would be fair to say the quality of voice is variable. Cast members pitch in with instrumental accompaniment: guitar is the staple, but already in the first scene Hippolyta takes a turn on the steel pan and Lysander plays trumpet – and there’s more to come.
The individual performances tend to be over-shadowed by the overall achievement, but all the lovers score highly for energy and pretend-fighting: Claire-Marie Seddon (a female Lysander of which little is made) and Olivia Race (Hermia) are multi-tasking from their roles directing the whole thing, the supremely expressive April Nerissa Hudson (Helena) is also a totally charming Lion and Harri Pitches (Demetrius) has a nice line in innocent bombast as Bottom. Ebony Feare and Robert Wade make little of Hippolyta and Theseus (so what’s new?), but spread some magic as Titania and Oberon and she is probably the most engaging of six delightful Pucks.
This is not the sort of production that cries out for the word “slick” – it’s far too informal – but Front Room welcomed Press on the first night, the performance ran to time and was uncannily precise in timing entries across an expanse of garden or letting a guitar tune go out of the audience’s right ear as another guitar filtered in from the distant left. Now that’s slick!
Runs until August 15th 2021