Finding a winner at Bosworth

Sleeping Partners: James Sanderson (Oberon), Kyle Horne (Titania) Giles Stoakley (Bottom) and Christopher Finn (Puck)

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre

Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire

****

LAST season The Festival Players Company, directed by Michael Dyer and based in Gloucester, took to the road with a touring all-male Richard III, with actors doubling Shakespeare's Clarence with Lady Anne, First Murderer with Queen Elizabeth, and so on. Versatility is certainly their catchword.

This astoundingly high-class company relishes this kind of quick-change marvel, serving up plays with up to 20 roles with a team of, say, just six.

But when it brought to life Crookback Dick (a jovial, chilling David Lee-Jones) at this particular venue, there was a special pathos. For this was the Bosworth Battlefield, near Sutton Cheney, Leicestershire, the place that (reputedly) the 15th century tricky Dicky bought his lot.

Bosworth is a super, intimate venue - grassy and sloping, nicely tucked around the Visitor Centre; and this was another galvanising Festival Players production: an again all-male, six-man Midsummer Night's Dream, produced by accomplished actor-director Dyer (formerly of Minack Theatre fame) with a remarkably tight hand - yet in such a way that his young cast, apprentices, one might call them, have latitude to stamp their sparky personalities upon sometimes three roles at a time.

Their genial Bottom, Giles Stoakley is also the roadie who keeps the show on the move – and the number of venues the ensemble visits, unpacking, setting up and packing up again after every show, is almost frightening: indeed they cover virtually all the UK (though the South East, curiously, gets short shrift).

Kyle Horne is a striking and credible Demetrius while Christopher Mark turns his Helena into a wickedly colossal bore

Stoakley's impressive Egeus (the mythical Aegeus, a role nicely pumped up by assuming that of major-domo Philostrate) and very presentably, unusually upper-middle-class Bottom (are Weavers perhaps one up the ladder above Carpenters and Leather-dealers?) produce delicious moments: not just when Pyramus is endlessly refusing to die (no exchange with the courtiers, but he somehow makes up), but in the donkey's head scenes, not least when he is Fairy-fanned.

Those Fairies run off with the laurels, not so much because of agreeable James Sanderson's slightly under defined Oberon. Sanderson gets the play off to a resplendent start as Theseus opposite Christopher Mark.. The latter Hippolyta verges on tiresome, but not as much as his Helen(a), whom Marks masterfully turns into a colossal bore while managing to make the interminable lovers' tiffs interesting.

Christopher Finn's quick-change Puck is one treasure of the Fairy crew, and his high-pitched Hermia is also a joy, never setting a foot wrong. If this staging has pace, it's not least because Finn is such a deft MC, brisk, endlessly entertaining and strikingly diverse and clever in range. Some actors, even young ones, can hold audiences in the palm of their hand, and Finn looks like one.

But even Puck got upstaged, just, by Mark's reappearance in role three, as Mustardseed, feyly diverting every time he appeared; and by Joel Daffurn (a good workaday Lysander, later a divinely wet Flute/Thisbe, and here a charming, graceful Peaseblossom). Both this Fairy duo and Oberon gain from some eerily expressive, gilt Greek masks, by Hannah Ruddock, which simply oozed mystery and  atmosphere.

But one was caught on the hop by the arrival of the real diva and star of this tautly worked, wittily entertaining show.

Kyle Horne proffers a brittle, rather striking Demetrius, contriving to make a lover's (or despiser's) role that can seem tedious and ponderous quite cogent and credible.

Giles Stoakley as Bottom transform'd, a role once played by James Cagney in the 1935 movie incidentally, with Kyle Horne as the fairy queen, Titania

But it is when Horne resurfaces in the most expressive, evocative, ambiguous gold mask of all, as an astonishingly sensual, pliable Titania fusing sexiness and a strange, gossamer, childlike purity and innocence, that one is simply gobsmacked. The passivity, one might even say attainability, of him/her acquiescing in, treasuring, eliding into others' (whoever's) embrace, the silken elasticity Horne invests waist and neck, thigh and shoulder with, melt one away.

It is as if the strangely elusive, desirable oriental ‘changeling boy' whom Oberon so dotes on, like some fledgling Miles to his knowing Peter Quint, is merged into Titania: as if Titania herself might almost – one must emphasise the almost, for this like the play is a tentative fancy - be a boy, and donkey-dong Bottom no more than ‘her' piece of rough trade.

One has seen many a lustable-after Titania in Shakespeare, and not least in Britten's opera – few more than the delectable Rebecca Bottone for British Youth Opera. But Horne K, consciously or not, poses more questions about identity and inclination than many another I can recall.

This is before one praises the superlatively funny mechanicals' play (to which Horne contributes a ludicrous unlikely Snug/Lion). Sanderson again sets the tone with his classic, desperately aspiring, managerial Quince. Finn, abetted by uncredited late night moonshine lighting, is an amusing though perhaps not ideally cast Starveling. Mark's Snout/Wall is a hoot, and the props clever and deliciously old fashioned: most looked to be fashioned out of hay.

But the joy here is Daffurn's Thisbe – Flute is a dangerous role, for such expectations are placed on Thisbe it is easy to foul up. No danger here. Clamping himself, knotting himself round Stoakley's spacious prostrate body, Daffurn manages to be sexy too, turning the Greek mini-drama into something of a parody of the main events. Given that can often seem funny but semi-detached, this is no mean feat for an actor.

And it's this kind of stringy detail that makes Dyer's scrupulously well-orchestrated production a joy at every turn. Johnny Coppin's song settings are steeped in the kind of Renaissance and pre-Renaissance folk tradition these yokels might have known and sung had this been 14th century and not eleventh century BC. They could have warbled them better, their spoken delivery being so superlative, but Coppin is such a master of creating modern-folk fusions that all the music – a little more might have been nice - sounded gloriously apt.

I had not heard of the Festival Players Company prior to this. But I shall make sure I catch their future stagings. With a tour as extensive as this, it would be difficult not to stumble across them in any part of the country. If they're a tenth as good as this, I shall be amply rewarded.

Touring with Romeo and Juliet to Sunday 18 August. Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors will follow in 2014.  www.thefestivalplayers.org.uk

Roderic Dunnett

 

MIDLAND DATES
Sun 11 Aug Langar Hall, Langar, Notts NG13 9HG  01949 860559
Tues 13 Aug Cogges Manor Farm, Church Lane, Witney, Oxon OX28 3LA  01993 772602
Thu 15 Aug Swan Theatre, Worcester. WR1 3EF  01905 611427
Fri 16 Aug Jewry Wall Museum, St Nicholas Circle, Leicester LE1 4LB  0116 253 2569
Sun 18 Aug 2013  Hall's Croft, Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon  07880 934 805
80 934 805


CHECK TIMES BEFOREHAND

For Romeo and Juliet dates see www.thefestivalplayers.co.uk


(IMPENDING DATES - GLOS)

Thu 4 July The New Inn, 16 Northgate Street, Glos GL1 1SF  01452 522177
Thu 11 July The Manor, Frampton Court Estate, Frampton on Severn, Glos GL2 7EP  01452 740698
Sat 20 July Swinhay House, Swinhay Lane, Wotton-Under-Edge, Glos GL12 7PQ

www.utea.org.uk

Fri 9 Aug Woodchester Mansion, Nympsfield. Glos GL10 3TS  01453 861541

Sat 10 Aug Winterbourne Court Farm Barn, Church Lane, Winterbourne, South Glos BS36 1SE  01454 772285 

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