Enjoying Midsummer Night at Witley Court
The front steps of Witley Court, backed by the ruined façade of the great mansion, was an inspired setting for this year’s Lower School Production, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ which opened on Midsummer Eve and ran for three nights this week. Freed of many of the trappings of a conventional stage, the young cast not only populated the huge space but also created a performance that did justice to Shakespeare’s original inspiration.
The empty plinths at the front doubled as locations in the wood and areas in Theseus’s palace, whilst the columns and steps created a series of varied entries and levels for the action. I was struck by the contrast between the obvious solidity of the stonework and the hugely energetic movements of the young cast as they animated their natural set. There were some striking dramatic images. For instance: the pucks, clothed in green, mischievously watching the betrothal of Theseus and Hippolyta, each in a different pose next to a pillar; the fairies in their delicate red dresses gliding across the steps; and the mechanicals hastily preparing to perform their play whilst the post marriage entertainment was being decided below. Costumes were a particularly strong part of this production, often providing a subtle splash of colour against the uniform grey background.
The young actors also seemed at ease with Shakespeare’s language. The dialogue flowed naturally, and the story was told with conviction and understanding. Considering that the first performance was also the first time that the full stage area had been used, there was an assurance about the use of space that was most impressive.
The characters were also well differentiated – Freddie Edmonds and Ethan Farmer were strongly contrasted as Demetrius and Lysander respectively, and ably complemented by Abi Timmington and Heini Hughes as Hermia and Helena. Zain Baig was a commanding Oberon who was equally well matched by Isabella Hulbert as Titania. The Mechanicals, the workmen of Athens, created some memorably comic moments, which were carefully timed; their performance in front of Theseus left the audience hoping for more of their comedy. Kathryn Shaw played Bottom and was appropriately domineering in the role, and, without exception, each of the mechanicals had their own special traits that attracted both laughter and appreciation. The Athenians, along with the rest of the Fairy Kingdom and Titania’s loyal fairies, were equally convincing and integral to the whole.
The success of this production was also due to a large number of people who worked tirelessly in the background to ensure the smooth running and professionalism of a performance in what is after all an English Heritage property. Nevertheless, Mr Morgan, who had the original idea in the first place, deserves our congratulations and gratitude for once again expanding our notions about the dramatic potential of students at RGS. Let’s hope that the summer weather continues so everyone can enjoy this rather special performance!
Anthony Clemit, Head of English