REVIEW: Lovers, actors and pranksters head into the forest for some midsummer magic

Bottom (Tom Hounsham) with Titania (Tess Kennedy) and the fairies. Picture by Sam Taylor
Bottom (Tom Hounsham) with Titania (Tess Kennedy) and the fairies. Picture by Sam Taylor

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Horsham Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society (HAODS), The Capitol, Horsham, August 12

A big part of life in Britain is knowing that you’re not going to get much of a summer.

Demetrius (Chris Dale) and Helena (Alicia Marson). Picture by Sam Taylor

Demetrius (Chris Dale) and Helena (Alicia Marson). Picture by Sam Taylor

Keeping this in mind usually encourages us to make the most of it and we head outside to enjoy the weather.

However, a summer celebration doesn’t necessarily have to take place outdoors as HAODS prove with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Having performed the show in Horsham Park’s Human Nature Garden in July the group has taken it into The Capitol’s Theatre for a few nights and it still feels very bright and breezy.

Shakespeare’s complex comedy tells the story of four Athenian lovers and their magical adventure in the forest.

Hermia (Daisy O'Sullivan) and Lysander (David Veitch). Picture by Sam Taylor

Hermia (Daisy O'Sullivan) and Lysander (David Veitch). Picture by Sam Taylor

Hermia’s (Daisy O’Sullivan) father wants her to marry Demetrius (Chris Dale) but she’s in love with Lysander (David Veitch). Helena (Alicia Marson) is in love with Demetrius but Demetrius can’t stand her. Hermia and Lysander decide to run away together and Helena tells Demetrius of the plan, hoping to win his affections.

Meanwhile, the King and Queen of the fairies, Oberon and Titania (Andrew Donovan and Tess Kennedy), are having an argument and a group of talentless actors (including the dim-witted Bottom) are rehearsing for a play.

Everyone ends up in the same forest and events spiral out of control when Oberon and his favourite prankster Puck (Roz Hall) get their hands on a love potion and decide to have some fun with the humans and Titania.

Lysander falls in love with Helena, Demetrius falls in love with Helena too and Titania falls in love with Bottom who has had his head transformed into that of a donkey.

Titania and the fairies. Picture by Sam Taylor

Titania and the fairies. Picture by Sam Taylor

In short: it’s a riot.

The biggest barrier that can block a modern audience’s enjoyment of Shakespeare is the old fashioned dialogue, which is notoriously tricky for actors to learn and for viewers to immediately grasp.

The HAODS performers all give good performances and handle the script skilfully, saying their lines as if they’re the most natural words they can find, making sure to convey their emotions in believable and understandable ways.

Alicia Marson gives Helena an amusingly deluded energy as her character madly pines after a man who hates her. It’s an exuberance that’s only matched by the hilarious Chris Dale as Demetrius. Newly besotted with Helena after being sprinkled with the powerful love potion, his ridiculous, wide-eyed devotion gets a huge laugh before he even says anything.

Roz Hall plays Puck with an appealing, child-like sense of mischief, while Andrew Donovan brings out his Oberon’s rather dark and malevolent streak. Moments of kindness shine through eventually though.

Daisy O’Sullivan adds a bit more realism to the wacky proceedings as Hermia, looking suitably bewildered as she goes from object of everyone’s affections to their target of scorn and derision. This is done in a comical way, of course, but it’s easily the meanest bit of comedy in the play.

That’s not to say that Bottom (played by the likeable Tom Hounsham) gets off lightly. His transformation into a donkey-headed monster is a hoot, but it’s a little disappointing that the donkey head is only represented by a wire and cloth frame. A fully detailed donkey head would have been funnier but, to be fair, it would probably have made the dialogue difficult to hear.

Overall though, the production looks beautiful, effectively combining vibrant costumes, lighting and song. The fairies are convincingly magical – colourful and dainty but otherworldly and strangely distant.

One particularly nice touch is the way the human characters appear increasingly bedraggled as they spend more and more time in the forest. Dresses are torn, shoes are lost and the humans end up a rather grubby and unpresentable lot.

The fairies, on the other hand, remain pristine and pretty, making it clear that the forest is their world and not ours.

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