Completing the Set

In a career which has seen him serve as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Ipswich’s Sir Trevor Nunn has directed all but one of Shakespeare’s plays.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream was, until now, the one to have evaded him.

The romantics amongst us may like to think that it was fate or the machinations of the spirits that contrived to bring him to the New Wolsey Theatre to direct Midsummer in the year in which we mark the 400th anniversary of the passing of The Bard.  For it was at the High Street Exhibition Gallery, now used as a rehearsal space by the New Wolsey, that a young Trevor Nunn staged his first Shakespearean production at the tender age of seventeen.

That this year is also the New Wolsey’s fifteenth birthday may have been fortuitous but staging the press night on midsummer’s eve was clever contrivance.

Lest you know not of Midsummer, it is a tale of forbidden love between mortals, confused by mischievous fairies prone to mistakes, played out against the backdrop of a touring troupe of part time actors keen to perform at a wedding.

The original play having been set in ancient Greece, Sir Trevor’s relocation of the action to India during the British Raj in no way detracts from the plot.  Indeed, it adds a modern framework which heavily underlines a core point – that Hermia must choose between a man she does not love and death.  For her father Egeus, it is a matter of honour that she marry one of her own cast, Demetrius and not the Englishman Lysander.

The fairies care not for where the play is set, for they are nymphs who frolic and play in other worldly places.   Puck’s narration, in the capable hands of Esh Alladi, was emphasised by his piercing eyes staring into the audience and daring you to contradict.

In a production with many highlights it was the opening scene of the second half that will remain with me.  Whilst Lysander (Harry Lister-Smith) and Demetrius (Assad Zaman) tiptoed about to gain advantage it was the ladies who went at it hammer and tongs in a brilliantly choreographed scene of confused lovers.  Imogen Daines played a wonderfully aristocratic Helena, slightly confused and the worse for drink, while Neerja Naik as the enraged Hermia, suddenly took over the theatre with a voice that belied her slight stature – it took both men to hold her back from inflicting damage on Helena.

But the genius in this production lies in casting The Mechanicals as a band of wandering Indian tradesmen bent on an acting career.  Kulvinder Ghir as Bottom was in his element.  An ever strong presence on stage, throughout the play his performance was underlined by the subtle nuances of the rest of the cast – Muzz Khan’s expressions as he played the Moon for example.  Oh and let us not forget Saikat Ahamed’s Wall – those bricks were so believably heavy.

And at the end there is a twist – not one that The Bard introduced, nor one I will spoil by telling here. For it is best discovered unexpectedly, as we did last night.   This is a wonderfully entertaining production of a well known and much loved Shakespearian play.  The boy from Northgate Grammar School has done Ipswich, and the New Wolsey proud.  Thank you Sir.

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