Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


In rehearsal: Bottom (Graham Underhill) with three Fairies (Sharon Sully, Linda Smith-Blain and Judy Wellicome)

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The Talisman Theatre



‘Shakespeare’s most popular evergreen comedy’, proclaimed the programme for this eminently enjoyable Talisman show. The production, by Chris Carpenter, is indeed evergreen: it’s mostly stylish, skilfully cast, here and there comes up with a deliciously inventive idea, sensibly moved, and never ceases to be thoroughly entertaining.

But amid glimpses of Mendelssohn, the one thing that absolutely stood out about this cast was the quality of the diction. Theseus’s elegant first utterances (Phil Spencer) set the tone for the whole evening. The Fairies, the embattled Lovers, the ‘rude’ Mechanicals all enabled the lines to shine.

It’s a rare and pleasant experience to find verse speaking quite so articulate and polished in amateur theatre, and it bespeaks much for the intelligence and perceptiveness of not just a handful, but all the actors, constructively coaxed by Carpenter. To hear Shakespeare, with all its subtlety, as well spoken as this at a ‘local’ venue is a treat indeed. If anything shone at the Talisman above all, it was surely this.

There was no doubting the star amongst this gently talented cast. Nick Doughlin’s glorious Puck, wonderfully alive but not overstated, effortlessly teasing the audience, and brilliant in his every gesture, ruled the stage and took the laurels: especially amusing, cleverly - and subtly so - when his mistake and mix-up with regard to the lovers is revealed. What a joyous personality; what a pure delight: a scamp of a performer.


Nick Doughlin’s glorious Puck, the star of the show

The entry of the mechanicals for ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’ or ‘Very Tragical Mirth’ was a joyous giggle. Kerry Frater presided admirably as a well-designed Quince, endlessly put upon, long suffering but always bouncing back. Heaven knows what Jason French’s fluttery Starveling was up to in the early scenes, but his turn with lanthorn and thornbush and cute white dog was an unexpected pleasure, enhancing the Mechanicals’ play. Snug was a bit too weedy, but then made an enjoyable Lion in suitably lunatic headgear.

The cast’s other real star, an absolute hoot, was Colin Ritchie’s Flute (a plumber, not a bellows mender; Snug became a baker). It’s a hilariously written part, not hard for any performer with nous to make something of, but this was a scrumptious Flute who had the audience, and me, in absolute stitches. Having peered through Wall’s v-sign chink

- Snout/Wall (Dawn Morris) and Snug/Lion (Rachel Rathbone) were both cast as women - the text adapted accordingly), Thisbe in waving her sword gets her suitably ridiculous wig in a twist, her whole bizarre attire in a muddle, and (being bald amid the mayhem) gives us side-splitting laughs. Ritchie could scarcely been bettered in a professional production.

Others shone in the usual way: Graham Underhill was indeed a ‘Bully’ Bottom, a big presence, agreeably bossy and Brummie and blustering, inventive and shrewd, cockily diverting. The Fairies, mostly three fairly well-endowed ladies, cavorted cheerfully and artfully.

When Theseus and Hippolyta (Kathy Buckingham) emerge in hunting gear, he nattily clad in a gleaming scarlet, she in a riveting black and white tinged outfit, one was suddenly alerted to how fine a job the costumes department had done; the green girl fairies (and Cobweb, Laurie Weston, a boy) being a good example.

Ben Wellicome had a decent crack at Oberon, his speaking of ‘I know a bank’ splendid even though his stage presence, even perched on a ladder, might have been heightened and sharpened. Titania’s (Sam Harris) glorious scene is of course that with Bottom wearing the donkey’s head. In a delightfully laid-back way, the pair excelled, her speaking a match for his.

All in all, this was an attractive, deftly done production, with a functional set and apt lighting, thoroughly cheerful, in which the lovers’ tiffs, acute puzzlement and confusions had a welcome tinge of humour too. Henri West’s Lysander was for me the best speaker of the four, but all (including the girls in knickerbockers) had gifts. David Earle was a burly, rightly Capulet-type as a paterfamilias Egeus.

Yes, there were intermittent weaker moments, where different members of the cast needed a wise bit of directorial tightening, yet slightly gratuitous to point out individually. But this amiable and reasonably competent team worked well together, and one relished their ups and downs.

Roderic Dunnett


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