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

All I have to do is Dream: Elvie Broom, left, as Puck, all drapes, drainpipes, brothel-creepers, quiff and D.A. tells of his latest mischief to the King of the Teds, sorry, Fairies, Oberon,  played by Richard Ham.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Sutton Arts Theatre


THE amateur stage never ceases to surprise in the depth of quality it can produce and Sutton Arts have managed a little gem here.

Shakespeare is not the easiest for any company, professional or amateur, but director Debbie Loweth has made it all look all so simple in this entertaining comedy linking the lives of  Athenian high society, the ‘rude mechanicals' from the working men's' club and the fairies in the forest.

I would say it was a modern dress version, except Robin Goodfellow, or Puck, chief mischief maker of the fairies, and Oberon, King of the Fairies, were both dressed as rather flashy teddy boys which is not exactly modern but is certainly 400 years or so more modern than doublets and hose.

The Elfish Elvie Broom, as Puck, has a mischievous, cheeky look about her and adds a nice touch with a Scouse accent. Richard Ham, meanwhile, is working a double shift as he also plays Theseus, Duke of Athens, which does involve twice as many words to learn and some quick changes.

Not that he is alone mind, Elena Serafinas has to be in and out of frocks just as fast as Hippolyta, bride to be of Theseus, and Titania, Queen of the fairies.

It is the impending wedding of Theseus which hangs the whole tale together as Hermia, Suzy Donnelly, is in love with Lysander, Tomos Frater, who in turn loves her, but she is ordered by her world-weary  father Egeus, played by Richard Kemp, to marry Demetrius, played by Dexter Whitehead, who also loves her although she hates him, while Helena, Michelle Dawes, is in love with Demetrius, who hates her.

Are you keeping up at the back?

Into this mix we add Oberon and Puck and a secret love potion and Oberon's attempt to make Demetrius love Helena, which would have worked - had Puck not administered the potion to the wrong lover . . . but then again the course of true love never did run smooth.

Puck working his magic and mischief in the lives of our mere mortal lovers keeps and eye on the sleeping Hermia, played by Suzy Donnelly

The quartet of lovers – and haters – are just superb particularly in the fight scenes as Hermia and Helena go at each other hammer and tongs, scattering Lysander and Demetrius across the stage in all directions. Don't we just love a good catfight with hair pulling and the lot?

It is a long scene but they made it seem fast and furious with never a stutter or hint of hesitation with Lysander and Demetrius looking as if they were genuinely struggling to keep them apart.  All good stuff – and then we had the two male love rivals in rutting mode, strutting their stuff in so you think you are hard do you? mode threatening each other menacingly with flick knives – although, in true bloke way, not quite menacingly enough to actually get hurt.

While all this is going on over at the Wheeltappers and Shunters, carpenter Peter Quince, played in a resigned, vague way by Robert Alexander, is organising - in its loosest sense - his group of artisans into possibly the world's worst theatrical company as they set about mangling the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, or Thisbouyee as Tom Snout the tinker tells us when playing the wall. As with Elvie's Scouser Puck, Aimee Hall added interest to the part with the broadest of Black Country accents - and a penchant for munching an endless supply of sandwiches from her lunchbox - as well as displaying all the stage presence of . . . well a wall. The oft quoted line is that a good actor is someone who remembers their lines and does not bump into the furniture. Tom Snout remembered his lines.

Helping the mechanicals cause is Bottom, who in truth is a bit of a pain in the . . . bottom. Not only does he want to play every part in the play but claims he can do every one brilliantly. Patrick Richmond-Ward gives him an unbounded enthusiasm and some nice touches, such as adjusting his false moustache with a flourish during the final performance when Bottom's acting brings new meaning to the phrase truly dire.

Matching him is Francis Flute the bellows mender, who could well be Crossroad's Benny's long lost son, played by Richard Aucott.  The slow-witted Flute has to play Thisbouyee  - which could be an alternative reason as to why Pyramus went and topped himself, who knows?

Love is . . . a long pair of fluffy ears . . . Titania, Queen of the Fairies sooths the ass-headed Bottom , Patrick Ricmond-Ward, watched by Peaseblossom (left) Dan Payne, and Cobweb, played by Richard Aucott

While they are rehearsing at night in the forest, ill met by moonlight as Shakespeare would have it, a forest, incidentally, which must have been about as crowded as the Bull Ring on the first day of the sales, Bottom ends up with an ass's head, thanks to Puck.

 Titania then falls in love with bottom, but that is more thanks to Oberon and his magic potion than the fine qualities of Bottom's ass so to speak, all of which gives us an amusing sideline.

A special mention for Josh Sood who was responsible for the two songs, a sort of Andrew's Sisters or Inkspots version of Shakespeare ditties, the first sung admirably by Louise Farmer, who played Robin Starveling, who in turn played moonlight, and fairy Moth – that part just flew by (sorry couldn't resist it).

The second was from Dan Payne who played Snug, who in turn played the Lion, and fairy Peaseblossom. Both songs had Aimee Hall, fairy Mustardseed, and fairy Cobweb, Richard Aucott, as the backing.

There is no credit for set design in the programme but whoever it was deserves a pat on the back. The set is simple, stark, flexible and largely black with no curtain and no change of scene taking more than a few seconds opening with a sort of seedy 50s night club, which can change to the working men's' club in an instant or swivel into a forest with just a push, jelped by a slick stage crew while lighting by David Ashton worked well.

It all helped to keep the action moving and probably have us a more authentic performance than some of the elaborate sets sometimes employed these days.

The play within a play as the rude mechanicals discuss their parts with Peter Quince, (Robert Alexander), left, Nick Bottom, Snug, (Dan Payne), Robin Starveling, (Louise Farmer), Tom Snout, fiiting in a light snack (Aimee Hall) and Francis Flute (Richard Aucott)

The Lord Chamberlain's Men, Shakespeare's company, had little in the way of scenery when they first gave the dream to the public around 1595 and, remember, Elizabethan actors often performed their plays in what was then very much modern dress.

If there is a fault with this dream it is perhaps in the performance of the play within a play which, although great fun, could perhaps benefit from an injection of a little more pace but that is a minor quibble in a production which can boast an excellent cast and is a delight to watch. To 30-06-12.

Roger Clarke 

Dashed dreams . . .

SHAKESPEARE did not figure highly in the Clarke household when I was a child – apart from one play, which reached legendary proportions . . . A Midsummer Night's Dream.

When my late father was a teenager, like most teenage lads in the 1930s, he was a huge fan of American gangster films. The idea of the films was to show crime did not pay with the gangster getting his comeuppance in the final reel in a violet death at the hands of law and order.

So much for theory. The likes of George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G Robinson, Paul Muni and ol' dirty rat himself, Jimmy Cagney, became heroes in a Britain struggling through recession. Talking about the latest gangster films, discussing who would win between, say, Edward G and Raft, or even better, dressing, talking and wisecracking like a Hollywood gangster – that was something to make life a little more exciting in a drab Britain with its high unemployment and take it or starve wages.

Thus it was that when the latest Jimmy Cagney film came out with stars including comedian Joe E Brown, which guaranteed a laugh, and Micky Rooney, my father and his mates, and many more gangster fans it must be said, flocked to the local flea-pit for another violent prohibition epic of mobsters against the world . . .

Except Cagney was playing Bottom and Rooney Puck in Max Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Apparently the evening was not classed as a stunning success as my father reminded everyone at any opportunity for the rest of his life.

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