People’s Theatre, Newcastle.
This play, by resident writer Alison Carr, is a response to the RSC’s ‘Open Stages’ project, which invited non-professional companies to stage a play around Shakespeare in a ‘different’ way. It looks at the story of the lovers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream – particularly Helena.
The play – a promenade performance which takes place in various locations in the theatre which would otherwise not be open to the public – is in three parts. To begin with we see Helena and Hermia as young teenagers, meeting a young man in a bar on a blind date. Part two is a version of Shakespeare’s telling of the lovers in the wood, and part three shows us a solitary Helena, 20 years after that dreamlike night in the forest, and the effect it has had on her.
All three parts have different actors, suitably cast for the age of their characters. The three young actors in part one did a very good job of opening the show in the theatre’s green room bar. Grace Dickson as Helena and Matt Aldridge as the ‘Lad’ nicely played the awkward nervousness of a blind date.
For part two the audience was lead to the stage for the scene in the forest. A simple yet effective lighting design worked wonderfully to evoke the atmosphere of a cold dark forest. Kelly Godfrey stood out for me in this section, portraying the feisty passion of Hermia with great skill. Sam Hinton also gave a dependable performance as Demetrius.
Finally, we were taken down some stairs to the dressing rooms for the final part of the promenade performance, and here we were met with an interesting dilemma. The monologue was being performed in two separate rooms by two different actresses, and we had to choose which one to see. I wondered if there was a meaningful or creative reason behind the decision to play it this way, but it seems it was purely down to practicalities. The production team had decided it was to take place here in the dressing rooms, and as they could only fit half of the audience capacity into one room they would have to put on two simultaneous performances.
This was the only real gripe I have with the production, to be honest. I hadn’t been able to experience the whole package which meant I came away feeling slightly short changed.
That aside, this final piece was the strongest of the whole production. The writing was lyrical and poetic, and the performance (I saw Moira Valentine) was skilled and really quite moving. It cleverly yet simply tied everything together to produce a satisfying and thought-provoking outcome to the whole story.
This is an interesting production at the People’s, and one that is worth seeing.
(originally posted 17 April 2012)