IT’S quite a coup for Bath Theatre Royal to get Phill Jupitus in his first Shakespearean role for the summer season, but in Laurence Boswell’s stylish production the charismatic comedian is one of a strong ensemble rather than the star turn.
New audiences, drawn by the promise of the Jupitus Bottom, walk into the beautiful theatre to see a stark stage over which is suspended a golden ring. It is Athens. There is loud drumming and as the lights go up the 15-strong cast is assembled and the action starts. Boswell’s work at the Ustinov Studio is well known to Bath audiences, and he sets his Dream on the cusp of change – the perfect place in this year of teetering uncertainty.
The domineering Egeus, often played as a bumbling Polonius of a father, is here a military monster, genuinely believing that he has every justification to demand his daughter Hermia’s death if she refuses to marry Demetrius (Wilf Scolding), his choice as her husband. Her preferred spouse is a willowy and pretentious Lysander (William Postlethwaite), while her schoolfriend Helena (Maya Wasowicz) is pining for Demetrius.
Hermia (Eve Ponsonby) and Lysander decide to run away, tell Helena of their plan, and she tells Demetrius, in the hopes of winning his favour
At the same time a band of Athenian tradesmen are preparing a play to perform for the Duke’s wedding. Both groups choose the same forest glade for their meeting/rehearsal.
But with nightfall comes fairytime, and lovers and actors fall prey to the malevolent Puck and his “mistakes” – in this production, fairy King Oberon’s familiar is more a peculiar, performed with physical contortions and colourful body paint by Simon Gregor.
Darrell D’Silva is a silver fox in the dual roles of Duke Theseus and Oberon, matched with determined spirit by Katy Stephens as warrior queen Hippolyta and fairy queen Titania.
With Phill Jupitus as the bombastic Nick Bottom the Weaver, audiences can be sure of high-powered comedy, particularly as Bottom bids to play ALL the characters in the play, a crude retelling of Pyramus and Thisbe devised by carpenter and director Peter Quince. His gently roaring lion is an adorable joy!
When Puck transforms our hero into a donkey, Mr Jupitus comes into his own, manufacturing ever louder and more hungrily lascivious brays as he marvels that the beautiful Titania seems to want his amorous attentions. It is hilarious.
No less is the confusion caused when Puck anoints his love potion on the eyes of the wrong lovers, and the abandoned Helena finds herself the target for both Lysander and Demetrius. Movement director Gary Sefton and choreographer Jenny Arnold have full rein for their talents in this fast and furious interlude, as Helena and Hermia take no prisoners in their furious responses.
But Oberon orders Puck to reverse his wicked spells, and it all comes right in the end, as the Duke overbears the petulant Egeus, played by Forbes Masson who dashes off to change into his Peter Quince garb for the performance of the “play”.
Oscar Batterham’s delightful Flute/Thisbe joins the other “rude mechanicals” – Ekow Quartey’s Snug, Vinta Morgan’s Snout and Gregory Gudgeon’s Starveling – to perform the play-within-a-play, as the newly-weds try to suppresss their giggles at a muscular wall, an iron lion and a sad moon with a dog on wheels.
All that with music and sound created by Jon Nicholls and performed by the whole cast and the beautiful voices of waiting women/fairies Melissa James and Natalie Winsor.
This dream is a true delight.
Some seats are still available during the run, which continues to 20th August
Photographs by Nobby Clark