The Garden Suburb Theatre (GST) is a friendly and welcoming amateur theatre company.

We are a registered charity promoting involvement in the Dramatic Arts in North London. We welcome anyone who wishes to learn more about drama, either by participating in or coming to watch one of our diverse programme of shows.

Review

'Midsummer Night’s Dream' and open air, two things that go together like Tom and Jerry, Laurel and Hardy, England and bad weather! Any company that performs out in the open is already taking on a very risky project and this year’s weather has given no unexpected reassurances. This week has seen the weather range from blazing sunshine to torrential downpours, so as I set off to North London to see Garden Suburb’s production of arguably Shakespeare’s most famous comedy I was more than a little apprehensive.

My first challenge was finding the venue. Although as I child I visited family in Hampstead Garden Suburb regularly, my familiarity with the area disappeared the further I wandered along the Finchley Road and perhaps deciding to take the scenic route through a rabbit warren of suburban houses, hoping for a trip down memory lane, was not the most sensible idea. However, a number of friendly natives pointed me in the right direction and in fact the discreet nature of the venue, hidden as it was in a small wood, meant that you already felt as if you were being transported into a slightly magical kingdom. Called Hampstead Garden Suburb’s best kept secret, this little clearing in a wood is ideal for a production of The Dream and I felt as if, like Bottom, I had entered a ‘little brake’ from which to observe the proceedings until I received my final cue from Puck to awaken from my slumber and give her my hand.

In order to cater for a very young cast, the director, Steven Maddocks, decided to rewrite the story and make it as accessible as possible for both young performers and a potentially young audience. An excellently designed programme made the storyline clear, so that when the play began, and great swathes of scenes in Athens and with the lovers had been replaced with choreographed dance, we could still follow the plot. However all the key scenes remained and so we enjoyed seeing love potions muddled, cat fights in the woods and mechanicals being transformed into donkeys.

Perhaps one of the most creative moments was the transformation of the lovers from adults to children. Disappearing behind the ‘brake’ the lovers all reappeared as miniature versions of themselves. For those of us who know and love the play, Hermia’s comment, 'Methinks I see these things with parted eye,/When every thing seems double' was already ringing little bells and helped to make the scene even more magical. Steven Maddock had also increased the number of fairies (renamed elves) and goblins to give more children opportunities to perform. A confident little band, they danced their way around a rather muddy stage, gamely attempting not to slip over. Perhaps their dance scenes could have been slightly shorter as some of the choreography did appear slightly repetitive.

The four children, who played the key roles of Hermia, Lysander. Helena and Demetrius were exceptional. Shakespeare is often killed at school by being read around the room by children who struggle with the language, let alone the metre and phrasing; Daniel Kohn, Zoe Street, Oscar Maddocks and Maya Mills nailed the language and the characters. In fact all the children seemed comfortable with the lines as they were divided up and shared in an excellent attempt to ensure that each performer had an opportunity to shine. Although some were clearly more natural performers than others, their delivery was faultless and clearly Garden Suburb Theatre have some great talent amongst their young people.

Some of the adults in comparison appeared a little less comfortable with the Shakespearian language and occasionally some performers appeared to be concentrating so hard on remembering the lines that they forgot to act and were a little stilted in their performance. Clearly the confidence of youth took away the inhibitions of the youngsters, whilst the language appeared more daunting to the adults.

The part of Bottom, however, played by Mark Overall, was everything we expect to see. Brash, bold and full of his own self-importance, he took over the space and appeared larger than life and outrageously confident in his own self-belief. Also worthy of mention was Emma Pleass’s performance as the wall. Her great trust in falling backwards into Quince’s arms was one of my favourite moments.

Frances Musker, Teresa Poland and Diana Darrer are to be congratulated on some truly beautiful costumes. The lovers, both older and younger, looked stunning in their medieval-style dresses and the contrast between the mechanicals and court was evident in the quality of the fabric, although the white top under Quince's outfit seemed remarkably modern in comparison to the rest of the outfits. The woodland characters were resplendent as woodpeckers and butterflies and I particularly liked the way the Indian Boy was transformed with a woodpecker outfit, once he had been given to Oberon. The one thing that I felt was disappointing was the choice of footwear. Many of the costumes lost authenticity as a result of modern-style shoes.

The props and set were all beautifully co-ordinated, the brake and Titania’s bower were beautifully crafted and blended into the setting superbly, while the butterfly and woodpecker puppets created at different points a magical or threatening impression.

The English folk music added to the general atmosphere, as did the lighting. At first I was a little disappointed that there were coloured bulbs in the trees at the outset and I wondered why they were not held back to create a magical moment at the end. However, I was not disappointed with the last scene when the lighting designers, Frank Turnbull and Joe Solomons, managed to give us one final surprise.

As the lights flicked off one by one, leaving us in gathering gloom, the children speaking the final lines disappeared, only Martha Conroy-House remained as Puck to bid us all a final goodnight and with a click of her fingers plunge us back into the real world of drawing darkness.

A shared love of performing was evident throughout this very inventive production – definitely an example of Community Theatre at its best.

Review by Caroline Jenner

This is a review of A Midsummer Nights Dream

The original review is here: Sardines Magazine