Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Wandle Park

By - Wednesday 30th July, 2014

Liz Sheppard-Jones is spellbound by the fun of fairyland in the Croydon Opera and Dramatic Association‘s outdoor production of Shakespeare’s magical comedy

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare.

Time: 7:45pm Wednesday 30th July – Saturday 2nd August, 2:30pm matinee on Saturday 2nd August

Location: the bandstand, Wandle Park, Croydon (two minutes walk from Wandle Park tramstop, ten minutes on foot from Croydon town centre)

Tickets: £10.00.

Thomas Skinner as Snout the Tinker, performing his role as brickwork in the Dream’s play-within-a-play
Photo by CODA, used with permission

Oh but I’m happy writing this. The whole point about Shakespearean comedy is that things come right in the end, and to live and work in Croydon as I do is to be surrounded by themes of transformation: our town centre, our public image, Wandle Park itself (from featureless field to riverside parkland complete with bandstand and café)… and now, the goings-on in the woods outside Athens. It might not all be magical in these parts, but making things different, better and happier is something that all Croydonians want. Now here’s a play about it.

This is a terrific production – light on its feet and gossamer-winged as the fairy attendants on Oberon and Titania. The play opens, of course, with a scene of quite shocking darkness, as a young woman who cannot accept her father’s choice of husband is threatened with death at the hands of the state. This horror is made believable by the performance of Charlotte Leonard as Hermia, frightened by her own boldness as she falls to her knees to plead with Duke Theseus – a ruler able and apparently willing to pass a capital sentence on her – for her right to marry the man she loves.

We’re going to run away! Hermia confides her romantic plans to Helena.
Photo by CODA, used with permission.

Leonard balances this with her skill as a comedienne – also realised when she returns to the stage as Snug the joiner, silliest of the mechanicals – and adds a delightfully feminist edge to her terror when abandoned in the woods by Lysander. Although she cries out close to swooning in an attempt to engineer a rescue, it’s clear from the way she briskly gathers herself once it’s apparent her boyfriend has done a runner that she’s not really the swooning type.

The other two performances that jump out at you are Leah Graham as a cheeky Puck – her gender adding a whole new dimension of playfulness to her relationship with King Oberon – and statuesque, graceful Sarah ‘H’ Gordon as both Hippolyta and Titania, queen of the fairies. Her beautiful singing voice and literal spell-binding ability (she stops Bottom in his tracks as he tries to leave her presence with some evidently very real magic) – adds an elven seriousness to her character, and you can readily imagine her returning to the Grey Havens with Gandalf and the crew.

The production uses the bandstand and the space around it with lively imagination. Puck searches energetically for the love-in-idleness plant in the shrubs of Wandle Park whilst other scenes continue on stage, and Titania slumbers on a bench by the bandstand under a giant moon before awakening to fall in love with Bottom. There’s audience participation: I was summoned from my seat to fill in as Peaseblossom, attending on Bottom in Titania’s bower, and huge fun it was – I love getting close to the energy of actors. The play jumps and sparkles around the audience on all sides and captures all the fun of fairyland.

Anna Howard as Helena and Starveling the tailor.
Photo by CODA, used with permission.

The mechanicals are worth a mention too, grounding the play in slapstick comedy mixed in with some real pathos, and Bottom/Pyramus, as you’d expect, steals the show. The theatre troupe’s preparatory exercises before the first rehearsal of Pyramus and Thisbe are genuinely hilarious.

The evening’s programme is worth a mention too, for its synopsis of a Shakespearean comedy that brings it wittily into our time and reaches out to some for whom the play might be a bit of a stretch – my thirteen year old son among them. A big well done to whoever wrote this.

Well done most of all to director Ellie Dawes and producer Peter Davis, for having the imagination to conceive of a play in Wandle Park and the skill to execute it so successfully. Peter Davis also mentions the support of Croydon Council, who responded so positively to the initial approach from CODA, and would like to thank the Parks Department for its support.

Night falls during the performance, the bandstand lights shine brighter and the river Wandle winds by. CODA has created a magical woodland glade in the middle of Croydon.

This show is a must-see. It’s on until Saturday night, 2nd August, and there’s a matinee on Saturday too. Turn melancholy forth to funeral – go and get tickets.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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