A company celebrating it’s 15th year touring Shakespeare around the country’s stately homes and gardens, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men bring A Midsummer Night’s Dream both to life and to your door (if you happen to live in a stately home).
The particular stately home I watched at was Ham House and Gardens (which is a delight in itself – save for the constant hum of low flying jets). The interwoven story lines of lovers and actors lost in the forest were all played by an ensemble of just 7 men, and they were outnumbered at least 50 fold by their audience. Everyone arranged themselves in deck chairs, with picnics from home. Some of us (the lonely) read the programme, whilst others prelude the play with amateur dramatics of their own! This is the place to be if you like the sound of a picnic shopper listing all the types of cheese they have brought to others in their party. I once saw a Lord Chamberlain’s Men show which was book-ended by a speech from the lord of the manor, who had the cast awkwardly stand about as he misremembered all their names. The whole atmosphere takes the sting out of watching Shakespeare, which can be an intimidating prospect at times.
And yet, this is a straight up and down Shakespeare production. In a world where trimmings are the trend, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are a refreshing reminder that theatre can be carried by it’s acting. For reasons as much down to the speed at which the company hares about the country night after night (hang around a mere 5 minutes after the curtain call and watch the set be thrown into the back of a van in it’s entirety), the minuscule cast stands on a set the size of a postage stamp. The only set change comes in the form of a central curtain occasionally opening and closing – a dull prospect perhaps, but it’s done in such a wonderfully rhythmical way that I found myself strangely entranced.
The only real bit of assistance the cast gets from the set is the placement of Puck and Oberon above the back wall. They are onlookers in the madness of their causing and it works beautifully well.
The play being done almost verbatim, I hasten to add, doesn’t spoil the comedy. The lines which are written as funny make you laugh without being updated. Where there would otherwise be tweaks and modernisations to the script, the actors are able to make perfect physical comedy (I’m thinking of one specific moment near the end of the play, which I won’t spoil, but I will admit made me rock back on my deck chair enough for it to start folding up on me).
I have been seeing the Lord Chamberlain’s Men on and off for most of their last 15 years, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream did not disappoint. The acting and directing were in equal measure spectacular and simple, and the jokes were funny. You can’t ask a lot more of Shakespeare than this. Go, enjoy, bring deck chairs and scotch eggs from home.
- By William Shakespeare
- Directed by Peter Stickney
- Produced by The Lord Chamberlain's Men
- Cast includes: James Camp, Joshua Glenister, James Keningale, Maximilan Marston, George Readshaw, Will de Renzy-Martin, Alex Wilson
- The Lord Chamberlains Men
- Until 8 September 2019