A Midsummer Night's Dream : Reviewed by Paul Richards

Stafford Borough Council presents the Stafford Shakespeare Festival’s production of 

A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream
by William Shakespeare

Directed by Peter Dayson

Thursday 28 June - Saturday 14 July 2001 - Open Air at Stafford Castle - Box Office 01785 254653     


Toyah Willcox as Titania and Hippolyta
Paul Henry  as Bottom
Paul Fox  as Lysander
Chloe Newsome as Puck
Sarah Hadland    as Hermia
Tim Faulkner  as Theseus and Oberon 
Gina Isaac as Helena
Matt Blair as Demetrius

Well, in the 80’s she was called the Princess of Punk.  Last year she played the Wicked Queen in the pantomime Snow
White. But this time Toyah really excels herself by playing  TWO queens in this new production of the unique
Shakespearean fairy tale.  She is not only Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons (!) but also Titania, Queen of the Fairies
and wife of Oberon. 

As the publicity notices say, Stafford Shakespeare Festival brings together a wealth of theatrical talent from film,
television and theatre, in a festival with a reputation for high standards and artistic and box office success. And this
year is no exception. And what a better location for such a production than the English countryside on a balmy summer evening? Soon we are there with the characters, in Athens and in the nearby woods, their costumes based on Edwardian and Victorian designs. Needless to say, the fairies dressed as fairies.  

Briefly, here is a resume of the plot -

Theseus, Duke of Athens, is to marry Hippolyta.
Hermia is in love with Lysander, but Hermia’s father wants her to marry Demetrius.

Hermia and Lysander elope.   But Hermia has confided in Helena who is herself in love with Demetrius.
Helena betrays the couple to Demetrius in the hope of winning his affection.

OK so far?    Good. 

IN THE WOODS  Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the Fairies quarrel. Oberon revenges himself on
Titania by casting a spell on her which will make her fall in love with whoever/whatever she sees upon waking. His
loyal servant Puck assists by administering the magic.    

MEANWHILE Demetrius and Helena - who are searching for Hermia in the woods - argue. Oberon decides to help
Helena by sending Puck to put the love-spell on Demetrius.   Hermia and Lysander lie asleep in the woods.  Puck
mistakenly puts the spell on Lysander , who wakes, sees Helena and falls in love with her. 

THEN Puck plays a joke on a workman named Bottom by giving him an ass’s head.  Bottom and his colleagues 
rehearse their amateur dramatics in the woods.  Queen Titania wakes and falls in love with him!

PUCK then puts the love-spell on Demetrius who also falls in love with Helena!

Still with me?   So the scene is set for much fun and fairy frolicking in the woods .  Eventually after much confusion,
accusation, conflict, spell reversal and general sorting out, all is well with everyone being matched up correctly to the
one they love. 

Demetrius marries Helena 
Hermia marries Lysander
Theseus marries Hippolyta
All are blessed by the reconciled Oberon and Titania

The workmen perform their play at the celebrations. It is an hilarious disaster.

Well of course there really is a lot more to it than that, but how much time and webspace do you have!?

Lasting almost 3 hours (including a 25 minute break) the performance I attended on June 30 was enjoyed by a packed
house of over 800 people.  A steep 10 minute walk from the car park to the hill-top Stafford Castle brought me to the
tiny temporary theatre, consisting of 3 small but smart scaffolding grandstands each with it’s own tiered seating,
canvas roofing, lighting towers etc.  These structures surround on 3 sides the marvellous - and extensive - woodland
set designed by Barry Smith. Included are a real stream with a bridge, some 3 feet tall giant toadstools, a huge tree
with spreading branches and a secret door, and many items of greenery and general magic forest bits and pieces. 

Toyah first appears as Hippolyta, hair pulled loosely back and wearing a figure hugging full length black and white
dress. Very formal and regal.  Before long she is back, in the major role of Titania, elbow length blond hair spilling in
large amounts over the front of  her beautiful light blue fairy queen dress. Full length once again, with many fairy
adornments, feathers, and with hip high slits over each leg.  Very sleek and teasing.  Obviously relishing the role,
Toyah’s immense stage presence is instantly noticeable.  She has said that she finds the language of Shakespeare
‘divine’, and she pours it forth with  passion and intensity.  She is the future wife of and great support to Theseus.  An annoying, obstinate and misbehaving wife to Oberon. A much loved and cherished queen to the gentle fairies who care for her. And a lustful lover for dear Bottom. 

Some wonderful comedy ensues between Toyah and Bottom, alias Paul Henry .  This is a far different Paul Henry
from the man remembered as ‘Benny’ in the original Crossroads soap.  A crafted actor with tremendous timing  and
domination who makes the role of Bottom his own.  They both have us in stitches, and spontaneous applause is drawn on several occasions.  

Toyah plays her roles with enthusiasm and panache, revealing once again what a multi-dimensional talent she is. 
Clearly on top form she sweeps around the stage set. She growls, purrs, giggles, and even wriggles as she shows
comic timing of brilliance as her love affair with Bottom develops into bawdy fun.  The desire for his attention is
clear as you feel the chemistry of desire in her voice.  Again, applause from the appreciative among us.

Paul Henry receives much applause at the finale, with only Toyah receiving more - noticeably more in fact, and draws a large cheer from the grateful playgoers. 

All in all a good night for all involved both on and off the stage. And a good night for The Bard too, whose work will
clearly last forever as long as such excellent productions exist. And a very good night for Ms Willcox.               
Oh, and our very own  fireworks display above the castle as we left the theatre.    

Is it really only scheduled for 16 performances?      

Thank you Toyah.    

Paul Richards.   Your man in Stafford.  

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