7-16 May 2015
Reviewed by Louise Abbott
Situated in Southsea, just a few minutes walk from Gunwarf lies Groundlings Theatre – a building whose claim to fame was having Charles Dickens’ mother there almost giving birth to the great author (she rushed off to do just that at a house around the corner in Landport!). It boasts its own free parking, which is almost unheard of in Portsmouth, and has all major links into the city – bus, train, motorway and ferry, virtually on its doorstep making it very easy and painless to get to.
Just inside the entrance to the theatre is a seating area and a bar where one can buy snacks and drinks. The staff are friendly and welcoming and the atmosphere is pleasantly less formal than expected. Overall first impressions are good.
We were called for the show just before 7.30pm and made our way up the winding stairs to the stage area, which covers most of the upstairs part of the building. The first surprise is seeing the set. Obviously much work and imagination has gone into its creation. With trees and flowers and all other woodland effects and lighting the large stage is transformed into a beautiful forest scene which extends out into the audience. It’s all very unusual and provides for a much more intimate setting, really sucking you into the action. My only gripe here is that sitting at the front means that some of it is played out behind you, meaning you have to turn your head to see what’s going on, not ideal, but I think it’s a small negative on what is a commendable idea that most other theatres would do well to emulate.
I won’t go into details of the story (it would take far too long) suffice to say that this is a Shakespeare comedy where three main stories entwine. With such intricate plays, especially Shakespeare, there is always a tendency for interest to wane at times, for dialogue to sometimes get lost or for actors to lose focus, but here I was pleasantly surprised, and this, in the main part, is down to the very strong cast. Without good actors a Shakespeare play is a tedious thing but, thankfully here, the talent is abundant with some great performances. It really does make a difference when the actors can really act and the main characters in particular really bring the play alive.
Steve Arnold, from Coronation Street fame, plays ‘Bottom’. It’s his first attempt at a Shakespeare play and judging by this performance it won’t be his last. He shows a good range and engages with the audience well, which is nice to see and it is in the comic moments where he shines, adding touches that are very endearing, despite Bottom’s obvious flaws.
Leah Lloyd (Helena) and Scott Alexander (Lysander), add a reassuring level of professionalism to their parts and there are solid performances from Chevin Dash(Hippolyta), Margaret Coles(Philostrate) and Director Richard Stride (Oberon/Theseus).
Aaron Charles is simply fantastic as Demetrious, showing a great intensity to his acting, and Alice Osmanski is equally excellent as Hermia.
Stand out performance though has to go to Jack Tutt who plays three characters, Puck, Egeus and Peter Quince. His Puck, in particular, was absolutely delightful, with much face pulling and grimacing and his switch between characters was always believable. He is energetic and throws himself into the parts with obvious relish. His overall performance was nothing short of excellent throughout. The other supporting actors should also be congratulated on helping make the show what it is, with some well thought out sequences and tuneful singing thanks to Director Richard Stride and Musical Director Heather Uden.
Overall this was a much more enjoyable experience than I thought it was going to be. I am not a great Shakespeare fan but this is by far the best I have seen for quite some time. It’s a comedy, which helps, but it’s the strong performances and imaginative set design and sequences that lift this play above the mundane. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and whole heartedly recommend you go and see this while you can. Don’t be put off by it being Shakespeare. This is an excellent production and although you might not ‘get’ all the language it is really quite accessible and well worth watching.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at the Groundlings Theatre in Southsea until 16 May 2015. For more information or to book tickets visit www.groundlings.co.uk or call the box office on 02392 737 370.
Groundlings Theatre, 42 Kent Road, Portsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO1 3BS | 02392 737 370