Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream Review @MidsummerPAC

October 6, 2015

Review by Lucy Menon (Cardiff University alumna)

Produced By: Pontardawe Arts Centre
Directed By: Derek Cobley
Friday 2nd October 2015, Wales Millennium Centre

On Friday 2nd October 2015, a more Autumnal evening as opposed to a Midsummer one, twelve Welsh actors from the Pontardawe Arts Centre enthralled the audience of the Wales Millennium Centre with their interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Having studied it at school many Midsummer nights ago now, this particular play has always held a special intrigue for me and indeed, it is considered one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies. With a wonderful plot charting the events of what happens when the human world and fairy world crash into each other in the name of love and jealousy, Shakespeare creates an entertaining fiasco in which the audience can’t help but be swept along! The performance took place in the dance studio just behind the Millennium Centre which is a small venue and therefore instantly creates an intimate space: perfect for conveying magical and ethereal qualities. Audience members ranged from children to adults and there was barely a seat free which meant that this performance could be fully appreciated: I have seen several interpretations of this play but I can honestly say that this is one of the best.

The set design was minimal with two curtains of gauze, lit from the back with pale pink and green hues to start; a warmth was created for the court scenes through the use of red and orange, which later became blue and green and served to establish a colder, more eerie feel for the forest and fairy scenes. So often the disturbing qualities of the fairy world are sublimated into the comedy of the overarching theme of misdirection but I appreciated the malevolent spirits that were portrayed in this version and I felt that it captured more of Shakespeare’s original intent.

Whilst this can seem a light-hearted play with a happy ending, it is important to remember that it starts with a father who would rather agree to the death of his daughter than see her marry her choice of husband instead of his own, and a fairy King so jealous of a human child that he is willing to punish his wife in a cruel deception for her devotion. A disturbing patriarchy is at work here and the female characters are considered mere possessions, mocked, spurned and humiliated even to the point where they debase themselves! Chaos ensues as a result of mischievous, interfering fairies and even the resolution of the play is contrived through the use of potions, even if they are restoratives and the couples are in the “correct” pairs. Of course, there is humour to be derived from these situations too and Shakespeare’s witty lines were delivered with great comic timing but the actors also managed to maintain the desperation and misery that belies the surface entertainment. This is a tricky thing to convey and this is why I felt this production had more to offer than most.

Without having read the programme, throughout the performance, I jotted down the notes “accessible” and “excellently paced” which, as it turns out, were particular points which the company wished to emphasise in their interpretation. The lack of an interval also meant that the pace was able to build naturally and the tension to be carried through without interruption, which made for a more concentrated time span and thus a more intense performance. The cast conveyed emotion extremely convincingly through precise delivery of language which helped with understanding and drew out the humour of the lines. The cast doubled up on several characters (which is frequently the case) and I found that this worked well as it reinforced the parallels between the court and fairy world and emphasised how certain themes and characteristics are inherent in us all. Michelle McTernan (Titania/ Hippolyta) and Huw Novelli (Oberon/ Theseus) played the tensions present in both the courtly couple and the fairy couple very convincingly; this was perhaps particularly evident in the exchange over the Changeling Boy where it really did seem like a genuine domestic disagreement and struggle for power to be right. Helena (Alice White) managed to make her lines humorous but always kept a sense of the despair of her situation. She also used the stage space well as she pursued Demetrius (Jason Marc-Williams) and literally threw herself after him at points.

Movement was also key in this production with Puck’s (Louise Collins) motions deliberate and almost dance-like which contrasted with the sashaying of Titania and Oberon and the chaotic running of the Athenian couples. Puck would often crouch down and work on lower levels which emphasised the notion of mischievous nature at work. After Titania had been put to sleep, she remained on stage, covered by a green blanket, which blends into the idea of the forest and then the Athenians enter: the exchange between Hermia (Sophie Hughes) and Lysander (Rhys Warrington) is comical and the sexual tension played out against her virtue is evident. It is also a good way of showing how the human and fairy world converge as Titania remains present on stage throughout. The Mechanicals also enter this space so we have yet another layer intertwining which results in Titania falling in love with Bottom (Kevin Johns). Titania’s passion is well acted and her lust is comical especially when accompanied by a lot of braying from Bottom! The boyish bravado exhibited by Lysander and Demetrius when vying for Helena’s attention is extremely well played through the use of over-exaggerated theatrical movements such as preening and flexing muscles, pushing in front of each other, taking off jackets and trying to kiss her hand, and make for an amusing spectacle. When Hermia launches herself at Helena in a bid to scratch out her eyes, she is caught by the men and this also becomes a source of humour as she struggles to reach her quarry. The small nuances such as Titania jiggling Bottom’s stomach and him twitching his legs in excitement while he is laid next to her were great touches which served to add a reality to something so dream-like and was a nice addition to characterisation. The overlapping of the worlds continued by having the robed sprites come into the audience which was quite unsettling. Then, later, during the Mechanicals’ play, the couples also sat on the steps by the audience which enhanced the levels of intimacy and involved the audience directly, uniting us in the spectacle.

The Mechanicals
The Mechanicals are stereotyped as simple bumpkins and the heavy Welsh accents served to emphasise the humour in their lines with audience members laughing out loud at several points. The use of basic props such as a ladder, hamper and stool were put to good use and helped to draw out a more physical humour with the ladder being dropped on each other and later Puck climbs it and leans of Starveling (Douglas Grey) who is completely oblivious; this is a wonderful visual representation of the convergence of the two worlds. I feel a special mention should go to Sam Harding who played Flute/Thisbe: as one of the smaller roles of the Mechanicals, it is hard to make a presence when having to act next to Bottom but I felt he truly managed to bring out all of the humour possible in this role. With a risqué, low cut dress, a wonderful yellow wig arranged in pigtails and deliberate bad-acting in a high pitched voice, as well as looking awkward through over-acting physical stances, I felt that Thisbe really came alive! Bottom’s chuckles were infectious and had the audience in hysterics. James Scannell also made a marvellous Snout/Lion/Wall and managed to make such a minimal part something memorable. Also, having heard the phrase “Thanks, lovely wall” in a very heavy Welsh accent, the line will never quite be the same for me again! While there was the potential for the Mechanicals’ play to descend into something like a pantomime it continued to be well controlled and this made the overall effect a more believable one as it seemed like the Mechanicals genuinely cared about their production and that, as an audience, we weren’t just watching actors aware that they are playing wannabe actors.

The costumes were in keeping with traditional Elizabethan costuming and served to place the play in time. Often, in a bid to make it more accessible to a modern audience, companies will update to the extreme and lose inherent meaning – they could learn a lot from the Pontardawe Company who were not afraid to retain Shakespeare’s conventions. Reds and golds were used to represent the grandeur of Theseus and Hippolyta; blues and greens were used to clothe Oberon and Titania who also wore wreaths of peacock feathers as crowns which combined a regal arrogance with the natural world well; Puck was dressed in browns and greens to symbolise the natural world, down to an orangey hat which was reminiscent of an acorn; the other sprites were dressed in hooded robes which gave them a disturbing quality as opposed to the playful imps that are frequently portrayed in productions; the Athenian men were similarly clad in breeches and jackets but in opposite colour, Lysander in red and Demetrius in darker blue-black, which was useful in distinguishing them; the women had dresses with flowery patterns which helped to maintain the links with the natural world throughout and, at the end, they each wore a garland of white flowers in their hair after their marriages, which also reminded the audience of the fact that the juice of a flower was responsible for events; the Mechanicals were dressed in brown leathers and represented the working class well with Quince (Chris Morgan) dressed in black and white with a mortar board to give him an air of authority. Music also added to the atmosphere by incorporating whispering sounds which helped to depict a more sinister aspect to the fairy world and establish an ethereal quality. The cast then came together for the finale in which they danced to a traditional tune.

And finally…
The Pontardawe cast certainly did the play justice with a fully rounded production in terms of set design, clever costuming and, of course, polished performances that really emphasised the meaning and humour of Shakespeare’s word play and wit. A show well worth catching – it will be touring the following venues:

Tuesday 6th October at 7:30pm
Y Fyrness, Llanelli
01495 355800

Thursday 8th October at 7:30pm
The Metropole, Abertillery
01495 322510

Tuesday 13th October at 7:30pm
The Coliseum, Aberdare
01685 882380

Thursday 15th October at 7:30pm
Blackwood Miners Institute
01495 337206

Some production images are available from Titania here:



Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cardiff, Oct 2nd

October 1, 2015

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Produced by Pontardawe Arts Centre
Directed by Derek Cobley

At the Wales Millenium Centre, Friday Oct 2nd, 7.30pm

There is a reason why A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most popular and oft performed of Shakespeare’s comic plays.  It is brimful of fun; lovers galore, interwoven plots and endless twists and turns as mischievous and conspiring fairies lead us on a merry dance through the forest.  It is a quite fantastical piece exploring love, obsession and jealousy and set in a mysterious magical world in which anything can happen.

A superb play for the uninitiated and equally for the Shakespeare enthusiast.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to experience the thrill of Shakespeare’s words as a superb cast of twelve of the finest Welsh actors take us into the forest for the mayhem to commence.

Find out more here


Double Trouble: Macbeth comes to Cardiff, twice

September 30, 2015

Tickets: £12 Adult/ £8 Conc. BOOK NOW

The Pantaloons: Macbeth

This is not a story for the faint hearted. It’s the story of how old King Duncan died. It’s a story of murder and betrayal. It’s a story of supernatural sorcery. And it’s a story that’s going to be retold as you’ve never seen it before.

Taking their cues from film noir, gangland Britain and the clowning tradition (yes, really) the critically acclaimed Pantaloons Theatre company put their own contemporary spin on Shakespeare’s most dangerous play.

Tragic and hilarious in equal measures, this innovative take on ‘The Scottish Play’ (Macbeth) features female fatale, high-speed chases, killer lines, killer crimes, and some seriously weird sisters.


Friday 16 OctoberThursday 29 October, Chapter Cinema, Cardiff

Book Tickets

Macbeth (15)

UK/2015/113mins/15. Dir: Justin Kurzel. With: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, David Thewlis, Paddy Constantine.

Macbeth, a duke of Scotland and fearless warrior, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become king. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself, but he cannot escape his fate. A thrilling and visceral retelling of one of history and literature’s most compelling characters.

+ Join us for an introduction from Dr Ceri Sullivan, School of English, Communication and Philosophy at Cardiff University on Thu 22 Oct.

– See more at: http://www.chapter.org/node/34621#sthash.UwTp0Diq.dpuf


N-grams, Authorship and Influence: Restoring Thomas Kyd’s Canon

September 4, 2015


I was recently privileged to be able to write a guest blog for Martin Mueller, co-author of The Chicago Homer, concerning my Thomas Kyd researches. The post can be found in full here: https://scalablereading.northwestern.edu/2015/09/04/n-grams-authorship-and-influence-restoring-thomas-kyds-canon/


Rare Internal Tetragrams between ‘Shakespeare’ (Scenes 4-9) and ‘Non-Shakespeare’ Scenes in Arden of Faversham

August 27, 2015

© Darren Freebury-Jones 2015

This data has been collected for the purpose of my thesis, ‘Imitation and Collaboration in Shakespeare’s Early Plays: The Case of Thomas Kyd’.


Nothing sir, but as I fell a sleepe


til one day I fell a sleepe


To let thee know I am no coward I


To let thee know all that I haue contriued


If I, the next time that I meet the hind

If I, the next time that I meet the slave


The next time that I take thee neare my house


But now I am going to see what floode it is


Now I am going to London vpon hope

And now I am going to fling them in the Temes


But braul not when I am gone in any case,

But sirs be sure to speede him, when he comes


Nay sirs, touch not his man in any case,

But stand close, and take you fittest standing


Come M. Francklin let vs go on softly

Come M. Francklin, let vs go to bed


Now M. Francklin let vs go walke in Paules


Pardon me M. Arden I can no more


Pardon me M. Arden, Ile away


What M. Arden, you are well met,

I haue longd this fortnights day to speake with you


Mistres Arden you are well met,

I am sorry that your husband is from home


Come M. Arden let vs be going


Come let vs be going, and wele bate at Rochester


Shakespeare and the Future of Theory @RoutledgeLit published today

August 3, 2015

Originally posted on Dr Johann Gregory:

Shakespeare and the Future of Theory, eds. François-Xavier Gleyzon and Johann Gregory, convenes internationally renowned Shakespeare scholars, and scholars of the Early Modern period, and presents, discusses, and evaluates the most recent research and information concerning the future of theory in relation to Shakespeare’s corpus. Original in its aim and scope, the book argues for the critical importance of thinking Shakespeare now, and provides extensive reflections and profound insights into the dialogues between Shakespeare and Theory. Contributions explore Shakespeare through the lens of design theory, queer theory, psychoanalysis, Derrida and Foucault, amongst others, and offer an innovative interdisciplinary analysis of Shakespeare’s work. This book was originally published as two special issues of English Studies.

Find out more here:



View original


AS YOU’LL LOVE IT! A Review of As You Like It: Everyman Open Air Theatre Festival 22nd July to 1st August 2015

July 23, 2015



When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a

man’s good wit seconded with the forward child

understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a

great reckoning in a little room…


Critics are apt to pitch their own shadows and find substance therein, but George Bernard Shaw saw As You Like It as a mere crowd pleaser, which exploited ‘the fondness of the British public for sham moralising and stage “philosophy”’. I have a confession to make. I have never been enamoured (give me a stately-written tragedy any day! I have always said) with As You Like It, never seconded its wit. Apart from the tantalising Marlovian allusions, I have always found it boring. I didn’t enjoy it when I studied it. I didn’t enjoy the Kenneth Branagh version. I didn’t enjoy the Basil Coleman version. In fact, before last night, it was my least favourite play by Shakespeare next to his collaboration with Fletcher on Henry VIII. And yet, the Rebecca Gould version allowed me to see why this play is so popular and beloved. I can honestly say that this was one of the most heart-warming, delightful theatre experiences I’ve ever had.

It was the first time I’d attended the Everyman Open Air Festival, so it was all very new to me. The Bute Park trees screening the actors. The reds and blues contending in a summery evening sky. The tweeting of birds and the occasional barking of dogs. Here was an Arden or Arcadia, and the noise of traffic in the city seemed so very distant from this paradisiacal set. The audience were treated to a couple of hours in the golden world, and it was simply stunning. We were also treated to a few folk songs by a very talented group of musicians, before Rosalind (played by the captivating Bridie Smith) sealed the deal for me with a gorgeous rendition of ‘The Parting Glass’.

This production is set pre-First World War. England represents the court and, I take it, rural Ireland is Arden. The business in England at the beginning of the play was hilarious. There was great chemistry between Smith’s Rosalind and Celia (played by the excellent Victoria Walters), and hilarious by-play between Orlando (Eifion Ap Cadno) and his brother Oliver (Ankur Senguptar). The audience were enthralled by the wrestling match between Orlando and the musclebound, rib-cracking Charles (Thomas Easton), and this made me realise that to truly appreciate Shakespeare’s comedy one must see it on stage. The actors were all smiles, and thus we were soon grinning too. When the players are clearly enjoying their roles in such a superbly directed production, it is a difficult thing to begrudge them of rapturous applause.


We were soon banished to Arden, where we encountered all sorts of weird and wonderful characters. The interactions between the likes of Touchstone (played by Adam Porter, who is a particularly talented comic actor) and Audrey (Sophie Wilmot-Jackson), Silvius (Tom Lloyd-Kendall) and Phoebe (Charlotte Rees), never really appealed to me on the page. But given such strong casting and direction, the power of Shakespeare’s play to amuse shone as vivaciously as the final bursts of sunlight, before evening crept in and the stage lights illuminated the poem-pegged trees.

Another positive reviewer has recently noted that the change of some male characters to female characters didn’t really add anything, nor take anything away. This would be my only criticism, if you can call it that. This reviewer also argued that audience participation was perhaps too far, but I strongly disagree. In this respect, Gould’s production was very faithful to Shakespeare’s original theatre and yet enabled audience members who might not be overly familiar with early modern drama to clap and stamp along with the exuberant actors. One can’t help being overawed by the talent that Everyman has at their disposal. I recently enjoyed a production of Measure for Measure at Chapter Theatre, and was stunned by the performances (although I was very upset to learn that some people seem to have radically misinterpreted a couple of lines of unadulterated praise in my review for that excellent production. ‘When a man’s verses’ etc. etc.). I was equally stunned by the cast of As You Like It. A special mention must go to the vocal talents of Ella Maxwell and Victoria Walters. One’s eye often scans over the page when a Shakespeare ditty comes up, but these guys modernised the songs and showed us why music is such an important component of Shakespearean comedy.

Most importantly, perhaps, was the fact that the casting of the leads was really spot on. Eifion Ap Cadno made for a superb Orlando. He embraced the slapstick aspects of the play, but his performance was also understated. He made especially good use of his voice. When delivered by him, Shakespeare’s verse sounded like everyday conversation, and he dominated the stage with a starry presence that one can only envy. He has a big career ahead of him as a professional actor, I suspect. As for Bridie Smith, who I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing on stage before last night, I simply can’t praise her enough. I now realise why Rosalind is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved heroines. Smith had incredible energy and a real mastery of comic timing. I may be a bit biased, but Shakespeare’s language is at its most beautiful when delivered in the dulcet tones of a Welsh accent. Smith’s performance was quite possibly the finest female comedy performance I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on stage. Orlando and Rosalind were clearly enjoying the proceedings, and would be able to convince any Monsieur Melancholies that their love was genuine.


Everyman once again excelled here. This company is consistently doing Welsh performing arts proud. Within a couple of hours, Gould’s production completely changed my views on Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy. I am pleased to say that I am now a convertite. –

We live in a world full of terror. The daily news is satiated with atrocities committed against culture, religion, race, fellow human beings. The pre-war of today is not clear-cut; enemies lie in shadows. Maybe As You Like It is, as Shaw contended, a crowd pleaser, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It is a play that shows us humans can love each other. It offers a distraction from the tragedies of our time. Sometimes, we need an Arden to aspire to. I am incredibly grateful to Everyman for once again putting on a faithful and truly beautiful production of a Shakespeare comedy. The Everyman Open Air Festival is such a unique experience that I can only urge readers to go and see it. I’m confident you’ll love this production of As You Like It as much as I did: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/85800

Five stars, easy. *****


Cities. Culture. Regeneration. PhD Musings.

Lets pay more tax

Elspeth Jajdelska

Dr Johann Gregory

An Early Career Academic with special expertise in Early Modern English Literature & Critical Theory

Digital Literary Studies

EN6058. Bath Spa University

Dr Alun Withey

Welcome to my blog! I am an academic historian of medicine and the body, and 2014 AHRC/BBC 'New Generation Thinker'. Please enjoy and let me know what you think.

Thinking in Arden

Blog posts, mainly Shakespearean

The 18th - Century Common

A Public Humanities Website for Enthusiasts of 18th-Century Studies


The European Society for Textual Scholarship

Emily Blewitt

Dirt, Spit and Poetry

the many-headed monster

the history of 'the unruly sort of clowns' and other early modern peculiarities


Edia Connole & Scott Wilson

Show & Tell

The one where I tell you my thoughts about the plays I see

Sheffield's Shakespeare

An inclusive community reading group

Historians for History

Informed discussion of Britain's historical relationship with her European neighbours

Literature and Philosophy 1500-1700

University of Sussex, 14th-16th July 2015


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