DREAM NIGHTS, 24-26 July 2018, The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
Saucy, sophisticated, and sung with style: this show was a complete dream.
You know the moment. That moment when you relax back into your seat thinking “Ah, great, a director who knows what they’re doing! This is going to be good…”.
For me, it came right at the start of the show as Puck joyfully wiggled her bottom at the stalls, and pointed at the letters of her name. So, in a second, we know who she is, that she is in charge, and that she’s up for a bit of fun. This clever bit of action set the standard for the magical two hours which followed, during which time the pace never once flagged.
Shakespeare’s most popular comedy – set in an enchanted forest with fairies, sparring lovers and a group of amateur actors putting on a play – provided the perfect launch-pad for a beautifully-imagined piece of musical theatre, and DN25 Company are to be congratulated for delivering it so successfully.
The comedy kicked in early on thanks to super subservience from Emma Rutherford as Phyllis. As well as having a lovely voice – she later sang There’s a Kind of Hush as a dreamy lullaby – Emma has great comic delivery: “Ten words in fact, but seems oh so-o-o-o much longer!” deserved the big laugh that it got later in the show.
And the comedy kept on coming, with the creative team cheerfully cherry-picking the best of the Bard and combining it with sparkling new dialogue and classic hits from yesteryear.
On paper, Will Cahill is rather too young to play Theseus, but his natural ease and authority, coupled with a fine voice, meant that his age wasn’t a problem.
Many in the audience will have enjoyed Heather Couch’s work as a choreographer, but it turns out she can sing like an angel too! She always draws the eye for the gorgeous shapes that she makes and – when not being Hippolyta – was an outstanding figure in ‘Team Titania’, which in itself comprised a very strong team of dancers.
In community theatre, the arrival onstage of the chorus can be a worrying moment… but not here. Their singing was a delight; accurate vocal entries, clear diction, and great attack meant that we actually looked forward to them coming back on. And guess what? They could dance as well! Congratulations to choreographer Jess Clifford for creating so many wonderful moments and for allowing this very talented ensemble to really show us what they’ve got.
And the ‘Mechanicals’? Let’s face it, Shakespeare’s ‘comedy’ scenes can often drag for a modern audience – but not in this show. There was so much to enjoy every time this loveable gang came on stage, and their interplay was amazing. Superbly cast and superbly performed, perhaps the funniest moment needed no dialogue at all; Flute’s entrance as Thisbe could easily have been over-played, but he judged it immaculately, the audience adored it and it got the biggest laugh of the night. Bravo George Nolan.
Kate Steggles made the most of every moment as ‘wanton’ Titania. Not content with nailing Shout in Act One, the dynamic diva returned after the interval with a ‘River Deep, Mountain High’. With sterling support from the ensemble singers, this was a high point of the show for sure.
But, there again, there were so many…
• the same-sex snog between Lysander and Demetrius could have been a bit awkward, but boy did they pull it off! Joe Hall and Max Cunnell were a delight in BSEAODS’ Into The Woods, and it was great to see them sparring off each other again here.
• Ellen Nice’s excellent Hermia commanding Lysander to move away from her: “I mean over there…!”.
• Phoebe Noble’s lovely voice was showcased in You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, finely sung. Her Helena was at all times so much more than a love-lorn cipher, properly touching at the same time as she was comic.
• Demetrius’s hand groping in mid-air for the steeldeck as he backed away from trouble…
• Josh Jenkins’ Oberon kicked off Respect with implicit threat that nicely hinted at his complex character; he later got the lion’s share of Shakespeare’s verse, and spoke it to great effect.
• Jamie Maguire’s saucy priest: this boy deserves to be in a Carry On film…
• Cameron Maguire’s perfect handling of the wall, and its ‘crannied hole’… just hilarious.
• Anyone who’s seen Andy Cunnell on stage before will know that he has superb comic timing, and he used it to great effect as the ‘lion’; Snug’s personality really came to life in Andy’s very capable hands.
• Charlie Maguire’s monologue during the ‘prologue’ was well-modulated and clear; as the calm epicentre of the Mechanicals’ capers, she did a really great job as Quince.
• Puck’s very lovely rendition of The Sound of Silence and her beautiful delivery of the epilogue.
• And what about Joe Beach’s magnificent Bottom? If you want to know how to steal a scene, look and learn. We loved his every word, and his physicality. Whether ‘roaring’ as a nightingale or Shakin’ All Over, he did everything ‘with some style’ and to the absolute delight of the groundlings.
Is it any wonder that we leapt to our feet at the end?
The costume design was a huge success. The fairies’ outfits in particular enabled them to be sexy and unsettling in equal measure and worked to great effect, especially in the more energetic scenes.
The Apex stage is a big space to fill, but the challenge was taken on enthusiastically with a multi-level set which allowed the opportunity for plenty of movement and interaction, as well as the innumerable entrances and exits which the piece demands.
For reasons of balance, I suppose one must include a couple of minor gripes; the ‘puppets’ motif was introduced but not really developed, and at times some lines were inaudible (mic issues perhaps?).
But, quite frankly, who cares?
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with a lump in his throat during Sealed with a Kiss, a lovely song with which to bring the action to a close, and most beautifully sung.
It was an enchanting evening in every way, and by far the best show I’ve seen on the Bury stage.
In the hands of this amazing troupe – can it really be the first time they’ve played together? – this timeless story of order and disorder, reality and appearance and love and marriage came to life in a completely fresh, funny and enjoyable way.
Director Lou Petch made expert use of the space, a remarkable achievement bearing in mind that the team hadn’t used The Apex before; with Simon Pearce at the helm for the music, this was truly a ‘dream team’.
And the whole thing rehearsed in just SEVEN WEEKS! That takes talent, commitment and discipline like you wouldn’t believe.
So hats-off to all involved, we shall long remember ‘these visions’ that you conjured up. Thank you for an amazing night in the theatre, and come back soon…
Having seen the Thursday show, your reviewer called by the theatre on Friday to buy more tickets, only to discover that he’d actually seen the last night! Gutted…
Review submitted by:
Simon Pearce | MD – Simon has been working as a professional MD for 30 years and has an huge list of musicals under his belt. He enjoys playing Bach, listening to country and western and composing music for film, radio and television. He is part of the original creative team that first adapted the spectacularly successful Dream Nights at The Key Theatre, Peterborough with Derek Killeen and Michael Cross in 1993.