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Shakespeare in St Leonards Gardens

Shakespeare in St Leonards Gardens

Mercatoria Theatre do it again!

Every year for the last five years, the Mercatoria Company re-form to transform St Leonards Gardens into a leafy theatre and bring Shakespeare back to life. HOT’s journalists, Cathy Simpson (well-versed in Shakespeare) and Erica Smith (a rather reluctant first-timer) joined the promenade around the park.

The flyer for the Mercatoria Theatre production of Midsummer Night’s Dream shows cast members against a concrete wall with graffiti faeries and asses’ ears. The gritty urban look doesn’t do justice to the actual production, set against the backdrop of St Leonards Gardens. But that just makes the experience of the roving performance even more magical.

This year’s performance had a 1980s’ theme, show-casing some of the more dreadful costumes and hairstyles of the era – Naomi Robinson as a turquoise and pink clad power-dressing Lady Di/Helena was a sight to behold. And the scenes were punctuated with iconic songs from that time. The mix of Shakespeare and power-pop was extraordinary – without giving too much away, you’ll never think of either Shakespeare or Wham! in quite the same way again!

Hermia and Titania

One of the advantages of a roving performance is that you don’t get the chance to nod off, and Nick Pilton, dressed as a park keeper chivvied and harangued us busy throngs around the park. It was delightful to see St Leonards Gardens given a starring role, Titania’s bank with wild thyme growing, real trees in the ‘Athenian Wood’ and paths which gave an opportunity for entrances, exits and pursuits that a theatre stage can never achieve.

Midsummer Night’s Dream is always a comedy, however, this performance took that definition to new levels. It has been cunningly abridged to showcase the funniest scenes, performed in the funniest ways. It benefited from details like Bottom’s facial expressions being clearly visible – thanks to a minimal costume of asses’ ears and buck teeth. John Knowles’ Bottom transformed seamlessly from a David Brent-like Pyramus to a Homer Simpson-esque donkey.

Vicky Heath’s lady Puck (aka Robin Goodfellow) was another wonderful comic performance. ‘Mischievous’ doesn’t begin to describe her naughty behaviour, and it was wonderful to see her shoot ‘off-stage’, “putting a girdle round the earth”, dressed in a silver ra-ra skirt, red fishnets and clumpy scarlet Doc Martins.

All the actors were very well cast and made the most of their roles. There was some particularly wonderful physical theatre during a cat fight between Helena and Hermia, where the very different heights of the actresses became a feature of the performance.

The large audience included very young and very old members, all of whom enjoyed it. It was delightful to watch the rapt attention of the under-10s, particularly during Pyramus’s death scene, where one small child was perilously close to being crushed (and thoroughly enjoyed the experience).

Nine-year-old Esme said: “I loved it. It was really funny and they had some really good ideas. My favourite character was Puck.”

This was a highly original interpretation of the play, both in terms of editing the text for maximum comic effect, and the wonderful costumes and characterisation which  raised it to even greater heights. Top marks to director Laura Dunton Clarke (also starring as Peaseblossom), the entire cast and crew and St Leonards Gardens.

We could go on and on praising this performance, but as it was a fine example of brevity being the soul of wit, we will stop now and urge you to go and see for yourself. You have four performances over the next two days to choose from. Hurry, hurry!

St Leonards Gardens, South Lodge entrance
Saturday 7 September: 1pm and 6pm
Sunday 8 September: 1pm and 6pm

Tickets: £10 full price, £7.50 concs, £5 under-16s, £26 family ticket, under-5s free.
Available from Shop, 32–34 Norman Road, St Leonards and
Bell’s Bicycles, 4 George Street, Hastings Old Town
Online bookings: www.mercatoria-company.co.uk
Box office: 01424 733995
Booking is highly recommended as places are limited, but if you haven’t been able to get a ticket, turn up and try your luck!

Posted 10:41 Saturday, Sep 7, 2013 In: Performance

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