A Midsummer’s Night Madness

On 22 June the Marlborough Theatre was packed on-stage with Brighton Branch Equity members and off-stage with a full house. Carole Bremson had miraculously condensed Shakespeare’s forest scenes, offering a pine-fresh perspective on transformation, displacement, temporary loss of inhibitions in five plays and several sonnets. The sylvan inter-cutting, like grafting, functioned as a fine critique, a hypertext of Shakespeare’s sylvan forest scenes. With masterful shifts in and out of character, eighteen actors were seamlessly re-deployed.

Bremson has skilfully edited the plays in which Shakespeare mentions sonnets. She gives the sonnets to such appropriate scenes, where they are so apposite you would think them out-takes from the plays. One hundred and fifty four appendices gathered together, called The Sonnets!

Sonnet 91 (‘Some glory in their birth…’) precedes action. James Harvey was fine as Jacques (As You like It). Nicholas Quirke shone with half-demented swagger as Don Armado, the amorous Spaniard from Love’s Labour’s Lost and the appalling actor Robert Coates in the latter half – an inspired aside from Shakespeare’s text, by Mjka Scott. Coates (1772-1848) was rich enough to pay Drury Lane the privilege of seeing the worst-ever acting of Shakespeare, including ad-libs when he couldn‘t remember lines. Scott as narrator, and Malvolio, in yellow cross-garters, was similarly commanding. Robert Cohen as Costard, handing out wrong sonnets (even Hamlet’s doggerel) was matched by Philippa Hammond, outstanding as a Helena who glints words.

Characters delivered sonnets spun brilliantly out of sanity. Don Faulkner proved the supreme physical actor, rubber-faced and wristed as William the beaten shepherd who, in this adaptation, finds new love, after Touchstone grabs his girl (a spirited Augustine Flint-Hartle), with her mother, the twinkling Shirley Jaffe. Paddy O’Keeffe sparked as Berowne. Kate Dyson’s Rosalind (As You Like It) beautifully end-pieced the finale with a jolly epilogue and a song before it. A highlight was the rising of actors from the audience to share lines of Sonnet 138 and 116: ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds..’ Bremson proved as devisor/director no ‘impediment’ but someone whose text shifts our perceptions.

Simon Jenner

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