|First Fairy||John Kirkbride|
|Nick Bottom||Daniel Hill|
|Peter Quince||Josh Mason|
|Francis Flute||Daniel Rees|
|Robin Starveling||David Kirkbride |
|Tom Snout/Egeus||Steven Gregson|
|Demetrius||Thomas Reynolds |
|Lighting Designer||Matthew Case|
|Stage Manager||Richard Ferry|
|Musical Arranger||Stuart Buckton |
|Dental Effects||Elite Dental Studios|
Northern Echo ¦ British Theatre Guide ¦ BBC Tees ¦ Hartlepool Mail
22nd October 2004
TWO years ago, a bunch of North-East state school kids went to see some Shakespeare plays. There they heard words that had a magic unimagined.
For not only did those Stockton teenagers form their own company, Arden Theatre, but last year staged Julius Caesar at The Arc to critical acclaim.
That they did so on their own - really, truly without any adult help - was impressive; that they did it well, amazing.
But, believe me, this year's production is better. It is so good that it is hard to convince fellow adults that a theatre company largely made up of 16 to 18-year-olds have done this so well.
The first thing to say is that they actually make a Shakespeare comedy funny. All right, a big part of the nearly full audience was clearly made up of family members - one lady was (quite rightly) bursting with pride so much she started clapping alone. But you could tell the laughs were genuine. Jokes were even made about the actors' youth. "I can't play a woman," says one actor, "I've a beard," pause, "coming!"
The stage choreography, including fast moving moments of dancing, fighting and prancing, were excellent. The costumes, especially the famous ass's head of the play, looked great and a long way from a typical amateur production. The acting was good and it would be hard and unfair to pick anyone out except, perhaps, Daniel Hill, who played Bottom. Robert Icke, director and sixth former, who was the first to acknowledge the Herculean efforts of his friends who also had to find the money to stage the play, should be congratulated.
See this play and see the magic.
The British Theatre Guide
24th October 2004
"You're doing a sixty mile round-trip to see a youth theatre doing Shakespeare - on a Saturday night?"
The implication, of course, is that there is something inferior about youth theatre and that giving up one's Saturday night to see a YT production is a major sacrifice. But there is nothing inferior about youth theatre, but I have to admit that it and Shakespeare don't usually fit well together. And Dream is the sort of play that YTs do because it seems to be pretty easy. And this is an unusual youth theatre: there is no adult involvement at all; everything, including direction, is done by the members, the majority of whom are 16/17.
So the brave face ("What's wrong with that? If it's good theatre, it's good theatre!") hid a fairly large amount of uncertainty.
It was good theatre! Not good youth theatre, just good theatre. I have seen many, many productions of Dream - including one youth production which was so cringingly bad that I still break out into a sweat of embarrassment thinking about it - but I have never seen one in which the Lovers, who are usually, to be honest, a bit of a bore - were so believable. As usual, Shakespeare got it right: it's just that usually they are too old and played too romantically (which is the closest word I can think of to describe it at this time of night!). These lovers were teenagers. They were full of energy, subject to massive mood-swings, ready to fly off the handle at any suggestion of criticism or opposition. Just normal teenagers! And it worked superbly.
Their arguments degenerated into some of the most hilariously choreographed fights I have ever seen: flailing arms and even a headbut (from Hermia!). The audience roared and applauded, and quite right too. They were funny and yet very realistic.
The Mechanicals, too, were very funny, but without being over-the-top, as they are sometimes played, and without following what we might call traditional characterisation. Josh Mason's Peter Quince had all the pretensions of the would-be "artistic type", even to the white scarf casually thrown around his neck, whilst Daniel Hill's Bottom was brighter than usual, which made him all the more funny. Hill knows how to work an audience, too: he has a definite talent for comic acting.
The Fairies - with the obvious exception of Titania - were all male (most unusual) and the director had, wisely, cut some of the lines which today we find unbearably twee, and, when Titania fell for the transformed Bottom, they picked him up and flung him on the bed. She leapt on him - a bit like a comic porn movie!
The most difficult part of the play to bring off are the scenes between Theseus and Hippolyta (doubled, as almost always, with Oberon and Titania), especially the first scene which has a fair amount of scene-setting to do. In this production there was real tension between them: Hippolyta seemed greatly displeased at being wooed with Theseus' sword and not at all happy about the marriage. It's an interesting idea, but one for which I can find no real justification in the text, and her sudden compliance on the day of the wedding is unconvincing. But this was the only part of this interpretation with which I would take issue.
There are criticisms, of course, both of the interpretation and the performances, but they are insignificant in comparison with what director Robert Icke (who also played Theseus/Oberon in a voice somewhat reminiscent of a young Ian McKellen) and his team of 13 to 19 year olds have achieved. To have the audience roraring with perfectly genuine laughter and spontaneously applauding individual scenes is no mean feat. This is an exceptional group.
26th October 2004
A Midsummer Nights Dream gives Stockton a dusting of Shakespeare, and by the reaction of the audience, they simply couldn't get enough at the Arc, 20th October.
Walking into a bustling Arc, I see the face of someone I once knew stood near the door. Not very interesting you may think, especially since he was an old teacher of mine. But you see, I’d actually been told he was dead.
So you can imagine my surprise when walking past the familiar face, he turned round and started talking to me. About his son, who was in the play. Surreal to say the least.
So, taking to our seats, me already in a dream-like state thinking about other people I may have been unreliably informed are dead, Midsummer Nights Dream starts and the fun begins.
Excellent acting from the young cast brings the Shakespearian classic to life and keeps the audience enthralled throughout.
Fab offerings in the shape of Bottom and the cat fighting Helena and Hermia who have everyone in hysterics as they bring the fight over men to life – running around the stage, kicking and screaming.
Giving Midsummer Nights Dream a modern twist with costume, everything else stays relatively true to the original text, making this easy and satisfying to watch, even for the kids in the audience.
Basically, I don't think I've ever laughed this hard at the theatre, I don't think I've ever bonded so well with a character, and I don't think I've ever been so sad to see a play end.
Fantastic. Really, if you get the chance, this is money well spent.
22nd October 2004
Play went like a Dream!
I had heard the Shakespeare play I was about to see was staged and managed entirely by teenagers, so I took to my seat resolving to be politely supportive - even mildly amused - but inevitably bored.
Five minutes into the production and I couldn't believe the talent behind this performance.
The Arden Theatre company is made up of 14 to 18 year olds from state schools across the Stockton borough. They manage every aspect of their group, from finance to directing and props, without so much as a gentle nudge from an adult.
The group's energetic production was a triumph. Actor and director, sixth former Robert Icke, had steered clear of setting Shakespeare's most magical play in some contemporary setting, as many productions now seem to, and the play was all the more spellbinding for it.
Perfectly cast, each actor took their role and ran with it, from Hayley Warwick and Ellie Nicholson's superb portrayals of Hermia and Helena, to Andrew Berriman's performance as Puck. And Daniel Hill's hilarious portrayal of Bottom was something special.
It is now Thursday morning and I'm still smiling. I swear I must have been grinning in my sleep! The lighting on Puck as he goads Lysander and Demetrius took my breath away. I just wasn't expecting it and it worked perfectly. Also the lighting and sound when Hermia is left alone after Lysander disappears. Genuinely spooky. You know.... let's face it you could hear .... how much I adored the Mechanicals. You didn't need me to be laughing like an idiot because around me I could hear others laughing as hard at all the right moments. Proof you were doing it just right. I left walking in a bright cloud of laughter and warmth. I left feeling good and that was more than enough to compensate for making such an idiot of myself due to uncontrollable laughter.
The Cheshire Katt
I had never heard of the Arden Theatre Company before I went to go see A Midsummer Night's Dream and I must say it was the best amateur theatre performance I have seen! The whole thing flew by so quickly that I was shocked to see what the time was. It was totally amazing! Thanks for a wonderful night!
I'd seen a lot of Dreams before and I thoughnt that this was an excellent production, definitely one of the best I'd seen. Mechanicals, lovers, excellent, hilarious, non-conventional, non-cliche, really really good. I thought the two main fairies in both their incarnations were definitely superior to the other aspects of the show. The love between them seemed soulful, tangible, really moving and somehow real, as if it emanated outside the play. I don't know how the actors built that relationship but it was really beautiful and magical, and I'd love to have the chance to watch it again. A great show, congratulations.
Fantastic play! I had never seen arden theatre before and I was completely blown away. Loved the modernisation of the play with costumes and he mechanics of the whole thing were amazing. So impressed. Can't wait to hear what the next play is!
...Thanks to some of the most amazing and talented acting and directing, I was able to keep up with it all and thoroughly enjoy the story.
I'm used to Shakespeare productions being slow, stuffy and lifeless but Arden put enough energy into this performance to make up for all the duff versions I've seen in the past.
Daniel Hill has to be praised for his portrayal of Bottom. He had everyone in hysterics with every face pulled, every pose struck, and every line brilliantly over-performed.
Robert Icke's performance of Oberon was really striking. The calm and calculated way he formed his plans, observed the humans and interacted with the other characters really brought across a sense of power over everything around him.
And as for his direction... I only wish that we'd watched shows like this in school. In fact, I hope that all the local schools went to see the show. Icke has presented Shakespeare in a way that can appeal to younger audiences who normally wouldn't think twice about going to see it. This is the kind of production that people need to see. They'd all be a lot better off for it.
I can't wait to see what Arden are planning next. The group as a whole represents a stunning achievment in what it has acomplished. From the kids involved to the results they've presented us with. They should all be proud of themselves.
Well directed, and mostly a strong cast... notably Daniel Hill, who held the production together with great presence and aplomb. Josh Mason as Quince stood out also. Good performances by Ellie Nicholson and Hayley Warwick.
Marvellous direction. The fight scenes between the lovers were beautifully choreographed, and many tableaus throughout were memorable.. beautifully directed. Well done. Memorable, and enjoyable.
All in all, the best youth production I have seen, or ever expect to see. I've seen school and college productions over the years which were at best good and (more usually) less than good, but this was professional, slick and, above all, totally true to the playtext.
This production restored my faith in the talents and ability of young people to produce something terrific - and the absence of a college or school framework is even better - there's no guaranteed praise or excuses if it's rubbish.
But this production deserves to be applauded to high heaven. I hope that the Arden Theatre prospers, and will make sure to attend future productions.