07 Feb Weardale Gazette
DRAMA in the Dale’s second offering since 2014 were performances of a Shakespearian play set in and around St Thomas’ Church and the Durham Dales Centre. It was held over five nights and the Gazette attended the final performance on a very wet Sunday evening, arriving at the Dales Centre to begin with a coffee. As the audience gathered, producer Lucy Ridley, originally from Stanhope, invited them to follow her to the church. We sat mostly in the choir stalls and the performance began with medieval music played by Paul Traves and Ray Gill suitably dressed in knee breeches! All of the music throughout the performance was composed by Paul specifically for this play.
Well done to Liz Gill, retired primary school teacher from Wearhead. Her retirement is being well spent!
And then enter the thespians from the rear and the front of the church and A Midsummer Night’s Dream began with the arrival of Theseus, the Duke of Athens and his fiancée, Hippolyta ( Hayley Pearson and Betty Herron respectively). They were joined by the beautiful Lia Hamp as Hermia, the daughter of Egeus (Jeremy Warr) who asks the Duke to intervene to coerce her to marry Demetrius (Henry Dawson) instead of the man she loves – Lysander (Gabe Yates). Lysander, meanwhile is pursued by Helena (Kate Stewart) and so the scene was set and the way paved for the complicated web of relationships to form – with help from the King of the Fairies, the mighty Oberon. Everyone in Athens is caught up in the forthcoming royal wedding, including a group of tradesmen who devise a play to perform for the royal couple. The action in the church moves to one of the corners and Lucy again leads the congregation into the centre of the church. We watched as first Qunice, played wonderfully by Pat Davison, works at his carpentry business, awaiting the arrival of the other men. They duly arrive – Snug (Laura Emerson), Snout (Katy Roberts), Flute (Joseph Landells), Starveling (Jeremy Warr) and Bottom played exquisitely by Michael Daynes. The tradesmen choose the characters for their play although Bottom is quite sure he could play all of them better than anyone else! As they leave centre stage, the audience again moves to the aisle seats for the glorious arrival of the fairies – King Oberon and Queen Titania and their young attendants.
The costume makers paid great attention to detail recreating Elizabethan garments, which certainly added to the overall enjoyment of the production.
Oberon is played by a fierce Jonathon Liddle who made his acting debut on the stage at Wolsingham School and since then has grown not only in stature and maturity but also in his acting ability. Oberon is angry with his wife, played by Megan Goundry who stands up to him well and matches his acting too. He wants her small attendant as his own but she won’t give him up. The child actors were very well rehearsed and played their parts believably – three of the children were siblings – Gabriel, Connie and Keziah Herron and were related to Betty playing Hippolyta. The fourth child was played by Dylan Hoar. They all recited their lines brilliantly and truly added to the spectacle that was unfolding in that ancient church.
Can’t wait for the next performance with this one worthy of The Globe Theatre itself
The following scene saw the arrival of one of the star characters of the play – Puck. Played professionally by Lesley Swinney from Hunwick, mother of young Dylan, it was clear from the outset that she had trained as an actor. Puck had the audience transfixed as Lesley bounced around the front of the church, eager to do Oberon’s bidding and teach Titania a lesson, as well as Demetrius. The mischievous Puck was to bring a plant that had the power to make people fall in love with the first person – or animal – they set eyes upon. The fun was about to begin when Titania falls for Bottom – dressed as an ass. And Lysander, mistaken as Demetrius, falls for Hermia!
After the interval, the audience was taken into the beautiful Castle Gardens and equipped with joss sticks to repel the midges, which had emerged after the rain stopped. As the audience gathered around the lawn, with the pergola as a backdrop and the ponds to the side, the action continued with the fall-out of the mistaken identity of Lysander for Hermia.
It allowed the four young people – Kate Stewart, Gabe Yates, Lia Hamp and Henry Dawson – the opportunity to show their undoubted acting prowess, delivering their lines with aplomb and never missing a single word. Helena continued to plead with Demetrius and express her undying love for him – but would it work and would Lysander give up his chase to refocus on Hermia? Then the action in this promenade play moved into the graveyard with the magnificent backdrop of the church. Paul and Ray played their instruments outside as the audience took their seats – there was a lot of hard work going on constantly behind the scenes, under the orders of director, Liz Gill who had put this together and spent the last six months managing it.
The action continued between the ancient gravestones with the cast involved acting their hearts out and keeping the audience enthralled. Puck even managed a song, showing the wide range of talents of Lesley Swinney – wonderful! Another walk took us to the rear of the church for more preparations from the tradesmen, called Mechanicals by Shakespeare before re-entering the church for the last act of the play. We watched in hysterics as the Mechanicals performed their play with Bottom taking forever to die; loud laughter echoed around the church as the comedy of the play written in the 1600s proved it is just as hilarious today as it was then.
Then the finale that ended the play and the evening. What a wonderful way to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and to showcase the amazing talent of Dalefolk, both on the ‘stage’ and behind it.