Most people will be familiar with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a story of woods, faeries, romance and magic.
Some believe that the wood itself was inspired by the nearby real life Forest of Arden in Warwickshire, for the purposes of this production it is Fern Wood.
The Dreaming is a musical reimagining of the tale rewritten by composer Howard Goodall, whose credits include Blackadder and The Vicar of Dibley, and Charles Hart , whose lyrical credits include Phantom of the Opera. It has firm foundations and was first performed by the National Youth Theatre in 2012.
This is the second community theatre project directed, and inspired by, Lichfield Garrick Artistic Director Tim Ford, in conjunction with Craig Sanders, as he leads the theatre into a brave new world as a Charitable Trust following the resounding success of his first community theatre offering The Hired Man, also composed by Goodall.
The burgeoning enthusiastic and colourful cast of 70 community actors includes some new to the stage while others are more experienced hands to steady the ship. Visually the stage set, including steel trees, and children’s ball pit coloured balls, and costuming, is stunning. It produces a kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria of colour, possibility and illusion. What struck me was how the production had caught the quintessential Englishness of the setting, while simultaneously creating a parallel fairy tale land of spirit and deception, the latter of which owes much to the lighting of Matt Clutterham.
Chris Gilbey-Smith as Angel , and Macie Barrington as Jack, the latter of whom is still at junior school, caught the eye and ear. With the cast numbers so strong, the ensemble choral pieces could not fail to impress, but there was plenty of light and shade too with a distinctly folky feel which had me half expecting Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull to pop out at any moment.
Shakespeare loved a play within a play, and we have one here, The Ballad of St George
Cheek, played by Alfie Kentesber, leads the company of actors, and the comedy with a fine performance, of comic and physical delivery. The Cuckoo Song was marvellous, so good they do it twice. Olivia Deane as Faery Queen Sylvia neatly combined mystery and beauty in a performance of vim and brio.
A community production is about providing stage time to as many people as possible, and in this respect it delivers in spades. The choreography team needed to have crowd management skills, as well as dance training, the net effect being one of effervescent joie de vivre. A thoroughly enjoyable show, and a credit to all involved, one cannot leave the show without feeling a heart-warming sense of fun.
With so much going on, and so many people, it does help to have refreshed your memory of the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or to take a few minutes to read the programme notes before, there is so much to see and take in. The Dreaming continues at the Lichfield Garrick theatre until Saturday 5 August.