A Midsummer Night’s Dream – at Kentwell Hall, Suffolk

Kentwell Hall MND

Sunday afternoon saw me en route to Kentwell Hall, the delightful Tudor house nestling to the north of Long Melford in Suffolk.  The house and gardens, very much a home and not just a ‘Stately Home’ have been a favourite diversion of mine during the course of walks in the area for some time.

My purpose in visiting this time was not The Maze, the Ancient Yews, or the restored Icehouse but to see an open air production of my favourite Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by the GB Theatre Company.

Kentwell has now a tradition of staging open air plays, mainly Shakespeare and Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, using the wonderful house and gardens as both backdrop and “Exit: Stage Right (& Left!)”

Though the forecast had threatened showers, the day held fair; much to the relief of the audience seated around the simple ground-roped auditorium and the Players too!

The usual device of Theseus and Hippolyta playing both themselves and the Faerie King & Queen, Oberon and Titania worked well, thanks to the excellent Jonathan Mulquin and Rosalind Steele.  Doug McRobbie made an excellent Puck, his Scots accent lending an air of quite believable mischief to the part.

My favourites as always were the ‘Rude Mechanicals’ particularly Derek Howard, whose hammy Bottom (hmm that doesn’t sound quite polite does it?) stole the show, and Anil Kumar as both Flute and a reluctant Thisbe, a performance worthy of any great Panto Dame.

Puck’s errors and the ensuing rifts between lovers made for great comedy theatre and the final performance of the Mechanicals in the tragi-comic sub-play Pyramus and Thisbe was hilarious.

All in all a wonderful performance in superb surroundings and the magic of the play was perhaps best reflected in the faces of the many children there.  Clearly captivated by, what was for many of them, their first play it bodes well for the future, which many, I think wrongly, see as children’s imaginations being dominated by computer games.

Lord, what Fools these Mortals be!

‘Fences’: Lenny Henry playing Troy Maxson at the Cambridge Arts Theatre

Lenny Henry was outstanding as the troubled family patriarch, Troy Maxson, in August Wilson’s play, ‘Fences’ last night.  He appears to go from strength to strength as a character actor and lead, not in the least overshadowed by his illustrious predecessors in the role; James Earl Jones and Denzil Washington.

Troy, a black man who was denied his chance at baseball stardom by the racism prevalent in American sport post-war, has become an embittered refuse collector.  His bitterness leads him to destroy his family around him.  Denying his son, Cory [played by Ashley Zhanghazha] the sporting chance he has, and eventually even alienating his loving wife, Rose, and his great friend, Bono.

It sounds bleak. And in some ways it is.  But apart from being the gripping unraveling of a tortured man, it is also shot through with affectionate humour and loving banter.  It says much of Lenny Henry’s new won status that even in the funniest moments you never think, “Oh, here he goes being a comedian again.”

It also doesn’t descend into a neat scenario, where everything turns out for the best.  It remains hard and true to the end.  Rose, a woman who channeled her life through Troy, becomes strong and independent again.  Cory finds another vocation, and even Troy’s brother, war damaged and cheated on, finds a form of salvation at the end.

All the cast were outstanding, especially Tanya Moodie as Rose, and Colin McFarlane as Bono.  But Lenny Henry’s tour de force performance left the stage feeling somehow emptier on the few occasions when he wasn’t there.  Incredible, impassioned, bawdy, and drawing an electrical response from his exchanges with other cast members, Lenny Henry has moved, I feel, from a good serious actor to a seriously good actor!

Moving to the Duchess Theatre in London, from 26th June to 14th September, I will be seeing it again and would recommend it to anyone.