On Thursday night I got together with an old friend from home and we took ourselves off to Arundel Castle to watch GB Theatre Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of the annual Arundel Festival. We arrived early and parked at the wrong end of the steep High Street so took a slow meander up the hill whilst noseying in the shops and catching up on what’s happened since we last saw each other. We eventually reached the top and ducked through the castle gates before being advised to hop on to the waiting stretch golf cart bearing the family crest and whizzed up to the Collector Earl’s garden where our evening entertainment was waiting. There were little groups of people gathered all over the lawns sipping bubbly and eating picnic foods, there was a hog roast stall and the ‘Shakespeare Arms’ selling the local tipples from Arundel Brewery.
We killed some time wandering through the Collector Earl’s garden which was created as a tribute to Thomas Howard 14th Earl of Arundel. Known as the Collector Earl, when he died his collection spanned 700 paintings, along with sculptures, books, prints, drawings and antique jewellery. He was a 17th Century hoarder at best, which evokes images of dusty corners of the castle filled with trinkets and treasures – somewhat at odds with the clean lines of the Jacobean garden which served as backdrop to the stage.
The centrepiece of the Collector Earl’s garden is a green oak version of ‘Oberon’s Palace’, inside which is a stalagmite water feature upon which dances a gilded coronet. I of course put my common sense to one side when I caught a glimpse of this and decreed it to be ‘magick’ rather than a dome inside the coronet. I also asked the most basic question in the history of questions, especially for someone who spent a fair bit of time in Arundel as a child, “That’s the Cathedral, right?”
We took our seats with a great view of the stage, until Crystal Tipps herself came and parked her arse in front of me with the biggest WAFRO (white afro) on the planet. It didn’t spoil the ambiance though and there amongst the flowers, big fat bumblebees and fluffy clouds scudding across the sky we were transported to Athens. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of theatre over the years and am now approaching double figures of seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and hands down this production was the best I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Before we arrived I wasn’t sure whether the glorious setting of the castle grounds might overpower the performance but I needn’t have worried. From the moment Peter Quince (Barrie Palmer) began wandering through the audience selling programmes it felt as though we were encapsulated, swept along on a tide of something very special indeed. The ladies of the cast led from the front, Mia Keadell was a triumph as the overwrought lovesick Helena, played to comedic perfection against the incredibly handsome Demetrius (Matt Milburn – swoon) and the undertone of raunchy strumpet from Titania (Rosalind Steele) during her love affair with Bottom was stomach clutchingly funny. Puck (Doug McRobbie) was Scottish, topless and had hair like he’d had a run in with a plug socket. Puck’s Scottish brogue was somewhat at odds with his mischievous temperament, there were moments when I was expecting him to announce that there’d been a ‘MURRRRDERRRR’ but he was really good, and even grinned at me when I think he overheard me comparing him to Jamie Biscuits from Made In Chelsea.
There amongst the flowerbeds and with the gothic architechture of the Cathedral looming large, GB Theatre Company made Midsummer light, frisky and downright hilarious in parts. I’m already lining up people to go with next year and my only regrets are not packing some bubbly and a picnic and taking my proper camera!
For more information about GB Theatre Company, their website is http://www.gbtheatrecompany.com/ and I highly recommend them!