On what was already promising to be a rather balmy late spring eve, I found myself on the lovely country estate of Squerryes Court in Westerham, Kent, awaiting a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The family motto inscribed over the entrance reads ‘licet esse beatis’, meaning permit oneself to be joyful. And there was certainly no lack of opportunity, with the lawn beside the lake adorned with festive food and drink options. It was also my first opportunity to sample Squerryes sparkling wine which although I am no connoisseur, I found very light, refreshing and wonderfully tasty. It was the perfect drop for the event, and I will definitely be seeking out bottles of Squerryes from now on whenever I might fancy a permit to be joyful!
The Courtyard of Westerham were on hand to ply the punters with pulled pork baguettes that were superb, and The Black Cab Coffee Co made sure none of us would be lulled into a lie down, no matter how good the faerie lullabies.
The house itself was also the perfect backdrop for the event, something I have to admit I wasn’t sure of at first. That said, I could definitely imagine it lending itself perfectly to The Importance of Being Ernest or even The Sound of Music. Maybe something for the future! But with A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s woodland setting, I was struggling to imagine how the 18th century Georgian manor would fit. But what I hadn’t counted on was how the incredible cast would immerse us deep into the thicket no matter what, and how nature would lend a little helping hand too.
The cast really was something special, with National Theatre, RSC and other accolades too many to mention among their back catalogue. And if that doesn’t impress some of the younger members of the household, you can mention that Abby Ford, who plays Hermia, has a blink and you’ll miss it part in Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban as the maid who is roared at by an unruly guest in the leaky cauldron! Her take on Hermia however is certainly not to be missed, as her zings towards both Tom McCall’s Lysander and Samuel Collings’s Demetrius delivered some of the highest hilarity of the evening, as did the laments of Nicola Kavanagh’s Helena.
To take on the role of faerie king Oberon, presence is a must, and Paul Mcewan provides it aplenty. He oozed with the confident power-hungry self righteousness you’d expect from the dark ruler of faerieland. And Tim Treloar’s Bottom threatened to bring the house down on several occasions with his brilliant braying of some of Shakespeare’s most classic comic lines.
Puck is one of my favourite characters in both literature and mythology. Also known as Robin Goodfellow, he is identified in the play as a mischievous sprite, but his origins are heavily hobgoblin based. I have always found it interesting that tales of puck-like creatures are widespread across the ancient world, from our own homely hobgoblin, to the more dangerous Pukwudgie of Native American legend. Makes you wonder what really might be in the woods doesn’t it?
Safe on stage though, James Cooney depicted a gregarious and greatly likeable Goodfellow, showing some affable athletics in the process. As I say though, this is a strong cast and I could make good mention of each and all, but suffice to say there is no weak link in this chain.
It could have been the magic of the sunset against the red brick house, or maybe even the bubbly, but having not heard or read Shakespeare for some years, it was wonderful to be immersed again into the rich language and also to be reminded of the playwright’s sense of humour. The bard was clearly mindful of a sense of parody, with the ‘play within a play’ of Pyramus and Thisbe not just resembling his own work of Romeo and Juliet, but also alluding to what he recognised as its cliched themes. There is also a later reference to the sisters three of Macbeth.
What really helped the performance become more magical and alive though were the sounds surrounding us. As twilight beckoned, things definitely took on a more ethereal nature. As Puck wove spells of mischief on stage, another trickster sang to us from the sidelines. A song thrush, repeating his mimicked cries of other birds in triplicate from the trees, chose to do so just as Puck was beckoning Lysander and Demetrius in the same way by throwing his voice. Moorhens cried warnings from the lake behind as Oberon felt pity and regret for his deeds. The coincidental calls of nature from all around seemed perfectly placed and timed throughout. Perhaps there really was some magic afoot. Either way, the production was enchanting, and the end applause so constant and heartfelt I’m sure any number of faeries would have snapped back into life right there and then. The last performances are today, so if you still haven’t seen it, your time is short!
I on the other hand can look forward to another weekend at Squerryes for the upcoming celebration, where I will be signing and selling freshly pressed copies of Shadow Beast on Friday and Saturday.
And for those of you who might not believe in a little bit of orchestrated magic and manipulation, I’ll just end with this. As I made my way back to the car and joined the throng of vehicles waiting to exit the estate, I found myself admiring a slightly beaten up, original blue mini. The owner gave me a knowing wink and nod, and as I looked away I noticed the model name on the side, sprite. Needless to say, by the time I looked back, the car had disappeared into the inky night and the road was clear. Rather apt wouldn’t you say?