Lincoln’s Chapterhouse Theatre came to Waterside Arts to present their production of Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy on the evening England played Belgium in an apparently important football tournament. As a result, their audience was sparse: this was one of the few occasions when I have been grateful for the presence of a school party, whose numbers made a useful addition to the few adults in the house. They were well-behaved too.

Chapterhouse specialise in open air theatre, and are usually to be found playing parks and stately homes, so it was rather odd to finds them on a sweltering midsummer evening in the small indoor auditorium at the Waterside. They rose to the challenge well, however, and provided much better entertainment than Gareth Southgate’s men on the night.

My edition of the play lists twenty-one parts (plus “attendant lords and fairies”) in the play: the Chapterhouse Company numbers eight. Some doubling in this play is almost obligatory, starting with the pairing of Theseus and Hippolyta with Oberon and Titania, but if there are only eight of you, it’s all hands on deck. The young and relatively inexperienced company approached the task with gusto, energetically transforming from young Athenian citizen to fairy attendant to rude mechanical in an instant. Zachary Price, doubling Bottom and Demetrius, was the undoubted star of the show, endowing Bottom with Brian Blessed levels of bombast and bluster, and lending some tenderness and vulnerability to Demetrius. Of the other young lovers, Rebecca Hare as Helena stood out, conveying her obsession and despair with wit and nuance. She was also surprisingly effective as Snout, managing some good visual gags in her role as Wall in the mechanicals’ play. Also impressive in multiple roles was Melissa Stanton, with an Egeus that riffed on Miriam Margolyes’s Blackadder character, and a well-judged Peter Quince, fussy and self-important.

Director Karen Crow has obviously decided to emphasise the broad physical humour of the play, and that is probably a good idea for open-air performance. In the intimate space of the Waterside, this sometimes came over as rather too physical. Josephine Kook-Clark’s Puck, for instance had an air of the pantomime principal boy, which would work well on an open air stage, but seemed a little too much here. Eleanor Faye, whose main role here was Hermia, blended virginal virtuousness with an occasional coquettish look or delivery, hinting at a more rounded character than Shakespeare’s lines imply. Gareth Cary as Lysander has the look of a young leading man, and was suitably romantic. He also made a fine Moth, and a hilarious Flute, especially in the role of Thisbe at the end of the play. I liked the in-joke of him playing the flute in his role as Moth. Jayson Baird seemed more comfortable as Theseus than Oberon, maintaining a commanding air in both, while Lottie Goodchild lent an air of solemn ethereal magic to her Titania, contrasting well with a fractious Hippolyta in the first scene, mellowing into the dutiful wife at the end.

This production is unfussy, with very few effects and minimal scenery (another legacy of its conception as an open air piece, I suppose) and was carried by the energy and commitment of the company. I’m sure the schoolkids attending gained a lot of insight into the play, and will maybe now understand some of Shakespeare’s more obscure jokes rather better. Even the youngest members of the audience seemed to approve, especially the six year old in the row in front of me, who consumed her weight in Haribos during the performance.

Chapterhouse move on to Ripon, various Irish castles, and Newstead Abbey among other locations on this tour – those places will serve this production better than Waterside Arts, I feel. These young actors are still learning their trade, and it will be fascinating to see them develop in the coming years. On tonight’s evidence, we can expect at least some of them to reach the heights.

Reviewer: Rob Spence

Reviewed: 28th June, 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★