The Pantaloons – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Arley Hall and Gardens
For my second ever trip into the Pantaloons lovely world I am in the opulent surroundings of Arley Hall’s walled garden, with Lord and Lady Ashcroft sat in front of me. A slight change from where I saw this company’s hilarious telling of Pride and Prejudice earlier this year – my local library! There is a slight change to the line-up as well, with only 40% of the last cast reappearing, but the mood is exactly the same, with the actors making music and joking with the audience, even welcoming return visitors like old friends. The only difference is we have all brought picnics, which will become props in the play.
The cast is just five, and they will play pretty much all the parts between them, with just a few doled out to lucky audience members (I was willingly press-ganged into being Mustardseed, ‘You’re a really big fairy aren’t you!’). The stage is sparse, with one focal point being a raised doorway, and the character changes are accompanied by minor tweaks in costume, and pitch perfect accents.
Most of the original text survives, but is accompanied with hilarious ad libs and the constant breaking of the fourth wall. Most of the actors stray at least once into the audience, taking chairs, eating food and swigging the booze.
It really is an ensemble piece, and it would be hard to choose a favourite, but as ever with Midsummer Night’s Dream, the best bits are with the rude mechanicals. (Miss) Quince has had a sex change, and Alex Rivers plays her with officious glee, getting steadily angrier with Theseus’s cat calling during the play within the play. Alex Hargreaves’ pompous Bottom carries the troupe forward, whilst Edward Ferrows’ Flute is suitably non-plussed by the whole thing. In a song after the interval, where each of the players gets a verse to themselves, Flute’s is ‘I’m Francis Flute and I don’t like to sing’, then the rest is just music!
Christopher Smart’s dopey Snout milks the wall’s part for all he’s got, and Kelly Griffiths’ Snug (Donald Trump’s Wig Maker – a job picked out of a hat from audience suggestions) is as hilariously creepy as his lion is inept.
The skies (which are full of planes that are ad-libbed into the text) were bleak from the onset, and eventually the threatened rain starts to fall. It might be a little short of a downfall, but it’s heavier and longer than you’d like to sit out in. Undeterred, the action continues, it is the scene when the lovers are spurning little Hermia away. The audience decided that the rain was not abating, and start scrabbling in holdalls for waterproofs and brollies.
‘Look, are any of you actually watching this’, shrieks Hermia, ‘because we’re actually building up to something!’ The crowd laughs loudly, as the slapstick continues to the ‘She may be little, but she be fierce’ line, the Facebook profile for smart, diminutive girls the world over.
And it is these joyful quips that make the Pantaloons worth watching. The stories are familiar, we could trot the lines out ourselves, but we never know what is going to happen next (or do the actors I’m sure!). Lots of audience members are less-than-gently cajoled into leg-pulling cameos, but the cast are so friendly that they hop to it and welcome the mickey taking (well, I did anyway).
These guys clearly enjoy the show as much as we do, and as I always say in these pages, this is a huge part of the audiences’ fun. All are sickeningly proficient musicians as well, and the music, incidental or otherwise, is all performed live.
As we pack up our soggy camp chairs, no one is bemoaning that it was a shame that it rained. We all feel as though we’ve been to a party.
The Pantaloons continue to tour A Midsummer Night’s Dream nationwide, and will be back in 2018 with War of the Worlds.
Details at their website: http://thepantaloons.co.uk/