We drove over to Stratford-upon-Avon today – to The Bear Pit – to see Second Thoughts‘ penultimate performance of 2020’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was a perfect excuse to leave a bit earlier to give us time to get some retail therapy in the town!
We chose the matinée performance at 2.30pm, and it was about 90% full. We ran into Ian and Ann who’d just returned from Australia and India. I’d studied the Play at school, and in spite of the excellent performance this afternoon, the story today was as impenetrable as it was when I was as a fresh-faced teenager! 🤔 OK, I got the main plot, but is it me – why is one of Shakespeare’s most popular Plays so tricky to follow? 😮
On a more positive note, being performed ‘in the round’ in contemporary costume with a very simplistic set made it a much more immersive experience 😁
Overall then, not one of my fave Shakespeare Plays, but the contemporary twist on the Bard’s original, with its tweaks to the scenes and dialogue, supported by a really enthusiastic cast, made it a memorable performance.
Not to be confused with Stratford-upon-Avon, we’re talking about the AmDram group from Stratford St Johns in Suffolk here.
The Stratford Players desperately need King Lear to be a success or it will be their last ever production, and their theatre will be demolished for redevelopment. Maybe a big box office star can help? Enter from stage-left, one Jefferson Steele: Hollywood action hero, currently between his film-franchises and encouraged to play his very first Shakespeare role – live, and on stage. Unfortunately, his Agent, unable to find him work in the States, has allowed him to believe he is coming to THE Stratford and the RSC…
By now you’ve realised that we’re not talking real-world – instead, it’s the latest production by Second Thoughts penned by Private Eye’sIan Hislop & Nick Newman comedy of mis-understanding, mayhem and men in tights!
Just after 7.30, the curtain went up at the Bear Pit on what turned out to be (for us) probably Second Thoughts best production to date. Everyone acted their socks off – and the lead, Pete Cubitt (who we’ve not seen here before) was totally convincing in the lead-role. To say he ‘owned the part’ was a an understatement!
Clearly the cast were enjoying it too, and that was reflected in the audience’s regular appreciation throughout the performance. The run is on until Saturday having started on Wednesday – and there’s a matinee performance on the last day too. At just under two-and-a-half hours (plus the interval), it certainly didn’t feel ‘long’ as the time passed very quickly (surely a good sign!)The only ‘bit’ I didn’t quite get was the short ‘Fool’s Songs’ at the end of many of the scenes, but technically-speaking, I could see that something was needed whilst a change of scenery was needed.
Thanks Second Thoughts, we had a great time, and it was good to run into Rick, Ann and Mags too!
It was a good visit to Stratford for us too on the retail-therapy front. I managed to pick up an extra pair of shoes for our next holiday, Ann bought a few tops – and we finished it all off with a rather splendid nibble at Fourteas, a 1940s themed tea-room in Sheep Street.
The journey home was full of road diversions, and as a result, it took us just over an hour-and-a-half!
I remember studying this Play at school – it was my first formal encounter with Shakespeare – and what a horrible experience it turned out to be! All I remember was being bored, very bored and even more bored by the final act! (The only thing that stuck was that strange word ‘Hobnob’ being used!! For McVitie’s fans, that’s a full 18 years before the biscuit made its appearance in 1987). Talk about a wasted Grammar School education!!!
So, it’ll be interesting to see how much of the biscuit plot I remember!
1.15 and curtain up to a simple looking stage (that actually turned out to be anything but! Superb and elaborate sets that transitioned very smoothly when the time came).
The place was packed (a good sign!) and we all settled back for this 140 minute production. I don’t recall there being much (any?) music in it when I studied it at School in the late 60s, and it seemed to work really well – and there was more to come. They had also re-located the timeline to the Victorian age, and that worked well too! Gosh! where was this production when I was at School? Within the first 20 minutes, I was already hooked!
Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio was clearly the highlight (and easily having the time of his life!), where the script gave him loads of opportunities to ‘do’ serious, with a touch of singing and more than a soupçon of manic behaviour.
John Hodgkinson (Sir Toby Belch) and Michael Cochrane (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) together ‘ticked the three Ps’ for me – a Perfect Pair of Pi**- heads – and were clearly relishing every staggering moment! It was also the first time I recall Sir Toby belching from his lower orifice too! Talk about life imitating fart!
Kara Tointon easily demonstrated what a versatile actress she is, assuming the role of Olivia with a commanding voice and a very natural stage presence. It felt like perfect casting in my book! (like I’m a Shakespeare expert all of a sudden!)
I’ve probably not done the rest of the cast justice, but suffice to say, everyone, without exception, played their part on this world stage.
More short musical pieces continued throughout and they seemed to blend in really well, complementing the on-stage action – just enough to not get in the way of the Bard’s work. “If music be the food of love…” and all that!
Well, the two hours and twenty minutes passed really quickly (and I’ve never said that about a Shakespeare Play before!). There was a twenty-minute interval, but apart for the need of a leg-stretch and a visit to the little room, we probably could have survived without a break.
By the final curtain, just before 4pm, we all agreed that it had been nothing short of a superb production. The enthusiasm of the audience’s applause at the end, seemed to agree with us too!
Am I a Shakespeare convert? Only if I see more productions like this! Superb!!! Thanks Will!
We headed back to the car and were soon competing for a place on the M1 (Boy, it was busy! Where are all these people going?). Back in Wootton, we had a quick cuppa and a natter before saying our goodbyes to Chris and Gill – then headed straight back to ours.
7pm: Home! Another great day out ending with feet-up at ours for the rest of the evening.
It was off to London today, to meet up with Angela C. Our destination was the Criterion Theatre to see the Play: The 39 Steps.
I was hoping to try out my new camera-phone and snap a photograph of Eros, but the statue was covered in scaffolding and hidden from view, so I had to make do with a general shot of the area.
The Play was quite quirky – some might say ‘typically English’. Trying to make a comedy out of the original film must have been quite challenging, but all-in-all, the production worked well. It featured a cast of just four, but they worked very hard and played lots of different parts (sometimes at almost the same time!) – and that added to the quirkiness.
We were up in the Gods, in the Dress Circle, where we had a good view and comfortable seats. Given that it was a Wednesday afternoon matinee, it was quite well attended – just over half-full, although the first three rows in the stalls were taken up with ‘Class 3b’ who, if their infectious laughter was anything to go by, thoroughly enjoyed every second of the production!
Although I don’t think it was ‘up there’ with some other great West End plays, it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours – and getting the tickets for £15 rather than £50, certainly helped the overall enjoyment factor (Nice one Angela!).
After the Play, we took the short walk to the Haymarket and I haven’t been to that area for many years. There is some major demolition work going on, removing some of the big buildings on the right as you walk down towards Trafalgar Square. Neither of us could recall what used to be there, but whatever the replacement is, it will change the vista significantly.
Not knowing the area particularly well, we drifted into VietCafe. As the name suggests it was a Cafe serving Vietnamese food. It was empty when we arrived, but by the time we left, it was pretty-much full. The food was good and it provided the service to match.
It was a great day – and the perfect diversion to take my mind off of tomorrow’s event. It was a hassle-free train journey home and I got in about 9.50.
It was an excellent event and Ian did a great job as Props Manager, especially the part where Stanley Kowalski throws the radio ‘off set’ and we hear the sound of it breaking. Apparently a well-timed catch from Ian and a load of cutlery being dropped out-of-site of the audience did the trick!
It wasn’t a full-house – Ian’s wife Ann was there and so was Pat, his Mum – but those that were there were generous in their applause – justifiably so, as the acting was superb, especially Anne Bowen who played the part of Blanche.
We’re thinking of getting the DVD of the 1951 film version starring Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh.
It finished around 10.15 and in spite of the3 extensive roadworks near the M40, we were home by 11.30.
We drove over to Stratford to see Second Thoughts production of ‘The Last of the Red Hot Lovers’.
I picked Ann up from the station at just after 6 and we got there at just after 7. Ann was hungry, so picked up some chips. Yum-yum! – then I remembered that I was supposed to have given up chips for Lent. Bugger! I’d been doing so well up until that point! I guess it’s another example of Man being tempted by the desires of a Woman!!! 🙂
The Play was very well supported – hardly an empty seat in the house – and what a performance! It was very goodgreatexcellent easily the best we’ve ever seen by an amateur group.
We left as soon as the Play had finished – 9.50 – but not before picking up our raffle-prize of another banned substance – chocolate!
It was a long journey home because the A14 was shut for major road works. We had to detour to the M1 and that added significantly to the journey time so we weren’t home until 11.30.
..and then straight to bed as we’ve an early start tomorrow!