Almost all performances by Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour are out-of-doors ones. The exception is Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal where this year’s tour of Raz Shaw’s 2009 production is playing until Sunday. It’s a deliberate choice, for the intimacy of the space and the way in which it brings the players and their watchers together make the production’s incorporation of various members of the audience into the action less cringe-making than such things can be when the presence of the “fourth wall” is more palpable.
It boasts an almost completely new cast, though Bethan Walker reprises her Sally Bowles of a Puck, high kicking to chorus line perfection, though I’d have liked a little clearer articulation for her sung words. Walker also doubles master of ceremonies Philostrate and Snug the joiner who has just the slightest hint of a foreign accent and plays a very cuddly lion with the most manicured claws. As usual Theseus and Oberon are doubled (here by Simon Merrells) who makes both the earthly and aery rulers somewhat pragmatic. Jasmine Hyde’s Hippolyta/Titania provides some of the best-spoken verse of the evening.
Our quartet of young lovers match Hara Yannas’s forthright Hermia with Louise Ford’s bitch of a Helena. You can see why Leon Williams’ Demetrius fell out of love so easily. Williams also plays Quince, that most frustrated of theatrical managers. Lysander and Flute, who so reluctantly undertakes heroine Thisbe in the interlude, are doubled by Mark Quartley as all boyish verve unmatched by any real common sense. That bullying pair, Hermia’s father Egeus and Bottom the weaver, are played by William Mannering with the right bulldozing approach to both parts.
The action springs – you can’t say that it flows – on and off the stage. It took a little time on the first night for the actors to tune their voices to the theatre’s acoustics; this is one playhouse in which you don’t need to shout unless the part actually demands that you do so. There some nice touches, as in Hermia’s use of an inhaler when out of breath paralleling Lysander’s breath freshener when planning a little amorous activity. The 1930s costumes work well in this context, with the attendant fairies in formal evening coats backed with spangle-lit wings, loo masks and suitably decadent cigarette holders, Happy Valley somehow migrated to a wood near Athens. Or perhaps even closer to home.