16 September 2014

the dreaming at the Union Theatre was all sorts of beautiful

There were various reasons why I was keen to see the dreaming and the Shakespeare connection was the least of them.

My initial interest came from the composer, Howard Goodall. I would hardly claim to be familiar with his music, apart from the Red Dwarf theme obviously, but I had seen him talk about musing on TV often enough to know something about his character. My second interest came from the Union Theatre as I had seen a blistering version of Lear on by first visit there. I also liked the space, small intimate theatres are my thing.

My planning for the day went well and after some time exploring Somerset House I still had plenty of time to eat at The Refinery in Southwark Street before heading to the cafe at the Union Theatre for some coffee and cake, always a good start to an evening.

The routine had changed slightly from my first visit and this time they let people in according to the ticket number they were given when they arrived. Unaware of this, I had not claimed my ticket immediately on arrival so, sporting number 12, I was let in with the second group. That was good enough to get a front row (only row, actually) seat on the right-hand side, much where I had sat for parts of Lear.

Another difference this time was that the rows of seats were away from the walls rather than being up against them. This was to create space for the multitude of characters to move around. That made the main stage area even smaller and even more intimate. Lovely.

the dreaming was pretty much A Midsummer Night’s Dream but was also noticeably different. It had magic potions to make the wrong people fall in love with each other and had a play within the play but the lovers were gentlefolk in WWI era England and the play was about St George slaying the dragon.

There was a large cast and even then most of the actors had to double-up as gentlefolk and woodfolk to cover all the parts. A large cast meant a wide range of voices and the opportunity to combine them in various pleasurable ways.

The music was superbly constructed so that it flowed like one piece, much more like an opera than a play with disparate songs added. It was all very pretty and very English turn-of-the-century too and called to mind Butterworth, Parry and Bridge (from my limited knowledge of such things). The success of the music was seen in the way that it hung on the lips of the audience as we left.

The lyrics were poetic and more complex than is sometimes the case with musicals that prefer to tell simple stories with simple songs. The Shakespearean feel was maintained in the new words even down the the bawdy nature of some of them.

The production was amazing and accomplished so much with a few costumes and fewer props. When they wanted us to see a river they just told us that it was there are we saw it.

Everything about the show was magical; the music, the lyrics, the singing, the acting, the movement, the staging and the interaction with the audience. It was an immensely rich experience with so much going on all the time, not least some of the characters crouching behind me to hide from those on the main stage.

The best news is that the dreaming was just the first part of a Howard Goodall season of three musicals. I will also be going to the other two.

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