Tag Archives: promenade

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – The Savill Garden, Windsor

“Immersive” is theatre’s buzzword of the moment. But it has come to mean various different things. On one hand, it can be the sensation of stepping through the fourth wall and being immersed in a world which feels completely real, leaving behind the humdrum of ordinary life.  On the other, there is the complex niche genre where you as an audience member have a bearing on your experience of the performance, be that through making active (or passive) choices which then have a tangible impact on how things play out, or wandering through spaces where there are several scenes running simultaneously and it would require repeat visits in order to see all of it. Just when you think you’ve understood how to pinpoint what is and isn’t immersive, another company comes along and throws that definition out of the window.

Watch Your Head’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is very much the former: a site-specific promenade production. But in truth these are clunky words which risk alienating the general public before they’ve even bought their tickets –  and that would be a terrible shame as while it doesn’t break any new ground in terms of immersive theatre, this is a very strong, imaginative and accessible Shakespearean production filled with magic and mischief, set in the breathtakingly beautiful Savill Gardens near Windsor. We were well attended by families, with kids boisterously racing from one scene to the next, lapping up the novelty of multiple locations in the fresh air and fading daylight.

All of Shakespeare’s familiar story is here: bickering lovers, bumbling mechanicals and troublesome fairies – but with plenty more besides. This versatile cast double up as woodland creatures that trill, chirrup and squeak as they guide us deeper into the park.  There is the added bonus of live music, ranging from close harmony singing to bluesy jazz, perfectly complementing the 1920s-inspired costumes.  The passages of text delivered as song add an extra dimension and are pulled off with great finesse. There’s even a little bit of audience participation snuck in, to great comic effect.

My cast highlight was Joss Wyre as a very magnetic Puck – veering between remorseful child and wild-eyed sprite, there are times when you’re never quite sure if she’s made a genuine mistake or is reveling in the havoc she has created; but then an impish twinkle flashes across her face and we know exactly what she’s up to. There are some roles which demand that you crank the overacting up to 11 and Oliver Lavery is the quintessential Bottom, brashly steamrollering through the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, much to the horror of earnest director, Quince (George Jennings).

By far the stand-out performance of the lovers is Paige Round as Helena – bruised of heart by her unrequited love for Demetrius (Edward Firth), she cuts a very sympathetic character – partly because he comes across as so spiteful that it’s a wonder what she sees in him in the first place, apart from his unattainability. Sara Langridge is effortlessly elegant as Hermia – right up until she loses the affections of Lysander (Jared Garfield) to Helena in a slight ‘puck up’ as the flower juice takes effect and everyone falls in love with the wrong person. It is a joy to watch the two boys squabble over Hermia in a hilarious fight scene.

There’s a large amount of doubling up in the cast, e.g. Theseus/Oberon by the brooding and serious Jack Bannell, and Anneli Page who switches from the gentle, reserved Hippolyta into hippy-dippy Titania. While the mechanicals provide the obvious comedy, it’s really refreshing to see them bring contrast and personality to their secondary roles as the fairies. Joshua Considine as the almost Gollum-like Moth, Bruno Major as a very dopey Mustardseed, and Emma Jane Morton as ethereal fruitloop Peaseblossom.

The only thing that spoils it slightly is the inescapable noise from the Heathrow flight path. There are many beautifully subtle moments which are sadly drowned out by passing aeroplanes – but it is testament to the performers that they still manage to tell a very rich story, even if we do miss a few lines. While this is closer to a traditional Shakespeare than the more experimental end of the immersive theatre spectrum, it is still nonetheless a bewitching production filled with wit, depth and invention that is absolutely worth a trip outside the big smoke. Go and see it.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing until Sunday 19th July at The Savill Garden, Wick Lane, Englefield Green, Windsor, Surrey TW20 0UU. Running time approximately 2 hours including an interval. This is a promenade (walking) production through parkland. In the event of rain, an indoor version will be performed instead. For those travelling from London, the closest station is Egham and taxis are available outside; it takes around 10 minutes and costs about £9 each way. For tickets and more information, please go to http://watch-your-head.co.uk/

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Macbeth – RIFT

Having thrown myself into this immersive theatre lark recently and as quite a fan of Shakespeare, the idea of an overnight Macbeth in a ‘secret London location’ was irresistible.  It was a little ambiguous as to whether the actors would be performing throughout the night with the whole play stretched over 12 hours or it was just going to be a late finish, but given that a ticket included sleeping arrangements (Hard – bring your own sleeping bag, Soft – you get a campbed, Deluxe – you get a bed), there was only one way to find out.

In anticipation that some of you have bought tickets and are waiting for your performance date, here are some important tips for you:

  • Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be wandering about a lot.
  • Take a few warm layers with you – while the whole thing takes place inside the building in the height of summer, when the windows or balcony doors are open (or you are out on the balcony), it gets a bit nippy once it’s got dark.
  • Get there before your start time – there’s a few things to do before it actually starts (i.e. fill in a medical form).
  • Have something to eat before you go – there is a small vegan meal included, but it’s served quite late in the evening and you’ll need sustenance for all that wandering about.
  • Hard and Soft have changes to the sleeping arrangements (a bit of an upgrade!) – check your email.

Here endeth the tips.  The below contains spoilers.

On arrival at Balfron Tower, I went through the security check point of Borduria where I handed over my phone, filled in a medical form and almost had time to exchange money for Bordurian currency (was running late due to getting very lost at Stratford International trying to find the right DLR platform).  We were then escorted by Uri, Borduria’s finest security guard to enter the Rift between fact and fiction and step from daylight into a very dark underground car park….

Where I was promptly terrified by a witch.  I don’t know where she came from, but she appeared next to me very suddenly, before my eyes had had a chance to adjust to the dark.  I carried on walking ahead, following the rest of the people in my group, only to look round to my side and find the witch still walking alongside me as the other two appeared out of the gloom.  We gathered around an oil drum with a fire lit in the top for the opening scene.  Macbeth appeared along with a few accomplices, their military styling perfectly at home in the brutalist architecture.  As we walked along, we were treated to one of Macbeth’s cocky, self-assured soliloquies with knowing looks.  A strong start.

We were shepherded round to the entrance where our guide, Ivana was waiting.  We were ushered into a lift where there began a lot of deadpan instructions (pure comedy) as we rose up to the higher floors.  I’ve often wondered if immersive theatre could ever tackle comedy and it seems that it can, I just wasn’t sure if Macbeth was necessarily the right vehicle for it.  We were then taken up to a bar where we could buy drinks with Bordurian currency (luckily soft drinks were free).

As the evening progressed, we were ushered into various rooms, sometimes with other groups, so that we were taken to scenes, or scenes were brought to us.  We soon worked out that the flat we were taken to on repeated occasions was the flat we’d be staying in for the night.  While the scenes were good, there were often long gaps in between – I can only presume the actors had to do the same scene a few times over in various flats before the show could move on to the next bit.  These gaps were often covered with TV reports of ‘Birnam wood is on the move’ from man on the scene, Uri (We love Uri!  He should have his own show) or something from our guide, but usually some sort of comedy which frequently had us helpless with laughter.

But then suddenly we’d be jolted back to drama as Macbeth would storm into the room for an argument with his wife as they try to cover their tracks or an uneasy stand-off with Macduff.  Then they’d be out again and we’d either sit and wait or be ushered off to another room.  There was a frequent loss of impetus as the links between scenes are a long way from seamless.  This is where the logistics of promenade theatre become incredibly exposed.  As an audience, we were never quite sure when it had actually finished – we’d all settled down for drinks and a chat when a scene was brought to us – after this we were moved onto another bar.  After a few minutes, exhaustion kicked in and it was very much time to go to bed (a bunkbed rather than a campbed was much appreciated!)

But as I was there on opening night (presumably their first time with an audience that isn’t made up of their family and friends for dry runs), I am prepared to be forgiving.  They have set themselves an enormous task and are so close to pulling it off.  There are many things to like about this production: The acting I saw was brilliant and the guides remained in character at all times, even when things seemed to be going slightly awry.  There were also some lovely little touches to the set dressing such as a wedding photo of the Macbeths and the bloody bed in Duncan’s flat.

Macbeth is the perfect production for the building and comedy is a brilliant way to manage the gaps between scenes – I’m just not sure that the two things belonged together in the same show.  But if RIFT want to try their hand at a through-and-through comedy in promenade (with Uri, of course), I will absolutely be buying a ticket.