A Midsummer Night’s Dream – A Play for the Nation: Northern Stage, Newcastle

SURELY every professional actor wants to work under the banner of the world famous Royal Shakespeare Company. For an amateur actor that has always been the impossible dream. In a fitting celebration for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, director, Erica Whyman has changed all that by casting local actors for each of the 12 venues on the tour to perform the roles of the Rude Mechanicals. Amateur actors working cheek-by-jowl with the best professionals in the business is a significant event in theatrical history.

For Barnard Castle’s much-loved drama group,The Castle Players, it was a dream come true, but for one of their members, Graham Fewell, who tripped and broke his leg during the final rehearsal, forcing him to withdraw from the Newcastle run, it has turned into a massive disappointment. His role of Snug is now played by Ben Goffe, a member of the professional company, who also plays one of Titania’s fairies. It is hoped that Fewell will return to the company for the final performances at Stratford in June.

Set in post-war 1940s, Tom Piper’s set is a stark remembrance of the fallen, decorated with blood-red petals and a nod to his collaboration with Paul Cummins’ ceramic poppy installation. Themed around the wedding celebration of a commanding Sam Redford as Theseus and Laura Harding’s Queen of the Amazons, Hippolyta; love, marriage and delightful chaos ensue. The course of true love, however, never did run smooth and we find the star-crossed lovers in the forest in famous five style with the invisible bare-foot Puck, an incredible debut performance from Lucy Ellinson, who dusts this production with a crazy, energetic magic.

Mercy Ojelade’s Hermia is fearless, rebelling against her military father’s choice of husband. Her true love Lysander, an excellent Jack Holden, holds these scenes together with an extraordinary emotional energy.

But the praise, heaps of it, must go to The Castle Players. Peter Cockerill’s beguiling comedy timing as Bottom is up there and truly the best Bottom I’ve ever seen. His colleagues Harry French as Quince, Ian Kirkbride’s Tailor and Andrew Stainthorpe’s Flute all performed with the confidence, gusto and expertise of professionals. Special mention also to Ben Pearson’s amazingly vulnerable performance of Snout. What a triumph for this amateur group, they captured every ounce of comedy and the audience’s cheers and a standing ovation said it all.

* Runs until Saturday, March 26, with Castle Players alternating performances with Newcastle's The People’s Theatre.

Box Office: 0191-230-5151 or northernstage.co.uk

Helen Brown