Saturday, 10th July, provided a somewhat cool and damp evening and the sky, benign though it might initially seem, displayed a not inconsiderable threat of rain. Walking towards the church for the last of three performances in England, I thought it inevitable that this performance would be inside the church rather than outside.

But no, the producers bravely gambled on [or were excellent forecasters of] the local weather patterns and ordered an outside performance. [They were proved right, the only drops of rain falling about two minutes from the end.] A full house was to be able, from close proximity, truly to enjoy the evening - if the company but performed well.

And perform well each and every member of the company did. So well indeed that I am tempted merely to set out the cast list in this review, praise all collectively and leave it at that, but that would, I am sure, not be permitted to me!

Is, I reflected later, The Hampstead Players really an amateur company? Technically, of course, it is, but I wager that many a so-called professional company would and could not mount such a production as we were privileged to watch that evening. Even before the play started, we were offered a touch of professionalism in the quality of the programme, prepared in English and French.

From the moment that Theseus and Hippolyta [David Gardner, Angela Gardner] took the stage - the stage being merely the churchyard - until the final words of a lithe and eloquent Puck [Matthew Stevens] "So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends", we were in another world, a fairy world of imagination, romance and hilarity.

The loves of the two young couples which never did run smooth were enacted with comic humour [particularly by Sarah Barron as Helena] greater than I recall from such parts before, while the 'mechanicals', individually and collectively were a constant source of hilarity and slapstick comedy. Each one played his part to perfection and the specific mention of three must not be taken as a denigration of the others. Bill Risebero as Peter Quince was ideal in voice and in his earthiness, and his repeated anger at the mispronunciation of Ninus was delightfully spoken and acted. Jeremy Hudson [Snout] as Wall was admirable in his constantly-maintained expression of simpleness and almost dumb stupidity, while Nicholas White as Bottom gave a performance which the volume of applause for him at the end showed that the audience rightly considered to be a, if not the, performance of the evening. Over the top? Maybe, but none the worse for that in such a part.

I have already said that each member of the company performed well, which includes of course amongst others the child fairies and the Queen, Titania [Gaynor Bassey], but I ask forgiveness for mentioning specifically one other performance which particularly pleased me, namely that of Adam Sutcliffe as Oberon. He has a fine voice and spoke and acted with a real poetic sense and conviction which made the part itself more convincing than I have previously seen and heard it.

A professional production? I have referred to and congratulated the actors but it is not actors alone who make or break a production. The Wardrobe Mistresses for instance are and were a very important combination as indeed those responsible for lighting, music, or as stagers and prop makers. Excellently they had performed their various tasks.

However, no review of this production would be either complete or fair without special reference to John Risebero and Ben Horslen who [apart from playing two of the four lovers] directed the play with both imagination and vision, and brought together a whole [both as the cast and otherwise] which disclosed no weakness but produced a response from more than one person [to the selfish chagrin of some of us who had appeared in earlier productions by The Players!] that they considered this to be the best production that the Hampstead Players have given. Congratulations to all.

Moving away from the production itself I would not wish to end this review without mention of two people. Firstly, it was sad that, through temporary frailty, Diana Raymond was prevented from seeing or hearing the production, so that there was lost to us another of those brilliant reviews of The Hampstead Players' productions which she has given over the years. And secondly, while I have been able genuinely to appreciate the work of the wardrobe mistresses for this production, I recall also with sadness that this was surely the first main production which Joan Barton [through death] was not able to dress.

As a postscript, I would add that by the time that this review appears in print, The Hampstead Players will have returned from their performances in France which we can confidently believe will have been a great success and, indeed, French without tears.

Derek Spottiswoode / July 2004


This review appeared in the September 2004 Hampstead Parish Church Magazine.