A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Who would have thought Shakespeare could work so well in a broad Norfolk accent?

This Royal Shakespeare Company production of one of the Bard’s most performed comedies shakes things up a little by introducing local companies into each step of its touring production, and in Norwich’s case that means actors from The Common Lot and children from Sprowston High School.

It’s The Common Lot’s Owen Evans – well-known as part of the Nimmo Twins – that dominates the show as Bottom, transforming Elizabethan verse into chitter-running squit with an unabashed Norfolk accent.

He is matched in method, if not stage time, by Dan Fridd as Flute.

The Sprowston-staffed fairy train accompany the action perfectly across dialogue, music, and dance.

Compared to them, most of the RSC take a back seat, with Tom Piper’s stylish production design and Sam Kenyon’s music making more of an impact than the professional cast – with the exception of Lucy Ellinson as a classically exuberant Puck.

This is a brave concept and a sensory triumph, and thanks to the verve of the ‘amateur’ participants it zings through the complex webs of love and lust that make up the frenzied plot.

Whether it deserves the RSC’s subtitle of A Play For The Nation will rest heavily on the strength of other local contributors around the country, but it is a joyous play for Norfolk. 

Henry IV Part I

Kings are used to being centre stage but Shakespeare’s Henry IV never really gets that chance – and this RSC production of Part I of the Bard’s epic tale doesn’t upset that.

As is the trend Falstaff instead takes focus, on this occasion played by Anthony Sher. He takes the route of the charming old soak, at times so convincingly that his gargling marrs his words. This is a portly Falstaff that is meant to be liked; with a sack-filled rather than dark underbelly.

Alex Hassell is a dashing Prince Hal. He inhabits the dual role masterfully, slipping convincingly between the vice of Eastcheap and the valour of the battlefield.

As his rival Hotspur, Trevor White is unrelenting in his performance but Gregory Doran’s direction has him as impetuous and bratty rather than an (unflattering) mirror to Hal, wasting a key dynamic of the piece.

And the king? Jasper Britton is solid in the titular part, hinting at an undercurrent of uncertainty and guilt in his otherwise resolute actions to save his stolen crown.

This is a crowd-pleasing production that takes few risks: the audacity is in performing both – lengthy – parts of the tale back to back, and that is an impressive feat.