Following Footsbarn’s brief stay at Shakespeare’s Globe this summer with A Shakespeare Party – its first London appearance in 17 years – the company returns to the capital, pitching its tent in Victoria Park to present A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
A true travelling theatre company, Footsbarn was created in Cornwall but has spent the last couple of decades based out of a farmhouse in the Auvergne region of France, where the company creates the shows it then takes on the road, setting up its big top in towns around the world.
That big top brings a circus-inspired theatricality to a corner of Victoria Park, where strings of lights and the aroma of mulled wine entice theatregoers into the red and yellow (and heated) tent, where the company is currently presenting Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Masks – by turns grotesque, comical and beguiling – characterise Footsbarn’s interpretation of the Bard’s romantic comedy. Masked figures frolic in the magical forest where the lovers meet; the meddling Puck is a hairy, moon-faced creature with a penchant for folk dancing; and the inhabitants of the Palace are imposing, colourful figures with beautiful but eerie Venetian-style masks.
The central characters remain human, albeit with distinct, comic-book looks, like Lysander’s golden locks and Demetrius’s hook-nosed sneer and rotund belly. The pair’s pursuit of Hermia is comical rather than romantic, as they compete for her affections and ignore Helena, who, somewhat inexplicably, loves Demetrius.
Elsewhere in the forest, Peter’s players are rehearsing the play they want to perform for the palace. A motley crew of pale-faced vagabonds, they include Bottom who is buck-teethed, unwashed and mop-haired. He longs for a central role in the play and has an inflated sense of his own importance, which he displays by comically strutting about the stage, flashing his toothy grin to the audience.
Charged by the King of the Fairies, Oberon, to bewitch his Queen, Titania, the mischievous Puck spreads his fairy dust willy-nilly about the forest, causing confusion among the lovers and turning Bottom into a donkey, whose furry ass becomes irresistible to the passionate, mysteriously unintelligible Titania.
A mix of accents among the cast give this production a truly international flavour and add to the sense that this is real travelling theatre, in the tradition of travelling players in Shakespeare’s day. Like then, live music on traditional instruments accompanies the actors, who present their play on a simple set to an audience in close proximity. Footsbarn has sprinkled its own fairy dust on a patch of Victoria Park, creating a unique and intimate atmosphere so appealing to one particular wandering child last night that she just wanted to get even closer.