If you follow the path through Eastville Park, the course of true love will take you to a derelict, open-air Victorian pool finally waking after a long sleep and filling not with water, but with wonder and delight as the setting for Insane Root’s latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
From vaults to graveyards, crypts to caves, Insane Root specialise in seeing the potential of unexpected spaces to elucidate Shakespearean and other classic texts: placing their 2017 adaptation of The Tempest in St John on the Wall’s Crypt perfectly captured the elegiac longing of the ageing Prospero, and as the star-cross’d lovers in their open-air production of Romeo and Juliet fell to their tragic fates, so did the cloak of night fall over the players and audience in this very pool. It’s a few years since Insane Root last laid their scene at Eastville Park, and while the pool doesn’t cast a spell as potent or perfectly plotted for Midsummer as it did Romeo and Juliet, it is– with a little sprinkle of Puck’s fairy dust and Edmund McKay’s playful lighting – an opportune Athenian woodland for spirited fairies, lost lovers, and crafty thespians alike.
The foliage around the pool is a natural ‘palace wood’, the drained pool floor a perfect stage, and the steps around the edge a fitting, if solid, place to watch the action unfold.Dressed in the earthy palette of Katy Hoste’s designs, the talented cast of nine actors open with a song from associate Ellie Showering.Their distinctive choral work, which also scores all of Insane Root’s previous adaptations with lyrics skilfully drawn from the text itself, lulls us with soft lilts into the fantasy world of the play and fixes us there with Dan Pollard’s echoing sound design.
The different worlds and interwoven plots are part of the difficulty in adapting this deceptively straight-forward play. The fighting lovers, vengeful fairies, and disastrous group of artisans-turned-actors are grounds for farce, and Hannah Drake’s playful direction does find all the lightness and laughter, but there’s also darkness to explore.
A feat of authenticity and nuance in portraying adolescence
For a story so unaffected and so frank in its narrative style, the adaptation of Normal People is as devastating as it is frustrating, a feat of authenticity and nuance in portraying adolescence that’s so true-to-life that you feel every glance, every faltering ‘I love you’, and every note of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’ as it plays over the final scene of episode three.
Following two Irish students as they fall in and out of love, the writers, directors, and actors focus on depicting the experience of sex, isolation, grieving, and longing with a weight and fragility that’s not afforded to stories of adolescence very often, and all with a soundtrack that echoes every scene to devastating effect. To echo Yazoo again, ‘it’s like a story of love’, and like all love stories, it’ll leave you feeling a little fragile, and yet so grateful for the love you gave to it.
Like grieving, this novel lingers, delicate and devastating
A tale of devastating grief with Shakespearean influence, O’Farrell’s novel is an elegy to the fragility of life, and follows the everyday, everlasting, ever-lingering effect of loss on a playwright and his wife living in Stratford-upon-Avon in the late 1500s.
Though this is evidently Shakespeare, as he also experienced the death of his young child early in life, O’Farrell’s Will isn’t the illustrious playwright, but the young Latin tutor falling in love, the longed-for father following his work to London, adrift from his wife and children in Stratford, and the artist so desperate to author a different life for his lost child that this act of preservation proves too poetic, too disaffecting, for his grieving wife, Agnes.
As, after all, it’s not the lofty poetry of Will’s life in London that’s the focus of the novel, but the practicalities of death and the private duty that Agnes devotes her life to in Stratford. Laced with detail and with all of O’Farrell’s elegance, Hamnet, like grieving, lingers, delicate and devastating, long after the final act.
These are the five canonical fatalities whose attacker was the unidentified Jack the Ripper, a Victorian figure whose grossly violent legacy still plagues the streets of the Whitechapel district of East London. With walks, fiction, and periodicals dedicated to the serial killings, these are offences so vicious and folkloric that they and their faceless culprit are the focus of deathly fascination.
The five – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Kate Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – were left with a far less illustrious legacy. A footnote to their antagonist, canon-fodder for the anecdote, they were scapegoats, accepted as prostitutes without proof, disfigured, disgraced, displayed as photographs of defaced corpses, and, largely, forgotten from their own stories in favour of the surgical details of their deaths.
Once upon a cold, dark evening, in a city that looks and feels far, far away from a fairy story – although not too far from the stone vestiges of a castle dating from the age of William the Conqueror – Insane Root Theatre are turning an oft-told yarn into staged gold.
The peculiar tale of an elf-like sprite that turns straw into gold for a poor, desperate girl whose father has pledged a great deal more than she can deliver to a despotic king, Rumplestiltskin is an odd pick for these experts in Shakespearean texts in strange places to adapt. Yet, with their exceptional eye for space and playwright Matt Grinter’s exquisitely crafted script, it is an exciting adaptation that fills the unexpectedly fitting setting of John Wesley’s Chapel with wonder and delight.
From the skilful prologue that evokes the scuttling of legs and fluttering of feathers with its lyrical, evocative language to the final trick, Grinter’s script is elegant and playful in its originality, entangling and unpicking language itself until it, and the tale, feels as spanking and finely wrought as the spun gold.