Theatre in the Forest – A Midsummer Night's Dream
I've attended many Red Rose Chain productions in the past, including their early Theatre in the Forest shows in Rendlesham Forest, but haven't managed to get to a performance since becoming a mum back in 2008. Needless to say I was a little bit excited to have the opportunity to go along to A Midsummer Night's Dream at Jimmy's Farm this week, especially as this time I was able to take my nearly-seven-year-old along with me. Like many children he does enjoy the performing arts, and has sat engrossed through a good number of children's plays, pantomimes, dance renditions and musicals at places like The New Wolsey, The Regent and Dance East over the years, but I have to admit I hadn't yet exposed him to Shakespeare!
To be fair, initially he was mostly just excited because he was getting to stay up late and we would be outside in the woods after dark. But as we made our way towards the seating area, ducking through trees laden with fairy lights, the magical feeling started to set in. We had arrived in plenty of time (unusual for me!), so after bagging our seats we headed off to find Fairyland - a lovely little area of the wood designed to get younger visitors in the mood for magic and mystery - find the four fairy doors to win a special badge!
Presumably because this was a weekday performance, the audience on this particular night was mainly adults. There were still quite a few children there too though, mostly in the 6 years plus age range, and even a tiny baby all snuggly in warm blankets. All were made more than welcome, and those that there brave enough to sit on the floor right in front of the stage even had brief moments of involvement with the performance. Personally I was pleased to be sitting further back on the staged seating, sufficiently far away from the "action" but still with a great view of the stage even for the little ones.
As always, the performance itself was witty and original, incorporating Red Rose Chain's unique brand of drama, music, comedy and costume with the time-honoured story-telling and humour of William Shakespeare - a winning combination if ever there was one! I was a little concerned that the language would go over my son's head (there's plenty of places where it goes over mine!), and although he did look a bit bemused at first there was always enough going on to keep his attention throughout.
It was well worth buying a program too, as at the back is a breakdown of the characters and the key story points, told in simple language and brilliantly illustrated with cartoons - that really helped with explaining what was going on and where we were in the story (and I'm not ashamed to admit that it helped me too!) As the sun set behind the stage and the story behind the characters unfolded, it felt like a real privilege to be enjoying this unique piece of Suffolk theatre, complete with peacocks calling from the rooftops of Jimmy's Farm and trains rattling past in the distance.
Never predictable, Red Rose Chain deliver an (almost!) believable rendition of this wacky story. Then just when you think it's winding down towards the end, things go really crazy! The eye-popping, foot-tapping, high energy finale made sure we were all still awake... but I won't spoil the surprise by giving away any more than that - you'll have to go and see it for yourself, and do take the kids! Just a final note: we were lucky that the weather was clear for our performance, but even if it rains the trees do offer quite a lot of cover and rain ponchos are provided if needed.
However, possibly more importantly, remember that it can get quite chilly in the woods once the sun goes down so it's well worth taking extra layers of clothes and a blanket - I was very glad I'd had the afterthought of taking along the camp blanket we'd recently acquired for a Beavers trip, which did a great job of keeping our knees toastie.