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Most romantic Dream'

PUBLISHED: 17:16 11 February 2009 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010

LOVE STRUCK: A Midsummer Night’s Dream 1950s’ Hollywood style.

LOVE STRUCK: A Midsummer Night's Dream 1950s' Hollywood style.

WHEN the mafia hood Al Capone ordered the bloody execution of

WHEN the mafia hood Al Capone ordered the bloody execution of rival gang leader 'Bugs Moran' on February 14, 1929, he unwittingly echoed the demise of one man mostly believed to be the original St Valentine.

For many centuries before the great Chicago shoot out the Emperor Claudius II insisted on beheading one big hearted Roman priest who went by the name of Valentine.

This cleric who we now know as Saint Valentine had upset the emperor because he married couples deemed 'illegal' for some reason by Roman law.

Today the date of the martyr Valentine's demise has become merged with the pagan love festival of Lubercalia - a time not only for women to receive love tokens but a time of great confusion and eggshell walking for men.

They must decide whether to send gifts to mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, lovers and/or wives and keep their ideas on this romantic occasion as secret as possible to protect fragile hearts all around. And who gets to go out with them on that special night? It's a conundrum endured by many a man keen to keep the women in his life happy.

However many actors tend not to worry so much about such traditions and find it beneficial to embrace their sense of romance into their work.

For example north Kent based actor Michael Gambon is famous for playing a number of Shakesperean lovers including Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He ogled Eleanor Bron as Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons in 1971, as they waited for their wedding night, longing to be alone together after the fairies in the fantastical comedy presented as a BBC film, had finally drifted away.

And Eltham's own comedian Frankie Howerd made an impressive Bottom in a 1957 performance of 'The Dream' at the Old Vic. It was this role as the comedy ass that took him into the realm of actor from stand up comedian. Critics say he proved he was able to make a theatrical impact even though he was wearing a huge furry head and thus robbed of his famous facial expressions. More than forty years previous to this amazing performance though north Kent's own Dame Sybil Thorndike was chosen to play the impish elf, Puck in 1914 at the Old Vic. This role was one of several she could add to her repertoire of male characters which also saw her playing Prince Hal in Henry IV.

But as arguably the most romantic of Shakespeare's plays it was 'The Dream' which was originally penned for a society wedding in 1595 and the fairies were played by children of the families concerned. The number of love struck couples in this play, and the massive outbreak of marriage at the end point the event more towards what 16th century revellers would have labelled as 'an entertainment'.

What can not be denied however is that for more than four years audiences have suspended their disbelief to follow the journey of Hermia and Lysander, Oberon, Titania , Bottom and Puck, through the pitfalls of love, the power of magic and the wonderment of dreams.

The characters of Pyramus and Thisbe, the lovers who provide such merriment when portrayed by the Rude Mechanicals in their play, were stolen by the Bard from the Greek poet Ovid from Babylon.

In his creation the young lovers were brought up as neighbours, fell in love and courted through a hole in the wall between their two houses. Forbidden to wed by their parents they made a disastrous attempt to elope which left them both taking their own lives in a misunderstanding over timekeeping. As Lysander says: "The course of true love never did run smooth..."

But today no theatre management dare take too long to include this play on the programme as it is as popular and enduring with generations as love itself. But for Kent's own Orlando Bloom there's no stopping the direction of his heart. "I am in love with love," he told reporters recently. "It's heavenly when you're falling for someone and you can't stop thinking about them."

The man voted the sexiest actor in 2004 has been linked to American actress Kate Bosworth and supermodel Miranda Kerr. However at present his latest companion has four legs - Saluki hound called Sidi who he adopted while filming in Morocco.

And what of history's famous women to get the Shakespearean love treatment? Well Cleopatra was notably played by Essex girl extraordinaire Helen Mirren. In 1965 La Mirren was described in the role as 'commanding, capricious and overtly sexual' and apparently Michael Gambon found her 'a handful' when he assayed Antony in 1981 at Stratford-upon-Avon. Judging by her string of accolades and award winning performances it is fair to quote how 'age can not wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety'.

Not a bad quote to include in that Valentine's Day card chaps? Or if you're looking for something more esoteric to remember at this time of year how about one from the great poet/novelist Elizabeth Bowen who wrote: "When you love someone, all your saved-up wishes start coming out.

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