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Mummers stage dream show

PUBLISHED: 16:54 20 November 2008 | UPDATED: 17:24 16 August 2010

BORN in a barn in 1971, nurtured on Shakespeare's timeless classics, seasoned by adventures in distant lands, transfused with blood from around the world, Footsbarn Theatre group are quite simply unique.

BORN in a barn in 1971, nurtured on Shakespeare's timeless classics, seasoned by adventures in distant lands, transfused with blood from around the world, Footsbarn Theatre group are quite simply unique.

Resident now in France, but honoured with a stint at the Globe Theatre in Southwark, where their Shakespeare's Party played to packed houses, they are now presenting Midsummer Night's Dream in their tent in Victoria Park (five minutes from the Blackwall Tunnel.)

We sit on a horseshoe-shaped bank of seats, looking down on a small area in front of the stage reserved for children. On the stage itself sits a medieval knight's tent containing Theseus, flushed with success from his conquests, while his prize, Hippolyta, revolves under an umbrella, waiting for her wedding day.

Musicians equipped with exotic instruments serenade her and provide a constant themed presence throughout the play. Beautiful masks are used to provide a host of characters for the actors to enjoy, and none more so than Puck, played (I think) by a Japanese actor, whose costume and mask make him simply the embodiment of this iconic character.

Teamed with a Riff Raff-style Oberon, they create panic and confusion among the star-crossed lovers and the rude mechanicals with their magic potions.

Helena is wonderfully portrayed by a French actress who brings exactly the right earthy sexuality, ethereal longing and icy anger when Hermia and the others seemingly play tricks on her.

Patrick Hayter dons a gross set of teeth and milks Bottom for all he's worth. "I'm throwing an artistic wobbly," he complains, when the proposed costume for Pyramus doesn't come up to scratch. Accompanied by a grotesque crew, he creates bedlam out of the woodland rehearsals and ends up foist with a giant donkey's head as a just desert.

Unfortunately, Titania is assayed by a Far Eastern actress, whose command of The Bard is somewhat sketchy. In full flow she resembles Yoko Ono in a paddy, which is not what is required, but her streamer dance at the nuptials made amends.

Towering figures are paraded around the auditorium and become the audience at court for the enactment of 'The Play', Bottom and his compatriots make a handsome job of the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisby, and, joined by the musicians, they form a joyous parade to celebrate the happy ending of the piece.

There is so much skill and commitment in this company, built up over the years, that it is impossible to categorise the end result. Mummers de-luxe might be the best description of this one-off group of strolling players.

Whatever the name, don't let them leave the country until you have sampled an unforgettable theatrical experience.

Midsummer Night's Dream is at the Victoria Park tent until November 30. Tickets are £20 from the box office on 020 8985 2424.

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