A Midsummer Night's Dream (1982): Leeds Playhouse (now West Yorkshire Playhouse)

PrA Midsummer Night's Dream (

Live Performance

PRINCIPAL CAST: John Branwell (Bottom); Gordon Dulieu (Demetrius); Janet Ellis (Hermia); Victoria Hardcastle (Helena); Derek Hollis (Lysander); Cassie McFarlane (Titania); Ewart James Walters (Oberon); Leo Wringer (Puck).

The first performance of this production took place on 13 May 1982.

B.A. Young's review begins with the statement "Oberon, Titania, Puck, and all the fairies are black. And why not? They must be readily distinguished from the mortals, and they look lovely. 'I by no means repent the introduction of my Africans,' said 'Monk' Lewis of the blacks he put in Wales. 'I thought it would give a pleasing variety to the characters and dresses...could I have produced the same effect by making my heroine blue, blue I'd have made her.' So here is Ewart James Walters, as tall as a tree, looming over the forest like a jet idol, but unhappily relapsing into monotony when he speaks. Here is Cassie McFarlane, a fairy Millie Jackson as Titania. And here is lithe, mobile Leo Wringer flitting about the set as an enchanting Puck, who will be even better when he puts as much fun into his voice as his movements. Around them are no less than 13 black fairies, recruited from a local school. The production...is uncommonly pretty. Perhaps it doesn't sound pretty: there is the Playhouse's plain oval open stage, undecorated, and behind it, rows of plain rectilinear uprights, arranged in threes like a wall of cricket stumps. Now and then the rows move slightly to one side to add a touch of menace to the woods. The fairies are dressed in white singlets, the mortals wear weeds of Athens, more or less. Janet Ellis's Hermia is young, attractive and innocent, unable to understand why these wretched things are happening to her. Victoria Hardcastle was born to play Helena - taller than average, with a quality of mockery in her voice and in her face, even in her most serious moments. As their suitors, Derek Hollis's Lysander and Gordon Dulieu's Demetrius are virtually interchangeable, both of them pleasant, both of them likely to be pleasanter in a week's time when they begin to live their lines as well as speak them. There is plenty of slapstick from a devoted bunch of amateur actors, led by a Peter Quince whom Stephen Hancock supposes to have tried to look like an old-time matinee idol. John Branwell's Bottom is one of those men who use determination as a substitute for inches, like Dudley Moore. His ass's head leaves all his face uncovered, giving him freedom for the guffaws and giggles he acquires with his translation....Theseus and Hippolyta...begin the evening by speaking their lines over a wrestling bout, an event that sent my heart into my boots. Once they were content to pass the four days to their wedding with hunting instead of fighting, all was well."  ~ B. A. Young, Financial Times, 17 May 1982

"In an innovative and vigorous production of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', directed by John Harrison, the mortals are played by white actors and the immortals by black actors. The result is striking, magical and most enjoyable. Harrison has directed the play with great skill and introduced many original touches - the Amazon Queen, Hippolyta, playfully wrestles with Theseus during the opening speeches of the play, and Bottom is no longer a boasting braggart but a sensitive individual who is deeply affected by his experience in the wood, the memory of which haunts him for the rest of the play. All the performances are of a very high standard....Leo Wringer is an enchanting and mischievous Puck, Cassie McFarlane a dynamic and almost menacing Titania, Ewart James Walters a dignified but rather subdued Oberon, and there is a charming First Fairy played by Jenni George. The remaining fairies are played by the pupils of Harehills Middle School. John Halle's ingenious stylised metallic looking set suggests either the columns of a palace or the woodland trunks of trees, and his costumes the Arcadian world of pre-classical Greece." ~ J. R. L. Reyner, "Leeds Playhouse: Midsummer Night's Dream", The Stage and Television Today, 17 June 1982