Gareth Thomas in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Dear Brutus

Review by Judith Proctor.

Those of you who just want to read about the plays can skip the earlier bits of this ramble, but for me, half the pleasure of a play trip is meeting with friends, etc. so I'm going to waffle on about that too.

I packed my bags on Thursday. I know from long experience that I will always forget something if I don't do my packing early. Usually something critical like the theatre/rail tickets or underwear.

Friday morning, my nearest and dearest dropped me off at the station and I settled down for the trip to Nottingham. One of the reasons I like travelling by train is that you so often meet interesting people. I always book table seats - more space for books and embroidery, but also people tend to choose those if they don't mind company. I ended up chatting to a retired man who was a keen stamp collector and we discussed a few comparisons between running stamp fairs and SF conventions. I wonder how viable universities are for SF cons? I've come across a few small events done at them, but don't know if they meet all the requirements for larger ones. I make a mental note that it might be worth looking into.

After that, I settle down to reading some Byron. I'm sharing a room with Tanja (pronounced Tanya for non-Germans) and she expressed an interest in visiting Newstead Abbey, a place near Nottingham that's associated with Byron (Sadly, it later turned out not to be open in October.). Never averse to a little culture, and feeling a tiny bit ashamed that Tanja knows English poets better than I do, I get through several poems including 'The Vision of Judgement'. My morale is slightly restored when I find I've marked one of the verses which rather suggests I've actually read the poem before, though none of it rang any bells except the verse I'd marked. It made me think of PGP Avon and Blake, which is why I'd marked it. (If you're interested, it's when St Michael meets Satan and they acknowledge they remember their old friendship even though they are now on opposite sides.)

Arriving at Nottingham, I look at the weather. The incessent rain of the last few days has stopped and it looks a nice day for a walk. I decide to hump my luggage and stuff taxis. Besides, according to the map that I got from tourist information, there's a canal just down the road.

I have a weakness for canals and canal history and this turns out to be a pleasant stretch of canal. Nottingham is one of the cities that have realised canals are an asset and many buildings have been built along the banks in recent years that take advantage of the setting. Nice architecture, particularly the new magistrates court. There's also a lock, double width, thus establishing this as a wide canal, though as I explained to Tanja later, a wide canal in British terms is still very narrow compared to what she told me of German canals (which link major freight-carrying rivers).

I walked my way from the lock to the Strathdon hotel, pausing only to chat to two Japanese students who were doing a questionaire on tourism in Nottingham. I cheerfully filled in 'none of the above' to nearly all the questions as the theatre wasn't even on their list of attractions. Chatted briefly on the nature of questionaires and swopped comparisons between English and Japenese culture.

The Strathdon hotel is bang opposite the Nottingham Playhouse (bounus points go to Nottingham tourist information who told me this when I was checking out possible hotels). It also, by happy coincidence, had the best room rate that I was able to negotiate for us as a group.

Once I'd dumped my bags, I went to the Playhouse and worked my way through the contact sheets for the two plays. There's a lot of very good photos and they're very reasonably priced (4.25 and 3.25 for B+W and colour 8*10in photos plus postage). I'll post a list of the photos and what's on them shortly, for anyone who wants to order.

I got back to the hotel to meet Tanja. We had a chat, went out for a walk, had a meal and after some confusion over time zones (Tanja's watch was still on German time) we went to watch Billy Elliot, which I'll happily recommend to anyone. We later had a very interesting discussion on why succesful British films: The Full Monty, Billy Elliott, Brassed Off, etc. all seem to show depressed areas of Britain.

Saturday morning, we went to visit the Nottingham lace museum. Very interesting and has some working lace-making machines. If you're interested, go while you still can as I'll be very surprised if they have anyone to work the machines in a few years time. The 'twisthands' as the machine operators are called, are all well past retirement age and it took a seven year apprenticeship to learn to use the machines properly.

Saturday afternoon, we all met up in the theatre foyer and introduced everyone who hadn't met before. We managed to sort out which ticket was whose (complicated discount schemes for booking meals and plays together had made it an interesting exercise booking everything) and went in to see the Dream.

It was a good play. Good, but not fantastic. The costumes were very good - it was done in Elizabethan dress (which makes sense as the Athenians would have been dressed in Elizabethan costume in Shakespeare's day), but this did mean that a couple of the actors had very heavy costumes which Gareth said were a problem. Gareth had three different costumes (four if you add the breastplate Theseus wears at the start) and one very fast change to do. The fairies looked rather liked teletubbies. Some of us liked that, some didn't. There were two sets - the interior of the palace and the forest. I liked the palace set (which was used in a redressed form for Dear Brutus) but wasn't too keen on the forest. They'd gone for various ramps which asceded and descended and these were noisy when they moved which was distracting on occasion. Hidden doors opened and closed all over the place for Puck to appear by surprise.

The play starts with Theseus and Hippolyta quarreling - a pretty physical quarrel. This didn't work for me for two reasons. Firstly, they were both talking too fast and I find (and several others of the group said the same thing) that it takes me five or ten minutes to attune my ears to Shakespearean English. After that time, I'm fine and I follow the dialogue, but I missed quite a bit at the beginning and would have preferred it slower.

Secondly, I just don't buy it as a quarrel. I can't see it in the written text at all. They're talking about their forthcoming marriage. I can understand why it's done this way, though. The Dream is a collection of separate stories held together by extremely loose strands. 'Theseus and Hippolyta' and 'Oberon and Titiana' are two of those strands. If they can be woven together, that adds an extra degree of continuity. Hence the double casting with the same actors playing two parts. (Also saves money - the 'mechanicals' mostly doubled up as fairies and one guy had three parts) In this version of the play, Theseus and Hippolyta start with an argument and so do Oberon and Titania (which is far more reasonable) and as the relationship between one couple changes, so does the other. The only change that has to be made to the text is to make Bottom awaken from his 'dream' a little earlier so that Oberon and Titania have time for a very fast costume change (it would require it to be done in about two seconds flat otherwise).

The one bonus from my point of view from the interlinking of the characters is that it gives a real buzz to Theseus's line near the end when he says "Lovers to bed, 'tis almost fairy time" and for an instant you wonder, 'are they the same people?'

I did like Oberon's costume. It picks up on Titania's comment that he has come from India and includes a wonderfully exotic-looking green turban. It also shows a lot of bare chest, which kept several female fans happily drooling.

Acting honours go to Veronica Leer as Puck (a very hemaphrodite Puck this - s/he pees in a pool when s/he first appears) and also to Martin Herdman as Bottom. Gareth said Martin was unwell the day we saw him, so if that was Martin unwell, then he must be amazing when fit.

Having seen Gareth in a number of plays, we've found that other actors often share plays in common with him (possibly due to the same directors being involved). Playing 'spot the actor' we found people who'd appeared with him in the Clearing, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sleeping Beauty. Well, it may have been Gareth who pointed out the man from Sleeping Beauty. We may be excused there: he was playing the frog which does make him a bit hard to recognise in other roles...

After the play, we met up with Gareth in the bar and swopped comments and thoughts on the play. An interesting discussion. I find I get a lot more out of a play when I talk over it afterwards with friends - so much so that I hate going on my own - and talking it over with a cast member gives one even more insights as to why things were done a particular way.

We'd a meal booked for 6pm in the restaurant, so Gareth went to check his lines and we went to eat. They'd managed a table for all twelve of us which was great. Even better was when Julia produced a birthday cake (it was my birthday the following day) and a card signed by all present. I had happy birthday sung in three different languages and was totally over the moon. And you should see Julia's taste in birthday cards <evil grin>. No wonder Gareth signed it with an exclamation mark!

The food was excellent. If anyone visits Nottingham, the Limelight Restaurant gets my seal of approval.

And then onto Dear Brutus. Gareth had said that he felt it was the better production of the two. It was. In spades.

This was truely excellent and I was crying by the end.

'Dear Brutus' was written by JM Barrie who is best known for Peter Pan. I greatly enjoyed Peter Pan when I saw it this Christmas, but if I could see one of his plays again, it would be 'Dear Brutus'.

The play starts with a group of women in a country house who have caught the butler stealing. He says it isn't his fault. If his life had taken a different turn and he'd taken a clerk's job that he was once offered, he'd be a different man now,

Slowly, we come to realise that all Lob's guests have this one thing in common. They all have a decision that they regret making, or wish that one thing could be different in their lives. Mr Purdie feels that he married the wrong woman. His scenes with Joanna are a masterpiece of commedy as they justify their actions behind his wife's back. When his wife comes in, they self-righteously accuse her of eves-dropping and trying to put them in the wrong.

Mr Coade wishes that he had led a more useful life and feels that if he hadn't been rich, he might have done so. (His delightful, elderly, wife is the only character who is totally content with her lot.)

Mrs Death, a sharp, intelligent woman, excellently played by Sandra Duncan, wishes she had married a different man. Her artist husband is now an alcoholic and though they seem well off, she despises him.

Mr Dearth, Gareth, is the last of the house guests to appear on stage. He has the geniality of the drunk and his hands shake with the DTs. (Interestingly enough, Gareth said that one person who saw the play asked him whether he was always so nervous coming on stage that he shook with nerves!) He and his wife argue and bicker, yet one gets the feeling that he still cares for her. There's a wonderfully portrayed relationship between the two. Though there is little love shown, they know each other incredibly well and there seems almost to be an invisible link between them. (Sandra also played Titania and Hipolyta, but she was far better in this role)

Lob, it transpires, has invited his guests here for a reason. He wants to entice them into the enchanted forest which only appears on Midsummer's Eve. Lob is another name for Puck and this is one of the more obvious parallels between the two plays apart from them both being set on midsummer night. I don't know whose idea it was to run the two plays together, but it works very well for a number of reasons. The chemistry between Mr and Mrs Dearth is almost certainly aided by them also having played Theseus and Hipolyta together only a few hours before.

One by one, the cast depart into the wood and we see who they become in their 'second chance'. Mr Purdie is shown for the philanderer that we all suspected him to be. In the wood, he is married to Joanna and flirting madly with Mabel (who was his wife in the world outside the wood). Matey, the butler, is now rich, but turns out to be still dishonest. Mr Code is still aimless (he wanders around playing a flute and I'm ashamed to saw that I mistook him for Lob. I was rather relieved afterwards to discover that someone else had made the same mistake).

The title of the play comes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

The quote proves to be true for everyone except Dearth.

In the forest, Dearth is still an artist. He's not well off, but he has a daughter whom he has brought up since her mother died and they are incredibly happy together. They joke, they tease and they laugh. She's a wild child, very much a free spirit (and here the relationship between the two plays comes in again as Veronica Leer plays both Puck and Margaret and the father/daughter relationship between Dearth and Margaret is allowed to seep a little into the byplay between Puck and Oberon). Into the idyll of a day's painting in the forest comes a starving woman. The audience, but not the characters, recognise her as Mrs Dearth - in this life, she married another man and has been abandoned by him. Dearth and Margaret are concerned. They aren't rich, but they hate to see another suffering when they are happy. They give her some money and she leaves, but Dearth is still concerned. He feels connected to her in some way and wants to help more. He goes towards a house in the distance to seek food for her. Margaret tries to stop him. She has a premonition that something terrible will happen if he goes there.

"Daddy," she calls after him, "I don't want to be a might-have-been."

As each of the characters re-enters the house, it takes them time to recover their memory of who they really are. During that lapse, the people who have already returned take their entertainment in watching the confusion of the newcommers. Their entertainment is easy until Dearth returns. He comes asking for food for another and they recognise a different man in him. This isn't the drunk whom they knew. His hands are steady, he's confident, relaxed and the moment when memory returns is truely terrible. With a cry of despair, Dearth realises that he has lost his beloved daughter forever.

I'm sure I wasn't the only one crying.

We caught up with Gareth later in the evening and had an interesting discussion on the motivations of the various characters, while cursing the noise and smoke levels in the bar. Gareth commented on the way that he and Sandra had discussed the relationship between Mr and Mrs Dearth and the way that changing the way that you say a line can alter the entire meaning of it.

I got a birthday hug off Gareth and am reliably informed that I still had a big goofy grin all over my face several minutes later.

Sunday morning, we went off to see the Nottingham caves - Nottingham has many man-made caves going back centuries and they're well worth a visit. After that, we all said our farewells and headed for home.

Gareth told us that he'd just got a part in Hamlet at the Brunton Theatre in Mussleburgh near Edinburgh. He's playing Polonius and the (now Welsh) gravedigger. He didn't know the exact dates but thought they were January/February. Instant heart failure on my part as Redemption is at the end of February and Gareth is a guest, work permitting. I phoned the theatre Monday. Touch wood, the lady at the Brunton theatre thinks Hamlet will probably run for two or three weeks towards the end of January. Fingers crossed, but it looks as if Gareth is still safe for Redemption. The theatre will send me the dates as soon as their new brochure is out. I'm already on their books as I went to see Gareth in Twelth Night at the Brunton.

So, anyone who will be interested in a weekend in Edinburgh to see Hamlet, drop me a line and I'll work out a date nearer the time and sort out somewhere to stay.


PS. You escaped a detailed description of the caves <grin> because it's taken me all day to manage to type this much!

Back to A Midsummer Night's Dream and Dear Brutus

Back to Gareth Thomas's other roles

Back to Who's Who Index

Back to Blakes 7 Index

Last updated on 22nd of October 2000.