Review: Thisbe at Gerry’s, Stratford East

It’s reassuring to learn I’m not the only one who finds the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream vaguely unsatisfying. You know, the one where Demetrius wakes up inexplicably in love with Helena, despite having pursued Hermia all night, and nobody bats an eyelid. It may have seemed like a happy ending for all concerned, but to be honest I’ve always felt a bit bad for Helena, married to a man who only loves her because of a magic spell, rather than because of who she is.

Door Ajar Theatre clearly had similar doubts, and so bring us Thisbe, a charming and very funny follow-up to Shakespeare’s comedy. Fourteen years have passed, and Demetrius and Helena’s teenage daughter Thisbe is tired of always coming second place to her mum in her dad’s affections. Desperate to know what happened all those years ago, she ventures into the woods, where she encounters Puck and his fairies – who have lost none of their appetite for chaos. But it turns out love is a much more complicated business than Thisbe realises, and suddenly it’s up to her to save her parents’ marriage… assuming she wants to, that is.

Photo credit: Alex Brenner
Photo credit: Alex Brenner

Directed by Roberta Zuric, the show transfers the action to a modern day setting, and is performed by a cast of six talented actor-musicians working together as a seamless ensemble. Rosalind Burt hits exactly the right note as Thisbe, a stroppy yet utterly relatable teenager – though her story may be one of magic, the emotions behind it are all too familiar. Joey Hickman is a hilarious Puck; no longer under Oberon’s thumb, he’s very much the boss in the woods these days, but there’s more than a little of the petulant child in him too.

Anne-Marie Piazza and David Osmond play Thisbe’s bemused parents, quoting Shakespeare in moments of high tension, and – in one of my favourite scenes – regressing fourteen years and getting into a fight with an equally bewildered Hermia (played by the show’s writer, Samantha Sutherland). Meanwhile, the show is BSL interpreted by Jennifer Wilson, who also narrates and plays one of the conflicting voices in Thisbe’s head; and because she’s not only there to sign but as an active member of the cast, the BSL feels very naturally integrated and is a welcome addition to the show rather than a distraction.

At just 75 minutes, the show moves very fast, with cast members switching roles in the blink of an eye (and the change of a hat), playing a variety of instruments – not just on the catchy, toe-tapping musical numbers, but to create sound effects too – and constantly rearranging the set as the action changes location. This is a very physical show, which requires its cast to be on the move (and in the right place) throughout, and they all throw themselves energetically into the action without missing a beat.

Photo credit: Alex Brenner
Photo credit: Alex Brenner

There are, as you might expect, plenty of witty and well-placed references to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the plot of Thisbe necessarily allows for a handy synopsis – “what happened in the woods…?” – so that any audience members who might not be aware of the characters’ backstory don’t miss out.

I don’t know if Thisbe is the sequel Shakespeare would have come up with, but it certainly answers a few of my questions – and it’s also a really entertaining story in its own right. Funny, relevant and beautifully performed, this is an exciting debut from Door Ajar Theatre; let’s hope we see a lot more of them in the future.

Thisbe has now concluded its run at Stratford East and is heading out on tour. For dates, visit doorajartheatre.com.

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