It takes a big show to fill a stage as large as the one at the Rose Theatre and it takes big acting talent to project into its cavernous auditorium. It would be a big ask for any company, so it wasn’t without a little trepidation on my part that I settled in for Howard Goodall’s The Dreaming, revived 11 years on from its premiere. For the company performing was the National Youth Music Theatre, with a majority of actors and musicians not yet out of their teens. Could they rise to the challenge? Of course they could!
The Dreaming retells A Midsummer Night’s Dream in song (with a few name-changes too), its setting 1914, with The Shadows cast not just by moonlight, but by the fate that awaits innocent, uniformed youth. All the familiar components of Shakespeare’s work are present – the lovers, the fairies, the am-dram society, the bewitchings and the transformations – and there are just as many laughs too. Giggles were loudest for Jennifer's patter song explaining exactly how many ways she was inferior to Charlotte for the benefit of her two suddenly ardent suitors; and the closing play within a play, this time based on the legend of St George, mangled mercilessly by the villagers.
With so young a cast (and in the presence of HRH The Earl of Wessex and many other representatives of British Theatre’s Great and Good) nerves did show a little at times, but such quibbles are utterly drowned by the energy and talent on stage. Stand outs were Molly Lynch as Jennifer, singing and acting beautifully with perfect comic timing; Rupert Henderson as a magnificently camp Reverend Plum, leading his appallingly ill-conceived production with aplomb; and Tom Goodwin's marrying of a superb soprano voice to a real desire to belong in the fairy world as a puckish Jack.
Jeremy James Taylor founded the National Youth Music Theatre around the time that some of the cast’s parents were born, so he knows exactly how to get the most from the youngsters with whom he works. And it shows. Tickets are very reasonably priced for a production of such scale and ambition, so it’s a bargain for parents and an inspiration for kids.
The Dreaming continues at The Rose Theatre Kingston until 22 July as part of the International Youth Arts Festival.