Special, talented and so full of vitality at MoHo

Moira House spring production 2018
Moira House spring production 2018

Dream Dream Dream. An instant little Everly Brothers earworm, at the mention of the familiar title?

Actually, it is also the title of a delicious, delightful musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it filled the Swann Hall at Roedean Moira House in Eastbourne last week.

Opening the show, the a cappella close harmonies of the MoHoettes trio are so strikingly good that you wonder if they are miming. Not a bit of it: this whole production is live, and brimming with life.

MoHo – now a member of the Roedean Group of Schools – is an all-girls establishment, and incidentally the most gracious of places to visit. A generation ago, single-sex schools had a slightly incongruous feel when they presented the annual drama production. But theatre has always been ahead of the social curve, creative and explorative – and nobody bats an eyelid now at an all-female Lear, an all-black Othello, or a Hamlet entirely in sign language. And so these confident young ladies are entirely comfortable playing parts in either gender. Well done.

Director Ken Lawrence sets the action in late 1950s London, and it’s perfectly dressed and staged. Duke Theo sports a Homburg and his Moll is as common as Essex. The music – forgive the pun – is an absolute dream, and the you have to fight the temptation to hum along as the girls belt out those wonderful numbers, all seamlessly fitting the action. You Don’t Own Me, sings feisty Belle (that’s Hermia to Shakespeare scholars) to her haughty father, and Love Potion Number Nine is Puck’s narcotic of choice.

Here’s the difficult bit: the company absolutely teems with talented, exuberant performers, and no review can mention all 34 of them – never mind the 38 creatives and crew! But let’s rattle off some who really caught the eye...

Grace Russell, a nimble Puck with absolute mischief in her eyes. Olivia Stewart, Lily Jenden, Raphy McDavitt-Lowe and Emily Davison, the four lovers with a youthful vigour and chemistry. Trinity Talkington as Quince, the ultimate AmDram director, struggling to herd the dubious talents of the Mechanicals – amongst whom Megan Clarke and Amelia Baldock are a priceless Bottom-and-Flute pairing, and Amelia Ffinch-Mitchell has uncanny command of the Kenneth Williams Polari dialect which some of us remember.

The other highlight? The fabulous ensemble dance routines under Francesca Cottrell’s direction: vivid and expressive as eager youngsters but also tight and disciplined as professionals. Terrific.

Notes for improvement? Very few. Pick up your cues nice and quickly, ladies, and do work hard to project: the low ceiling of your Swann Hall is not the greatest help acoustically, especially in moments of intimate or conspiratorial dialogue. An actor’s first duty is to be heard. But those are quibbles. The performers have created something very special here, full of vitality and good humour, and doing proper justice to the Bard. All those weeks of hard work were richly rewarded, and we were richly entertained. By Kevin Anderson.