Sitting on a hay bale beneath a canopy of festoons and fairy lights as the sun set on a warm (by the end of the week!) summer’s evening, surrounded by smiling faces of anticipation as I prepared to watch the two Junior plays in the open air, you would be forgiven for forgetting the turbulence of the past year. The Headmaster’s garden provided the perfect setting for the first al fresco Junior productions cradled by the impressive willow tree which took centre stage for both the Fourth Form’s performance of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Lower Fifth’s Blue Remembered Hills by Dennis Potter. Supported by Theatre Manager Peter Humphreys, the directors’ creative vision evoked a truly magical transformation of the garden, which acted as backdrop for both plays.

Blue Remembered Hills was the first of the double bill directed by Miss Katie Cummins, set on an idyllic summer afternoon in the West Country fields of 1943 following a gang of seven-year-olds whose initial innocent fun and humour descends into tragedy as the play takes a somewhat surprisingly dark turn. The play examines the loss of innocence and human cruelty, themes which were tackled with maturity by the young cast who also had to navigate the challenges of multi-rolling throughout, aided by some clever costume design to help distinguish each character.

The role of ‘Peter’, the bully who brutally obtains an apple from his friend Willie in the opening scene only to casually sling it away after discovering it to be sour was effectively portrayed by Joel Perrin-Pote, Zubin Chinwala and Logan Beuden who all served to quickly shatter any sentimental illusions about childhood through their boorish onstage interactions. James Rowe, Sterling Stehlik and Hamish Ramsay meanwhile provided the perfect companion as Willie, a typical seven-year-old, slightly naughty and mischievous but when it comes down to it is just a frightened little boy who is caught up in the more malicious intent of Peter. 

Often at the receiving end of such taunts were Elliot Evans and Nicola Olsen as ‘Raymond’ who is bullied for his stutter and in each case was performed with innocent simplicity and ignorance as he would often let such things go over his head in an attempt to just belong. Their performance made for an uncomfortable watch at times as we saw this boy ridiculed for something he had no control over, which brought the themes of the play to light.

Megan Tappin as ‘Mabel’ Daisy Tyrwhitt-Drake, Sophie Pitts-Tucker as Angela and Katie Abraham and Anna Prest as Audrey together, successfully exposed the wheels of spitefulness and sycophancy that can occur in such trios of little girls. As is often the case, their attention was drawn to the gallant ‘John’ played with the necessary pragmatism and air of wisdom needed by Toby Anstey, Kit Derrick and Logan Beuden to help us understand that he was the decent one of the bunch alongside Theo Neil as ‘Henry’.

Very much on the outskirts of the gang, Alice Reynolds cut the perfect hapless figure as the ostracised ‘Donald Duck’ who is inevitably obliged to amuse the others with duck impressions on demand. In the scene where he is alone onstage and talks about missing his dad Reynolds really captured the emotion of the moment expertly and had the audience hanging on her every word which is vital if you are to shock the audience with the ending of the play. 

Accompanied by appropriate snippets of the soundtrack to Dad’s Army the audience were immediately transported to the WWII era and with some great attempts at convincing West Country accents it was joyous to watch the audience’s faces as the cast came bounding through on their make believe horses playing cowboys and Indians. 

The second performance we were treated to that evening was Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Miss Dominique Chapman and Miss Megan Williams which began as the sun started to set, really bringing to life the colours and magic of the lighting design. Putting a 1960s spin on the classic tale, the soundtrack, costumes and posters quickly created a festival vibe that the audience delighted in. It was clear from the outset that this cast really loved being a part of the production and despite the obvious challenges that come with performing Shakespeare you wouldn’t have known as they so eloquently presented the story.

An audience favourite from the start, Imogen Lord as ‘Puck’ played the perfect host for the evening. Onstage throughout the performance she never broke character and provided the necessary whimsy and mysticism you would expect putting the audience at ease-until it came to some audience interaction at the end that is! Sophia Ferguson as Hermia, Theo Sainsbury as Lysander, Laith Hewitson as Demetrius and Lucy Sturt as Helena did an expert job as the lovers and all felt at home delivering the iambic pentameter with natural flair and emotion. Special mention must also go to Ella Church who stepped in with only a matter of hours to prepare as Helena on the final night with huge support given from the audience throughout. 

The band of mechanicals provided many laughs for the evening culminating with their play-within-a-play. Madeleine Robertson led with the narcissism and over-confidence needed as Bottom who comes up against Anabelle Rabson’s ‘Quince’ who is desperately trying to put together a play at the last minute whilst dealing with her diva demands. Scarlett Davison as Snout, Alice Patterson as Snug, Molly Bertram as Starveling and William Mansfield as Flute make up the rest of the company with each providing convincing comedic performances.

The fairies entrance in their flower headdresses (Lola Norwood, Sasha Draper, Maisy Brewer and Ella Church) provided a visually magical spectacle for the show as attendants to their Queen Titania played by Georgina Evelyn who also acted as Hippolyta. She delivered a regal performance, which suitably shifted tone in her multi-rolling and in response to the arrival of Oberon played by Brandon Groocock who also expertly multi-rolled as King Theseus. 

Having managed up until now to avoid using the P word, it is necessary to point out that to have been able to produce two shows of such high quality during the past year is a triumph in itself. The pandemic has certainly stirred up a world of difficulty for the theatre industry but it is testament to Cranleigh, the drama department and the students that despite this we are still able to bring joy and theatre to our audiences.