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 The Theatreguide.London Review

St. John's Night
Jermyn Street Theatre   Summer 2012

Surprisingly for a playwright usually thought of as dour and moralistic, Henrik Ibsen's little-known early play is a warm romantic comedy with strong debts, both in plot and tone, to A Midsummer Night's Dream. 

There are touches of social and political satire, in the portrait of a self-styled Nationalist poet and a plot twist involving some legal chicanery, but the dominant tone is the all-embracing delight in the inherent goodness of life that Ingmar Bergman would later call the smiles of a summer night. 

A provincial mother is all a-flutter because her artistic daughter's engagement to a well-off young man is about to be announced, but her Cinderella-like stepdaughter is more involved in her love of nature and her grandfather's folk tales. 

The shy fiancé-to-be arrives, along with a poseur of a poet, and the spell of midsummer night, aided by the magic potion of a local goblin, leads everyone to behave just enough out of character to discover their true characters and to rearrange themselves into more appropriate pairs. 

In a particularly evocative moment Ibsen has actual magic happen, which the supposedly intellectual and sensitive couple completely miss and the more modest pair instinctively understand and appreciate. 

But the play's warm spirit is all-embracing enough to allow even the fools a happy ending and, almost in passing, to forgive a few crimes committed along the way. 

It's hard to tell whether the constant stream of self-referential jokes, the arch line readings and double-takes at plot clichés, are Ibsen's or director Anthony Biggs'. Certainly there is a softly ironic tone to the play, which the director has taken as a cue to treat the whole thing with a hint of parody and send-up. 

If he occasionally goes too far, allowing playing of near-Panto broadness, he's careful to remain true to Ibsen's generous spirit, so the not-taking-this-tosh-seriously acting never turns nasty and the satire is always affectionate. 

Ed Birch is amusing as the buttoned-down fiancé startled to find himself loosening up and Louise Calf sweet as the Cinderella. Danny Lee Wynter as the poseur, Isla Carter as his ideal mate and Sara Crowe as confused mother all add to the warm amusement.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  St. John's Night - Jermyn Street Theatre 2012


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