The summer solstice saw the doors open for the Iris Theatre Summer Festival, an annual outdoor theatre festival which takes place in the gardens of the Actors Church, Covent Garden. Fittingly, the festival opened with the world premiere of a brand new play about a dream-weaving fairy, which runs throughout this wet Midsummer week.
Inspired by Mercutio’s famous speech in Romeo and Juliet, Queen Mab (written by Watermill associate artist Danielle Pearson and directed by Georgie Staight) sees Shakespeare’s mischievous “fairies’ midwife” slipping into bedrooms at the height of the pandemic. Tired of meddling with the mundane minds of sleeping mortals, Mab (Erica Flint) finds herself in conversation with 15 year old Freya (Jo Patmore) and the two soon strike up an unlikely friendship.
Mab and Freya couldn’t be more different. Freya is a drum-playing teenager who has been stuck inside for months with GCSEs to stress about and A Level options to choose, a fraught relationship with her fighting parents and an annoying brother who won’t do his homework. But all of that pales in comparison to her overwhelming and undying love for her classmate, Ollie N. Meanwhile, Mab couldn’t care less about this sort of small stuff. After all, humans are constantly falling in and out of love, and they’ll all be dead in a mere 80 years or so anyway so what does it really matter? But as the pair spend more time together, they learn from each other’s experiences. Mab recounts stories of time shared with Shakespeare. Freya imparts important information about Swiss rolls. And together they learn valuable lessons about when to seize the moment and when to leave things well alone.
Queen Mab is a charming, relatable story about the loneliness and confusion that comes with coming of age (during a pandemic), infused with a little sprinkling of magic. With a script that fuses Freya’s contemporary language with Mab’s Shakespearean speech, the play is well suited to its surroundings in the grounds of the seventeenth century church, where the natural sights and sounds of the garden meld with those of the modern world outside. Georgie Staight’s direction ensures that the audience are immersed in the action wherever they are seated, with plenty of movement around the performance space making up for any brief moments during which sightlines might be temporarily blocked due the the lack of raked seating on the lawn. The production is witty and well-paced and, while very much a play rather than a musical, some of the most effective moments make use of the musical talents of the cast. Both recent graduates (a conscious casting decision on the part of Flux Theatre), Jo Patmore and Erica Flint are strong performers who look to have bright futures ahead of them. Flint is captivating as the spiky, flautist fairy while Patmore (in her professional debut) makes a convincing angsty teenager, showing off some serious singing skills with a voice that carries beautifully across the gardens.
With no shelter from the elements, it’s advisable to go to Iris Theatre prepared for all weather. (A ski jacket proved to be a good idea last night!) Thankfully the rain cleared in time for the show, and although it was a little nippy for June, the Covent Garden fairies ensured that things stayed dry throughout the hour(ish) long performance. An enjoyable evening of live theatre in a magical setting, the play runs for the rest of this week, so make sure you catch it before Mab flies off for good.
Queen Mab runs at Iris Theatre Summer Festival from 21 to 26 June 2021. We received a complimentary press ticket for the performance on 21 June in return for a review.