|Eight guests are spending midsummer week at the country
house of a quaint old gentleman called Lob. Act I opens with the ladies
conspiring against Lob’s butler Matey because he stole their gold rings.
They want to report him to the police unless he returns the rings and tells
them why they have all been invited together, and what is going to happen
on Midsummer night. But all they can get him to say is that they have something
in common, and that they should not go into the wood tonight, although
there isn’t a wood for miles around. Just then their husbands and Lob come
in and suggest a walk in the wood - a wood that only appears on Midsummer
Eve. After some bewilderment and the discovery that Lob particularly wants
them to go, everyone goes to get their coats and boots.
Before they are all ready, we
get to know them a little better: Alice and Will Dearth are a couple whose
marriage has gone to seed. Will is no longer a good painter - he seems
to be more interested in drinking, and his wife has come to despise him.
Mabel Purdie is not amused when she finds her husband kissing a young woman,
Joanna. Jack Purdie believes he married the wrong woman when he married
Mabel. Joanna is unhappy because Jack already has a wife. Lady Caroline
has yet to meet a man who is good enough for her. Only old Mr and Mrs Coade
seem to be content.
Just before they set off, Lob tells them that in the wood
they will get “what nearly everybody here is longing for: a second chance“.
Unhappy as they are, none of them can resist this opportunity. Even Matey
has to go - Mrs Coade is the only one who stays behind.
In Act II we see the same characters
in the wood; they are now living different lives. Lady Caroline has found
her match. Matey has risen in society. Jack Purdie is married to someone
else. Will Dearth has a daughter just grown to the age where childhood
comes to its end. We also meet Alice Dearth who is married to someone else.
Are they different persons now? What use have they made of their
Act III shows their return to the lives they left when they walked out
into the wood. Finding themselves in Lob’s drawing-room again, they are
still under the spell of their other existence. One by one they come to
and realize what has happened to them. Now comes the moment of truth: What
have they found out about themselves? What does that mean for their past?
Has real life made them what they are, or have they made their lives turn
out the way they did? And lastly, will their new state of self-knowledge
last? Will any of them be able to make a fresh start within the reality
they are faced with?
The parallels with Shakespeare’s „Midsummernight’s Dream“ are obvious,
with the magical wood where a merry-go-round of affections is turning the
other way round. Yet there is an additional element that is Barrie’s
own creation: the characters’ despair over what life has made of
them and what they have made of their lives has a very modern ring to it.
Their sufferings are not the product of Puck’s fancy. There is no authority
like Oberon that will put things right for them in the end. They will have
to take care of that themselves. We can see that they have unwittingly
laid out their own banana skins, and it is fun to watch them slip on them.
Particularly when on watching, the banana skin somersaults feel strangely