Wilton’s Music Hall

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Wilton’s Music Hall


“a production of charm and genuine ebullience”

The grade II* listed Wilton’s Music Hall has endured as one of London’s hidden theatrical gems since the Victorian era. Its current run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Flabbergast Theatre) is a spectacle worthy of that history. Directed by the company’s founder, Henry Maynard, the production builds upon Flabbergast’s roots in physical theatre (Lecoq and Grotowski). The result is an adaptation of unrelenting vivacity and charm.

From first stepping in to the grand hall you are met with members of the cast already in full character. Some sit next to you, others jump out at you, others sit languorously on stage, lute playing or stumbling their way through poetry recitals. Each of the players gradually form around a grand hay wain, which forms the centrepiece of the stage.

Immediately apparent is the hay wain’s flexibility as a piece of set (design also by Henry Maynard), yet its anachronism with the decadence of the grand hall also implies a more tantalising reality to the position of the characters first as actors themselves. It gives the impression of an itinerant, touring company, true to the kind one would find in Shakespearean times. The result is a sense of spectacle which begins from the moment you enter the hall.

This is the second time the company has turned its hand to classical adaptation, following their UK and European run of Macbeth (2022-23). The production’s roots in physical theatre complement the play’s imaginative scope. The cast and director consistently find creative ways to draw out Shakespeare’s humour wordlessly. From Bottom’s metamorphosis into the ass, to the various reshufflings of the love quadrangle between Lysander, Hermia, Helena, and Demetrius; the playfulness of the production’s delight in physicality, faultlessly delivers the series of fantastical fulcrums upon which Shakespeare’s plot rests.

Rachel Shipp’s lighting design is integral to the efficacy of the production’s shifts in atmosphere, narrative and tone between each of the three main character subsets. Her direction of front and side lighting harnesses the unique potentiality of the original Victorian architecture. The silhouettes of Quince’s masked players are beautifully cast onto the flaking paintwork of the wall beneath the proscenium arch. In Bottom’s metamorphosis scene, his newly satyrised shadow is projected against the shelf of the balcony at each side, grotesquely elongating his torso.

Quince’s players, played entirely in masks, utterly steal the show. The play is worth attending for them alone. Simon Gleave is unfalteringly funny both as Egeus and Bottom. Reanne Black’s doubling as the formidable Titania and the stuttering Snug is brilliantly executed. Lennie Longworth shines in her professional debut as Puck, whose various costume and prop changes brilliantly enhance her role as the plotline’s tinkering éminence grise. While Oberon (Krystian Godlewski) capers around in a golden leotard-cum-flower pouch leaving progressively little to the imagination.

It will have its detractors. Moments of dialogue are rushed, others overlong. Perhaps at times the incidence of air humping and thespian affectation reach excess. But at its heart the production captures the essential capacities of theatre at its best. It is deeply imaginative and funny, and recurrently finds innovative means of revitalising a storied classic.

Returning again to the central image of the hay wain which, as Maynard puts it, ‘anchors the production conceptually’. One is put in more of a mind of the spectacular chaos of Bosch’s hay wain triptych than Constable’s (rather less turbulent) bucolic landscape. The play exhibits notes of vaudeville, pantomime, absurdism, but it ends in the tradition of the masque. As Puck emerges, centre stage, in front of the hay wain, flanked by candlelit faces, and re-establishes the direct relationship with the audience with which the production began. ‘If we shadows have offended’, she perorates, as her silhouette continues to play against the wall. We see them last as we see them first, as actors engaged in the process of play. The effect is a production of charm and genuine ebullience, true to the most innate impulses of theatre’s potential to entertain.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM at Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed on 10th April 2024

by Flynn Hallman

Photography by Michael Lynch



Previously reviewed at this venue:

POTTED PANTO | ★★★★★ | December 2023
FEAST | ★★★½ | September 2023
I WISH MY LIFE WERE LIKE A MUSICAL | ★★★★★ | August 2023
EXPRESS G&S | ★★★★ | August 2023
THE MIKADO | ★★★★ | June 2023
RUDDIGORE | ★★★ | March 2023
CHARLIE AND STAN | ★★★★★ | January 2023
A DEAD BODY IN TAOS | ★★★ | October 2022
PATIENCE | ★★★★ | August 2022
STARCROSSED | ★★★★ | June 2022

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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