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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

★★★

Roman Theatre of Verulamium

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 OVO at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium

Reviewed – 26th May 2022

★★★

 

“It isn’t strictly Shakespeare but it’s a fine evening’s entertainment”

 

The English summer outdoor theatrical season is amongst us and there can be few sites more delightful for enjoying an evening’s entertainment than the Roman Theatre of Verulamium (St Albans). The stage is beautifully lit (Mattis Larsen) in reds and blues as the evening draws in, and head mics are worn by all performers (sound by Michael Bird) that removes the necessary but sometimes irritating shoutiness of outdoor projection. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is, for obvious reasons, a summer favourite and there is a huge amount of fun to be had in this production directed by Adam Nichols and Matt Strachan – including an opportunity for a legitimate stage invasion – but this is not one for a Shakespeare purist. With a large percentage of the original dialogue paraphrased into modern(-ish) language, and much of the plot condensed and developed, it is surprising that there is no ‘adapted by’ credit which is surely merited.

The action is initially set within the confines of a Blackburn working man’s club of the 1970s, with references to closing mills and striking miners, and with the locals sporting dodgy facial hair and Lancashire accents to reinforce the period feel. The style of the production is set as Lysander serenades Hermia with some verses of the Bay City Rollers’ hit Bye, Bye Baby and the audience is encouraged to join in. The dialogue, mixing the Shakespearean with the vernacular, goes along the lines of, “Stand forth Demetrius, cum ‘ere lad”.

A gender-ambiguous Puck (Guido Garcia Lueches) is barely dressed in a low-cut singlet, the shortest of shorts and the highest of platform boots (Costumes Emma Lyth) – half Eurovision, half Eurotrash. Leaving the club singing Abba’s Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man after Midnight), Puck draws the locals into an imaginary Disco Land where the fairy magic is to take place. Verses of pop song are interspersed with spoken Shakespearean text whilst the would-be young lovers show us their moves (Choreography Sundeep Saini).

Lyle Fulton plays a rather pathetic but ultimately endearing Lysander who with a guitar in hand and a song for every occasion wins us over by his appealing nature. Emilia Harrild is a feisty Hermia – little but fierce – who endures the worst insult when described as a “Yorkshire teabag”. Charlie Clee plays Demetrius inexplicably as a sullen and rather unattractive suitor; an approach which is explained by a striking late plot twist. Eloise Westwood as the naive Helena provides the performance of the evening. Even before her moving last solo song, her star quality shines out amidst the pantomime going on around her.

In the traditional manner, the roles of Theseus (Ben Whitehead) and Hippolyta (Emma Wright) are doubled with those of Oberon and Titania. Emma Wright shows her stage versatility with an impressive transformation from down-trodden housewife to spectacular dancing queen. I can’t relax into Oberon’s “luurrv” style of delivery but many around me enjoy his fairy meddling, “Get ready to party, and don’t Puck it up”.

In the most radical change of the production, the hempen homespun have ambitions to become a pop band rather than to stage a play, so Pyramus and Thisbe does not get an airing. They are transformed into disco fairies and Bottom (Daniel Hall) becomes a Saturday Night Fever dance icon (white suit, gold medallion, black quiff) rather than the traditional ass.

In the final scene, back in the club, the band The Mechanicals perform a non-stop 70s megamix medley (Musical Director Tom Cagnoni) and the full cast dance out the night. It isn’t strictly Shakespeare but it’s a fine evening’s entertainment in the open air.

 

Reviewed by Phillip Money

Photography by Elliott Franks

 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 OVO at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium until 11th June

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Vinegar Tom | ★★★ | October 2021
Hedda Gabler | ★★★ | November 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

★★★★

Wilton’s Music Hall

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 29th January 2020

★★★★

 

“keeps a smile on the face throughout, finding glorious new dimensions and unexpected joyful twists”

 

With a sprinkling of fairy dust and a liberal injection of soul, the Watermill Theatre’s enchanting version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will put a spell on you.

This Dream’s a scream – and with its Edwardian setting fits perfectly into Wilton’s Music Hall. The Shakespearian shadows at the heart of this comedy certainly don’t offend and one senses the ghosts of variety past may be smiling in approval.

It is a play performed so often it takes something special to breathe new life into it and director Paul Hart and a bright young company do the Bard proud with a simply staged version that tells the story with clarity and manages to be joyfully creative too.

There’s some terrific doubling and mirroring of roles, several different to the “normal” and sometimes it’s hard to remember there are just ten performers in the Watermill Ensemble such are the quick changes and versatility of the company.

One innovative reflection here is that balancing out the down to earth thespianism of the Rude Mechanicals the fairies are all trampish shadows of some of the great music hall clowns, such as Fred Karno and Charlie Chaplin.

The Athens set (great stripped back design throughout from Katie Lias) appears to be backstage at a Victorian/Edwardian theatre, all ladders and fly ropes, which is transformed into the magical forest by the falling and raising of a red curtain and a beautifully ornate backcloth. The question being suggested is where the melodrama of real life ends and the otherworldly theatricality begins. Tom White’s lighting adds its own ethereal depth.

We are warned in advance that Lauryn Redding, due to play Bottom, is out of action following an accident during a performance of Macbeth, which runs in repertory with this production, and the 11th hour replacement is Victoria Blunt, who has played the role with the company previously.

There is no need to make any allowance for the substitution as this must be one of the best Bottoms ever seen. In what will go down in history as one of the truly great Shakespeare performances, Blunt finds comedy in every single line and action. Her weaver is a bluff and cheerful Northerner, childlike and cheerful, foolish and charismatic. There are some lovely moments where the fellow mechanicals gaze at her in wonder, enchanted by her daft artistry.

It’s a scene-stealing performance of the highest quality, yet such is the skill of the company and the director that it never overshadows the rest. This is exceptional ensemble work with the actors also playing instruments and delivering some pitch perfect albeit wonderfully incongruous versions of songs ranging from Sam Cooke’s Cupid and Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You to Laura Mvula’s Sing to the Moon. Joey Hickman’s arrangements conjure up moments of magic themselves.

Molly Chesworth is a sprightly and less than deferential Puck, as fed up with the power games of Oberon (a haughtily smooth and sexy Jamie Satterthwaite) as queen of the fairies Titania (a sultry Emma McDonald).

McDonald doubles as Hippolyta who is equally dismissive of her imperious new husband Theseus (Tow Sowinski who, in a clever and wry touch, also plays Snout the tinker, who in turn plays the ill-treated wall in the hilarious Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play) while Peter Mooney tries to keep the amateur actors in order as an enjoyably enthusiastic Peter Quince.

Robyn Sinclair shows off a magnificent singing voice and a talent for comedy as Helena, one of the four unfortunate lovers toyed with by the playful fairies in the forest. The quartet connects exquisitely and is completed by a dashing Billy Postlethwaite (Lysander), Lucy Keirl (Hermia) and Mike Slader (Demetrius).

This reimagined vibrant version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream keeps a smile on the face throughout, finding glorious new dimensions and unexpected joyful twists to this familiar piece that never loses its lustre.

 

Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Pamela Raith

 

 


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Wilton’s Music Hall until 15th February

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Good, The Bad And The Fifty | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Pirates Of Penzance | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Shape Of the Pain | ★★★★★ | March 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | May 2019
The Sweet Science Of Bruising | ★★★★ | June 2019
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story | ★★★★★ | September 2019
This Is Not Right | ★★★★ | October 2019
Much Ado About Nothing | ★★★★ | November 2019
Christmas Carol – A Fairy Tale | ★★★★ | December 2019
Macbeth | ★★★★ | January 2020

 

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