Tag Archives: Adam Nichols

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

 

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps

★★★

The Maltings Theatre

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps

The Maltings Theatre

Reviewed – 6th October 2020

★★★

 

“Adam Nichols’ direction delivers a well-oiled and well-crafted two hours, though the chaos is overplayed”

 

Having been at the forefront of the campaign to allow live open-air performance to re-start in the summer months – presenting a two-week long theatre festival – The Maltings is now back with an indoor, COVID-safe Autumn programme. The safety measures are well-thought out and implemented, from bubble-seating to an in-seat drinks service and a one-way system to the loos at the interval, and the delight of this socially-distanced capacity crowd at being back in the building was palpable. This was an audience which had really missed live performance, was thrilled to be back, and was determined to have a good time. The show garnered laughter and spontaneous applause aplenty throughout.

Patrick Barlow’s 2005 script follows on from the original four-person version by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon ten years before, which is itself an adaptation of the 1935 screen version of John Buchan’s original 1915 spy novel. It’s a rollicking ride of a show, with three actors playing an enormous cast of characters – cops, villains, hoteliers, milkmen, paper boys – as well as the main roles, and one actor playing Richard Hannay, at the centre of all the mayhem. There are costume changes galore, and much ingenious manipulation of on-stage furniture and props to create cars, trains, aeroplanes, and even the Forth Bridge at one point, which is all tightly choreographed and managed with great skill by the performers. Simon Nicholas and Flora Squires, in particular, form a hugely skilful and energetic comedy team as the clowns who, between them, take on the majority of the minor roles and transformations.

James Douglas is terrific as the hapless Hannay, bumbling his way through this extraordinary tale, and Hannah Baker deals ably with the three larger female roles. Simon Nicholas’ chaotic-seeming set, resembling the prop store in a theatre, is a perfect and precise construction, with everything artfully poised to enable the smooth-running of this extremely business-heavy show. Adam Nichols’ direction delivers a well-oiled and well-crafted two hours, though the chaos is overplayed, and the breaking of the fourth wall wears a bit thin. The ‘things not quite working as they should’ gag is definitely overused, and the continual ironic ‘broad strokes’ approach to minor characterisation becomes wearisome and means that, despite a lot of manic stage action, the pace does drag at times.

One of the pleasures of the 1935 film adaptation is the contrast in tone between the extreme seriousness of the task at hand and the joyful silliness of our hero handcuffed to the protesting Pamela. By realising the entire story as a comedy caper, and not honouring the thriller element of the plot, much of the humour’s pleasure is lost. Just as the enlivening bubbles in a good Scotch and soda soften and prolong the complex flavours of a single malt, so the laughs help us to digest Buchan’s rather serious message about the perils of seductive fascism. All soda and no Scotch is simply criminal, as Richard Hannay would most certainly agree.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Pavel Gonevski

 

The 39 Steps

The Maltings Theatre until 10th October

 

Previously reviewed:
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Maltings | August 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews