A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Wilton’s Music Hall
Reviewed – 27th June 2018
“as the physical theatre of the misfiring affections became a bawdy, raucous spectacle the audience is utterly won over”
With lighting rigs exposed, no scenery but a looming fabric moon overhead, the stripped back stage at Wilton’s Music Hall provides the perfect setting for The Faction’s stripped back Midsummer Night’s Dream. Disposing of the customary prettiness, director Mark Leipacher aims to expose new textual truths within the play, namely that the war-ravaged Athenians of the period would have been willingly distracted by the aristocratic nuptials of the plot, just as (he claims) we’re happily diverted by Royal events in the midst of looming climate change.
So it is that the four young lovers are drawn into the Athenian woods to be engulfed by the magic and mayhem of fairies and artisan players, similarly attracted to promised festivities. With only the bare text, everyday clothes, a few accents and their own physicality (great credit here to The Faction’s movement director, Richard James Neale) the ensemble take on the characters’ conflicting desires. Demetrius (Christopher York) expects to marry Hermia (Lowri Izzard), who prefers Lysander (Jeremy Ang Jones) while Helena (Laura Evelyn) pursues Demetrius. With the introduction of Oberon’s magical herbs, desires turn upside down with the Fairy Queen Titania lusting after an oafishly braying Bottom (Christopher Hughes) and Helena is distressed to find herself now pursued by both Lysander and Demetrius.
For such a complex plot, the idea of stripping back to the bare text is an interesting one, it unveils the darker side of the play as, divested of finery, the actions seem more lustful and even boorish, perhaps a truer reflection of many romantic experiences. The movement is brilliant in places, creating scene and mood through background dance, replacing the traditional entrances and exits. However, the most important motif in the play is contrast, something this production didn’t really have, at least between the groups of characters. Men wore floral shirts, but aside from that the cast wore much the same as the audience. If Egeus can become Puck through the simple application of a backwards baseball cap, something similar could have helped others.
Sound and lighting design (Yaiza Varona and Ben Jacobs) strain hard to guide the audience through the changes and good use is made of Wilton’s split level stage to delineate roles. There are also some fascinating interpretations from the cast. Lowri Izzard is crystal clear vocally but also in her characterisations of Hermia, Starveling and Cobweb. Linda Marlowe’s degenerate Puck is ingenious, malevolent, yet likeable against the odds. In any case, by the second half, as the physical theatre of the misfiring affections became a bawdy, raucous spectacle the audience is utterly won over. Whether it was The Faction, the Music Hall or the comedy itself that does the winning, it hardly matters.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by The Other Richard
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Wilton’s Music Hall until 30th June
Previously reviewed productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream