A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Reviewed – 7th September 2019
“a fun, playful and atmospheric take on Shakespeare’s comedy”
Hot on the heels of their previous innovative takes on Shakespeare, Felix Mortimer and Joshua Nawras of RIFT have taken the playwright’s greatest comedy and shoved it into the moody, atmospheric depths of the Alexandra Palace basement. Rarely opened to the public, this is a unique opportunity, and the RIFT team draw on the building’s history as the location for the first public television broadcast in 1936. Cradled by the BBC tower, the setting might be worth the ticket price alone.
Framing the story using this televisual theme, Egeus (Rob Myles) becomes Hermia’s (Dewi Sarginson) “agent”, a witty alteration that reminds you of the overwhelming power of contracts, and powerlessness actors can have in the working world. Escaping the world of cameras and lights with her lover Lysander, the two escape into the woods, followed swiftly by Demetrius and Helena. But as we all know, the course of true love never did run smooth.
The concept leaves you always wanting more. Just three rooms are used, with the audience plodding between them, at times unsure of the reason. Although it would have been a real treat to explore more of the nooks and crannies of the building, most of the action takes place in one long room, framed with two screens. Sat on upturned buckets, the audience become a fun plaything for the actors, and the odd audience-interaction went down a treat.
Some nice doubling sees Myles, energetic and playful, playing Puck as well as Egeus, two characters in thrall to the authority of Oberon/Theseus (Mike Adams). Hilary McCool’s costumes and some eerily incandescent 1930s music set the scene well, and it is fun seeing country shirts and corduroy pants get slowly dustier and dustier as the show goes on. The lovers really get going in the hilarious scene that sees Lysander (Ben Teare) and Demetrius (Sam Ducane) fighting over a baffled Helena (Phoebe Naughton), but they are overshadowed by the Mechanicals, who, as ever, steal the show. Penelope Maynard as Peter Quince is pedantic and grounded, and Henry Maynard, whose background in clowning is written all over his Bottom, booms and thunders his way through his greatest acting moment, playing to hilarious effect for the cameras as much as for the live audience.
All in all, it’s a bumpy ride both literally and thematically, but this turns out to be a fun, playful and atmospheric take on Shakespeare’s comedy. With exposed brick and dusty floor, hopefully this won’t be the last time theatre is brought to this wonderful location.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Lloyd Winters
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Alexandra Palace until 28th September
Previously reviewed at this venue: