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:
Without That Certain Thing
Reviewed – 27th February 2019
“full of exceptional elements and packed with potential”
Sullivan immediately notices Madeleine is out of place at a lesbian speed-dating event: obviously straight. When Sullivan calls her on it, Madeleine admits she’s only trying to throw off a guy who’s been following her. Intrigued, Sullivan listens as Madeleine explains she has no idea who he is, just that he follows her everywhere and leaves her love poems, signing his name ‘Swann’. Sullivan tells Madeleine she’s a former private investigator, and offers to take her case.
Without That Certain Thing, written by Rory Platt and directed by Chloe Christian is the debut play from Thank You Dark Theatre Company. The narration given by Sullivan (Phoebe Naughton) is a delightful parody of a film noir detective story. Platt’s prose plays with the familiar language of murder mysteries, and Naughton pulls it off with an adept sense of the rhythm and comedy. Platt savours words as passionately as the poetry-obsessed Swann. There’s some truly brilliant writing, so it’s a shame the script feels like a rough draft. The story needs clarifying and sharpening. The scenes need editing. What is clever and fresh too frequently gets bogged down by excess.
The premise itself is murky, and doesn’t really make sense. If you’re being stalked, you don’t pay someone £80 per day to chat with the guy. Sullivan brushes off the police by telling Madeleine the best she can hope for is a six-month sentence or a fine. The obvious objective of a restraining order is never mentioned. So instead Sullivan too spends the days talking to Swann to discover him as a person. She has no clear purpose or strategy. Because of this, the play feels adrift, the scenes meandering. We’re looking for Sullivan to be trying to solve the case. A twist at the end explains why she isn’t, but it doesn’t save the majority of the play from seeming aimless, which makes it feel very long. Even the most exquisite writing won’t save a story that doesn’t move.
But the direction and design are excellent. White tape squares on the stage subtly suggest different locations while also being reminiscent of chalk outlines. The movement is impressive – the performers effortlessly swirl from scene to scene: a flat, a street, the tube, an office, a park, etc. Christian makes an effective choice to keep Swann (Tom Macqueen) on stage throughout, lurking in shadows, but occasionally stepping in to hand someone a prop (an inspired bit of humour that works well). Naughton is in full command of her role, and is a pleasure to watch. Macqueen is outstanding as the disturbed and delusional Swann. Caitlin McEwan (Madeleine) is the blank canvas her character is meant to be.
Without That Certain Thing is full of exceptional elements and packed with potential. A sharp outside eye to edit and some further development could make it a first-rate show.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Without That Certain Thing
Part of VAULT Festival 2019