A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Reviewer's rating

Flabbergast is a group of performers from all over Europe who aspire to capture the spirit of commedia dell’arte and fuse it with traditions of masks,puppetry, and more contemporary ideas about devised theatre. This approach underlies the attempt to breathe new life into A Midsummer Nights Dream. The marvellous ambience of Wilton’s Music Hall is just about the ideal place to try this approach. What a pity then that the show does not quite live up to its admirable ideals.

The story of the ‘Dream’ brings together three sets of characters in a night of magic and confusion in a forest outside Athens. There are two pairs of lovers whose passions are manipulated by magical forces. There are magical beings whose King and Queen, Oberon and Titania, are at odds. And there is a group of artisans with theatrical pretensions trying to rehears a play they hope to perform before the lords of the city to celebrate a royal wedding. Oberon instructs his sprite Puck (here called Robin Goodfellow) to use a magic potion which, once administered, causes someone to fall in love with the first person they see. Amongst other magical moments Bottom the Weaver is transformed into a creature with a donkey’s head with which Titania falls in love. All ends well when Oberon instructs Puck to use the potion to set all to rights.

The artisans are played in half masks which giver them a sinister appearance. All their appearances are marked by hugely overplayed gestures and pranks and their words are delivered at consistently high volume. When it is funny, it is very funny – when it misses the mark, it is merely noisy and confusing. This is not helped by the fact that some of the cast speak their Shakespearean lines in heavily accented voices. This problem is most evident when the fairies appear. Krystian Godlewski plays the role of Oberon at volume mark 11 and with an accent that eluded me on occasion. Reanne Black was Titania and played the part with a touch of subtlety, especially in some surprisingly tender scenes with the ass-headed Bottom. The outstanding performance of the piece came from Lennie Longworth as a steam-punk Robin Goodfellow, all sharp elbows and quick wit. She showed how variations in tone and volume can enhance both broad comedy and high poetry. Even the four lovers found only one tone – verging on slapstick – for most of their story of thwarted passion and mistaken identities, though the lovely moments created when Puck returns them to their true selves in a scene near the end showed what these actors could achieve when the dial was turned down a bit.

So – it’s Shakespeare, Jim, but not as we know it. A Midsummer Nights Nightmare maybe? It is a production brimming over with energy and fun and full of ideas – but perhaps needing a guiding hand to introduce those shades of light and dark for which this play cries out.


Wiltons Music Hall   

By: William Shakespeare

Director: Henry Maynard

Performers incl: Lennie Longworth, Vyte Garriga, Nadav Burstein

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)

Dates: until 20 April

Photo credits: Flabbergast