Actors From the London Stage’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is performed by only five cast members, with minimal props, no set, and no director. This might seem like a recipe for disaster, but what we get is a surprisingly slick production.Although the small cast means that each actor takes on at least three roles, clever alterations to costume mean that we can follow these switches easily; rather than attempting to hide it, this doubling is played up for comedic effect, which is highly successful.
More than anything, the take-away from this performance is the comedy: the trivial props are often used for laughs, and although the text of the play is Shakespeare’s, the actors inject plenty of life into it, resulting in a production which exists somewhere in between the Renaissance and now, between the stage and the audience’s minds.Rather than relying on flashy visuals or music, this is a production which places the play firmly in the hands of the actors; the only thing they don’t control is the lights. The show is incredibly physical, featuring a number of dance scenes, and the actors work well together – particularly Claire Redcliffe and Samuel Collings as Titania and Oberon/Hermia and Lysander.
Chris Donnelly has a genius sense for comic timing – Bottom, especially, is a delightful fool – while Patrick Moy’s Puck has something of a dangerous edge. Oberon, too, is surprisingly dark, as Collings throws himself into the character (literally, at times, in an extremely physical performance).Redcliffe’sHermia is a little insipid, but she shines as the stern fairy queen Titania, and Ffion Jolly performs both not only Helena, but also the smaller role of Hippolyta with depth.
While not especially daring, this production breathes fresh life into Shakespeare’s play, and will likely be enjoyed by experts and novices alike. However, its slickness does beg the question: why is there no director? The piece has obviously been choreographed and rehearsed, so the ‘no director’ claim feels like something of a gimmick; this is not, as the posters might lead one to expect, five actors with no rehearsal or plan being given free reign to create something with the text. Although this is an enjoyable and skilful production, it would be interesting to see the actorsgiven more room to improvise and create something new with the text.