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Oxford Playhouse, Oxford

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
5.0Reviewer's Rating

The almost-legendary Midsummer Night’s Dream production by Lyric Hammersmith and Filter Theatre has been revived again and is totally wonderful in almost every way and needs to be experienced. It surpasses expectation. Most of the original text is there. It is a shame about a few of the cuts but the riffs on the Mechanicals and the use of them in various unexpected ways is simply inspired and hilariously funny as well as completely in keeping with the concept of them. In future revivals, it might be interesting to try to add back in some of the cuts, especially the Play Within a Play at the end. However, in this version the play is done without an interval, which has advantages; and the focus is not blurred by the text for the Mechanicals. Still, I loved the style of this production so much that I would love to see them work through the entire text, but with the additions they have made.

This is a very hard production for me to review because there would be too many spoilers if I actually told you what happens and outlined the myriad moments that delight. Suffice it to say that you could describe the approach to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Woody Allen meets the Marx Brothers meets Shakespeare, with a wonderful Woody Allen-esque playing around with the role of Oberon by Harry Jardine. He is Clark Kent trying to bust out as Superman, for a start. He is also Zeppo Marx aspiring to be Groucho. The Bottom of David Ganly, even when he is acting as a member of the audience, feels totally right; and I liked hugely the exceptional, stand-up comedy routines of George Fouracres as a superb Peter Quince/Moderator/Host. I found the lovers completely delightful too: Rebecca Birch as the feisty Helena is beautifully contrasted with tall Hermia as played by the lovely Amy Marchant. Darmesh Patel’s Lysander is equally well-contrasted with Daniel Fraser’s Lysander. The girls in an audience made up of a good number of teenagers who must be studying the play at school certainly swooned at Daniel Fraser; and one had great sympathy for Lysander. All in all, the play as such is very well served. The jazz background and modernization work marvellously throughout the evening; and the whole show has a kind of Brechtian Theatre of the Absurd With Alienation Effects feel to it that is both captivating and thought-provoking too. This is one case where the originality and unexpectedness of the enterprise do not feel imposed but somehow come across as a real response to the actual text and atmosphere of Shakespeare’s original intentions. It is a valid interpretation throughout.

One of the most Brechtian effects is the casting of Puck. Kayla Meikle is riotously funny, utterly invigorating intellectually, and ridiculously charming – all attributes of the production itself. She very nearly manages to steal the show. The Titania of Allyson Ava-Brown is downright mesmerizing, displaying sinuous movement, intelligence, warm strength and a fine voice. She is the Eartha Kitt of this concept. The text is irreverently but stylishly treated. The confrontation of Helena and Hermia is strong and memorable. The slapstick moments are inspired. Everything actually feels just right! Therefore, full credit must be given to director Sean Holmes for the pacing, the blocking, the wit and the keeping of it all together. I thought the design by Hyemi Shin was perfect for this concept.

The production still has some touring to do. The final stop will be the Cambridge Arts Theatre from 5 to 9 June. I just hope there are more revivals. I would happily see this one two or three more times. The Rock Gig aspect of the show (the Mechanicals are also musicians of considerable talent) enhances this interpretation.

  • Comedy
  • William Shakespeare
  • Directed by Sean Holmes
  • Producers Lyric Hammersmith Theatre and Filter Theatre
  • Cast includes: Allyson Ava-Brown, Rebecca Birch, George Fouracres, Daniel Fraser, David Ganly, Harry Jardine, Amy Marchant, Kayla Meikle, Dharmesh Patel
  • Oxford Playhouse, Oxford
  • 15 to 19 May 2018 On Tour

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper came to the UK to study at Oxford and stayed, captivated by the culture and history of the welcoming and tolerant society of Britain. He founded the magazine Opera Now. He was a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting and a member of the team that started Classic FM on which he broadcast shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature.

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