The Faction’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a new and exciting take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy. While updating the text in terms of costume and set design, the production respects the wit and sophistication of Shakespeare’s writing, successfully entertaining by being both enchanting and uproariously funny.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about infatuation and confusion. The courtiers Demetrius (Christopher York) and Lysander (Jeremy Ang Jones) both love the same woman, Hermia (Lowri Izzard), while her friend Helena (Laura Evelyn) languishes in her singlehood. But the real world, the world ruled by the stately Theseus (Herb Cuanalo) and Hippolyta (Tamarin McGinley), is disrupted by the magic of the fairy world, governed by Oberon and Titania who are played by the same actors. Oberon’s fairy-in-command, the mischievous Puck (Linda Marlowe), causes a commotion between the lovers by using a powerful flower called love-in-idleness to shift the romantic attentions of several characters.
In this production many of the actors play multiple parts. Although this seems like a tall order, it is handled expertly, with sudden changes in behaviour and posture showing a deep understanding of the text and characterisation. For instance, Christopher York – the actor who first plays Demetrius – is great at portraying a frustrated courtier, but then transforms into a balletic and weird fairy called Mustard-Seed later as well as a shy and reticent joiner called Snout. Like York, all the actors juggle their roles masterfully.
One of the most interesting aspects of Midsummer Night’s Dream is its narrative framing. We have the temporal lords, fairy lords, young courtly lovers and the mechanicals performing Pyramus and Thisbe. Among the mechanicals is Bottom the Weaver, a source of endless amusement if played well. It is such a comic role that even a look can communicate so much and have the audience splitting with laughter. This is why actors who are household names, like Al Murray who performed in the recent RSC production, can prosper in the role. Christopher Hughes does not disappoint as Bottom: he is brassy and self-important, charismatic and loud, then a wonderful parody of a garland-covered and fruit-munching hedonist after he metamorphoses into a donkey. The other actors perform the metamorphosis by pretending to be his new limbs – oversized ears, priapic member and all.
Schlegel wrote that “there flows a luxuriant vein of the boldest and most fantastical invention” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The ethereal elements of the play that are truly exquisite; for instance, Titania and Oberon are connected to the exoticism of India, as they both dart around the forests supping on nectar. Tamarin McGinley does a good job at capturing the sensuality of the dreamlike fairy realm by being overly sexual. As she becomes enamoured with Bottom, she begins to slither around him, caressing him and later offering herself legs akimbo. The purple lighting of the stage and mysterious music adds to the sense of decadence surrounding her and her retinue of bizarre fairies.
A lot of credit is owed to the ingenuity of the stage direction. Demetrius and Lysander clawing at each other while chasing Helena, a kind of parenthetical stage drama while Helena and Hermia argue, is absolutely hilarious. The deliberate failure of Pyramus and Thisbe in its amateur simplicity is also very funny; this crowns the play with a touching reference to artifice and illusion, for what is reality at all when it is performed? The whole production is clever and funny: it is an exhilarating rush and a riot of colour that comes and goes quickly, like a fabulous dream.
- Written by William Shakespeare
- Director by Mark Leipacher
- Cast includes: Jeremy Ang Jones, Herb Cuanalo, Laura Evelyn, Christopher Hughes, Lowri Izzard, Tamarin McGinley, Linda Marlowe, Christopher York
- Wilton’s Music Hall
- Until 30 June 2018
- Time: 19:30