A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Reviewer's Rating
Photo: Paige Leaf-Wright

The PlayOnTheatre’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Etcetera Theatre in Camden does many of the things the established Shakespeare companies seem to have eschewed in recent years; clear verse-speaking, narrative clarity, distinctive characterisation, and a director who allows her actors to express themselves rather than be weighed down by conceptual baggage. The director, Imogen Elliott, makes bold and inventive changes to the text that keep the narrative bowling along, and with a running time of 1h 40m the play has been opened up to new and younger audiences; on the night I was there more than half of the audience must have been under 20 years of age. The result is one of the most intelligent, accessible, and entertaining versions I have seen in the last thirty years – a remark I overheard in a bar humming with conversation after the show was typical: ‘I was not a Shakespeare fan before, but I loved this’.

Another reason for the production’s success (it is a sold-out run) is the excellent ensemble work. This new company of young actors – drawn from classical and musical theatre backgrounds – bring a vivacity to the text that is refreshing and insightful. There is not a weak link in the company, but there were some particularly strong performances. Louis Goodwin brings a charming menace to the roles of Theseus/Oberon, whilst Imogen Gray presents Hippolyta/Titania as women who are fiercely independent spirits who want reconciliation – but not on any terms. Gabriel Howell as Puck is the embodiment of energy and a character who enjoys the chaos he sets in train, yet still conveying a warmth towards the floundering lovers that is heart-warming. In contrast to many other productions, the lovers are very clearly delineated individuals who run the gamut of emotions from love, to fear and hate and back again. Lastly, the mechanicals – led by Joshua Silverlock (Bottom) – succeed in being hilarious, comprehensible and empathetic.

This is a highly enjoyable evening that breathes new life into this play and a production that deserves to be seen more widely.