A Midsummer Night's Dream

Mon 21st – Fri 25th November 2011

reviews

Eleanor Wheeler

at 22:33 on 21st Nov 2011

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I’ve never seen anything like this production – in a good way. Walking into the theatre I thought I might have stumbled into a poorly attended gig in the back room of a pub: instruments and microphone stands everywhere; a couple of bemused looking ‘parent types;’ and some edgy students. I had nightmare visions of this being some sort of Midsummer Nights Dream-meets-Radiohead performance of mournful Lysander solos and upbeat (read terrible) Puck medleys. But it just wasn’t. From the second it started to the moment it finished I was totally captivated (not just by Peter Quince’s lovely Irish lilt), but by the sheer energy of the whole cast. Sourcing the character of Bottom from the audience was not altogether convincing, but the level of audience participation throughout was pretty impressive (and unavoidable when we were being run through by Hermia). The jokes were genuinely funny, but not at the cost of the original, beautiful, language which really impressed me.

In terms of music there was so much going on. Although the background jinglings at times added little to the dialogue, the sound effects were absolutely incredible. My respect goes out to Tom Haines (and sorry it’s the only actor whose name I could surmise from the programme) and Tatania for their microphone manipulations. The punk-rock song between Helena and Lysander (and the rest of the cast) was surprisingly good and I can honestly say I didn’t know where to look (in a positive way) during Demetrius’ highly sexual number.

But it wasn’t just about the music and the jokes. Sporadically, there was some really forceful acting too (sometimes a little too much from Helena, but her performance at the end was just brilliant). The fights throughout (particularly in the opening scene) were convincing and the scene of resolution at the end was genuinely emotive.

However, the show really was propelled, like the bread and marshmallows, by The Mechanicals and Oberon. Despite the body-hugging lycra, Oberon was brilliant throughout (particularly the walkie-talkie: inspired). Thisbe’s southern belle was simultaneously one of the funniest and most troubling things I’ve ever heard, and Peter Quince’s Al Pacino was undeniably good. All in all this is a funny, energetic, emotive, musically exceptional and generally fantastic adaptation of what is, and will now forever continue to be, my favourite Shakespeare play.

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Zoe W

at 01:56 on 22nd Nov 2011

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Filter’s (in co-production with the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith) ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Tobacco Factory is a seriously fun night out at the theatre. I would defy anyone, from seasoned Shakespeare regulars to “I hated the play in English at school and...I prefer going to the cinema really” theatre first-timers, to watch it and not enjoy themselves. That is not to say that it is entirely faultless, but that its faults are few and far between and pretty negligible in the grand scheme of things.

The production really capitalizes on the play’s constant references to performance and metatheatre. The whole piece is framed, by director Sean Holmes, by the addition of an opening speech for Peter Quince, the director of the mechanical’s play, (Ed Gaughan) which he delivers wonderfully in the style of a slightly awkward stand-up comic. The show is basically presented as “just a lot of actors pretending and having a lot of fun doing it” (not a direct quote from anywhere in the show..). There is also a huge joke in the intro, which I won’t spoil, during which the house lights are raised and the audience called upon to help the cast out of a problem.

All of this means that the cast can really have a huge amount of fun onstage literally playing at being their characters. In keeping with the conventional staging of the play, the actors playing the soon to be married Duke and Duchess Theseus and Hippolyta (Jonathan Broadbent and Gemma Saunders) double as the warring fairy King and Queen, Oberon and Titania. The pair become almost like the embarrassing fantasies of your parents - Oberon is dressed in a tight unitard/cape superhero combination and Titania in a dodgy middle-aged clubbing outfit. Jonathon Broadbent makes an inspired exit on a wheelie chair and is constantly reminding other characters that he is invisible. The mechanicals shape the action in their role as actor musicians – playing The London Snorkelling Team’s jazzily percussive music along to key speeches. They also benefit hugely from a slightly modernised version of their text.

So, onto the first issue: The Lovers. The performers were definitely entertaining where they needed to be: Simon Manyonda as Demetrius falling for Helena ( Rebecca Scroggs); the subsequent fight/threesome involving a pop up tent with Rhys Rosbach’s Lysander was a thing of wonder; and Victoria Moseley was a funny, although relentlessly angry, Hermia. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t clear how the group fitted into the “everybody is performing” concept behind Filter’s reading and they became simply diversions for the fairies. Their rude interjections were cut out of the mechanical’s play (Pyramus/Bottom/Steve/Fergus O'Donnell's death is brilliantly done in this) too. It was certainly a good decision in that it became far funnier but had the knock on effect of making the Lovers yet more inconsequential. In such a clever, witty show it seemed a shame that one aspect did not quite fit.

My second annoyance in the show was sightlines. I was sitting in the corner of a thrust stage (audience on three sides) and found myself often staring at a diagonal line of actors, or, to be precise, the back of the first actor in a diagonal line of actors. It was the cast’s first night at the Tobacco Factory, though, and so they might manage to fix this soon once they’ve got used to the space.

Those two (very easy to overlook) issues aside, I was a huge fan of this show and would go to see it again. If you’re looking for a detailed examination of the feminist/anti-establishment ideology raised by Shakespeare, this probably isn’t what you’re after. If what you are looking for in your theatre trip is lots of laughs and a bit of a contemplation of life in general, this will be perfect.

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