first night

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Don't be fooled by the snow - Sophie Williams finds it's midsummer at Mary's.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream: easily one of Shakespeare’s best known and best loved comedies. For the uninitiated, the play involves four tangled lovers, six hopeless thespians (including the aptly named Bottom), a bickering fairy couple and one night of Midsummer madness. With a goldmine of mischief and magic, what would SMCAS make of Shakespeare’s masterpiece?

The play opens with soon-to-be-wed Theseus (Peter Galea) and his fiancée Hippolyta (Beth Woodley). Galea’s voice is well suited to the role of Athenian duke, rich and regal as he discussed the forthcoming nuptials - but attention quickly switched to the outraged Egeus (Becca Dowse), livid at his daughter’s attachment to Lysander (Joey Green). Dowse delivered her lines with deafening fury. Gentle Hermia (Hannah Coates) by contrast spoke softly but assuredly, and steady enough to catch every word of dialogue.

A nice touch with the four lovers was the costume: the young couples were clad in corresponding colours  - white for Lysander and Hermia, black for Helena and Demetrius, to clear up any confusion on the audience’s part. Helena, played brilliantly by Isla Robertson, passionately captured the devastation and desperation of unrequited love. Her counterpart, Demetrius (Andrew Dallamore), was a bit sullen to begin with but his performance got stronger as the play progressed. Likewise, Lysander was a little soppy for my liking initially, but the mystical love juice brings his macho side to the fore.

Next we were introduced to the six labourers attempting to stage a play. Imogen Hampson-Smith’s Bottom steals the scene – with a pillow stuffed up her shirt and drawn-on beard and chest hair, she struts about the stage, bellowing and braying like the ass her character subsequently becomes. It’s an impressive performance, and Hampson-Smith does an admirable job of appropriating a typically masculine role. The only issue was that, despite consistently strong delivery, the donkey mask muffled her later lines – there ought to have been some sort of slit where her mouth was.

The fairies were suitably sprightly. Titania (Ellie Brennan) and her followers were bedecked in black gothic attire, yet flitted about daintily. Brennan’s voice was very hoarse but she was commendable as the smitten fairy queen nevertheless. Her frolics with Bottom in bed were raunchy, but comically so as the couple entangled on a mattress, watched by her spiteful king Oberon (Fliss Mcdowell). But the real star of the show was Puck, played to perfection by Ryan Cullen. He was cheeky and charming, highly conscious of facial expressions and movements, and remained in character even when off-stage; even sitting in the amidst audience at one point (right next to this reviewer - very distracting when you’re trying to make notes discreetly!).

The set design was sparse and even a bit amateur but greatly enhanced by the presence of the trees. I don’t think I’ve ever seen trees staged with personality, but Harry Garside and Jack Smailes managed it, relishing their roles as foliage and receiving a lot of appreciative laughter. The fact that Smailes also plays the changeling is quite a clever twist on the role.

Towards the play’s close, we see the talent of the various inept craftsmen emerge as they perform their shambolic play for the duke. Quince (Julia Wright) is highly-strung and despairing and the reluctant Starveling (Eleanor Gunn) looks suitably petrified. But it is Flute (Matt Watson) who steals the comedic thunder as Thisbe, with his over-the-top damsel in distress (in drag), squawking and squealing and pushing Watson’s vocal chords to their upper limit.

It wasn’t a play to be taken too seriously and the jovial atmosphere in the audience proved that the director (Megan Frogley) and producers (Hannah Goodsell and Beth Rudd) captured the spirit of Shakespeare’s work well. Admittedly it wasn’t the most polished production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream I’ve ever seen, but there were several strong performances - particularly those of Puck and Bottom - and it was a relaxing, merry way to round off Epiphany term. 

10 March 2013

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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