first night

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Becca Mackinnon enjoys al fresco laughs at HCTC's Summer Shakespeare


I always, without fail, enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It just makes me laugh. There is highbrow poetry enough to satisfy the snobbish literature student in me, and enough slapstick and ridiculousness to amuse my inner child. So it was in readiness to be entertained that I approached Trev’s on Sunday night.
I can say with confidence that the cast delivered. The laughs came thick and fast. Ollie Lynes’ pompous Theseus and Alex Walshaw’s haughty Hippoltya began the show, delivering their lines with lyricism and conviction, and were appropriately tongue-in-cheek for a play that descends into farcical chaos. Mei Shan’s sweet and stubborn Hermia perfectly complemented Hannah Noone’s petulant Helena, and in their respective lovers we found an interminably and comically lovesick Lysander (Archie Dallas) and a surprisingly threatening Demetrius (Emmanuel Chao). Chao in particular, amongst these four, spoke verse beautifully, with a sensitive awareness to metre and enjambement which enhanced the smooth-talking and slightly unsavoury character of the most fickle of the lovers.
It was the Mechanicals, however, who stole the show. This quite often happens in productions of the play – the writing allows for much diversity of interpretation, and this group did not disappoint. Ed Dove, a comic star in the making as Flute, showed a flagrant disregard for the constraints of the texts in order to create humour, and his movements and very modern ad libs were timed to comic perfection, eliciting some of the biggest laughs of the night. His final performance as Thisbe was nothing short of spectacular, complete with very lowbrow but nevertheless hilarious ‘boob-popping’. Ned French’s exasperated Starvelling was, again, beautifully caricatured. Darren Starling was wonderfully cast as Snug, the lion, making the simpleton both a figure of fun, and of pathos, when set against the overweening Bottom. Bottom, played by Kieran Dadhley, was suitably bumbling and inept, but sometimes lacked conviction, which meant that the background characters in his scenes were able to steal focus from him
The fairy world, however, held slightly less charm for me. This aversion was purely personal, as the fairies attendant on Titania were simply a little too silly for my liking; I like their songs and strangeness to be far more frightening than this production allowed. It was also amongst the fairies that we saw the least convincingly spoken verse. Mike Hutchinson’s Oberon was duly menacing, but the character speaks some of the most beautiful poetry in the play, if not in Shakespeare, and this was not taken advantage of  – ‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows’ was delivered with aplomb, but without any sense of lyric beauty. The power of the speech is in its transformation from pastoral idyll to a speech with a sense of nightmarish revenge, and this was lacking. Maria Pipkin’s Titania, too, though suitably physically seductive, just missed the sensuality of the language itself. In fact, most of the actors could have spent a little more time thinking about what their lines actually meant (although I hear the play was put on in a very short space of time indeed, so I do appreciate that this is a hollow criticism). Tom Spencer’s Puck, however, was fantastically physical and threatening, and his ability to leap and tumble with such effortlessness was almost inhuman. Despite relying a little too much on the microphones to pick up his speech, which meant that the voice did not carry as it might, Spencer managed to convey the other-worldliness of the character. In his case, a lack of musicality in his language worked for rather than against him.
My main critique of the show would be, as previously mentioned, the scene-stealing minor characters. Though this is due to the strength of the cast overall rather than weakness among the more major parts, there were moments in which significant plot lines and verse were lost due to attention diverted elsewhere. Archie Dallas’ ukulele playing and romantically caricatured flower plucking was quite simply very funny, but I felt that the integrity of the poetry was compromised in the focus stolen from Hermia and Helena. Similarly, the simpering giggling of the fairies undermined the epic clash between Titania and Oberon in their opening confrontation; had these two actors spoken with greater authority this might not have happened.
Having said that, I have rarely been so entertained by a Shakespeare play. Despite some flaws – mainly in the uncertain and inharmonious verse-speaking – this show was conceptually intelligent and well-executed. A lot of the play’s inherent sexual innuendo was missed, which could have elicited even more laughs, but on the whole the direction was witty and original, with a few gems in performance to set it off. The play will not win Olivier awards, but the punters jolly well enjoyed it, and surely this is far more important anyway! 

22 June 2009

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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