first night

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Tom Harper reviews HBT's second production of the year.

 As one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and beloved plays, Hild Bede Theatre had a difficult task ahead of them in bringing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to life in a way that would keep modern audiences intrigued, however suffice to say upon entering the imposing Caedmon Hall to find atmospheric music and a variety of stages before me, I like many others was suitably intrigued. Although at times the need for audience members to crane their necks to fully appreciate what was going on around them was irritating, the combination of the enveloping performance space and transitional music between scenes made for an immersive experience.

The main plot of this Shakespearean classic is well known: Two pairs of lovers enter the forest for a night of confusion and hilarity at the hands of the supernatural. However, director Jessica Siddell has decided to add an interesting twist in keeping with the play’s Elizabethan roots by mixing up the gender dynamic and having women play Helena, Hermia, Demetrius and Lysander. This was handled professionally by all actresses involved, and although the chemistry between the pairs of lovers often lacked, it nevertheless added a unique dimension to the performance. More broadly, all participants should be congratulated for their mastery of Shakespearean language, as ignoring the occasional hiccup the entire cast delivered the plot clearly and effectively, making for a relatively slick performance.

At the other end of the spectrum, the infamous mechanicals succeeded in providing comic relief throughout the play. Particular mention must go to George McNeilly’s energetic portrayal of Bottom, who stole the show with his confident delivery of utterly absurd lines and delightful comedic timing onstage. The ‘play within a play’ at the end of the show gave the actors and actresses playing these characters a chance to shine, and the laughter of the audience testifies to the fact that they did not disappoint. The combination of visually amusing costume design and ridiculously melodramatic delivery of lines (Alex Ottie’s side-splitting portrayal of Flute in his rendition of Thisbe was especially funny) ended the play on a high.

My main criticism of the play, however, is that in comparison to the farcical climax the rest of the performance seemed oddly flat. This was not any particular fault of those delivering their lines, who regularly did so with passion and fervour, but it was rather due to others on stage who, in between their speeches, seemed to forget that they were still visible to the audience. Whilst only certain members of the cast were guilty of this, when switched off they caused the energy of various scenes to lull, which was disappointing in light of talent of many of the protagonists.

Nevertheless, Ruari Hutchinson and Louise Webster, whose commanding tones and ludicrous physicality kept the audience entertained as well as apprehensive to their mischief, brought excellent energy to the roles of Oberon and Puck. Overall, HBTC must be applauded for having put together a slick and professionally delivered show, which ultimately succeeded in delighting and bemusing in spite of the occasional faux-pas. If you’re looking for an evening of Shakespearean comedy, then this is the show for you.


29 January 2016

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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