Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Southwark Playhouse

Even four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, it is still seen as incredibly brave and risky to shift and re-shape his words. However, with a play as commonly performed as William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Go People Theatre, (in collaboration with Glass Half Full) may be on to something.

The production follows a group of seven young actors, in their attempt to tell the story of The Dream with only themselves. The cast frequently break out of character, commenting on the play’s progress and telling the audience what to expect. The theme is to “imagine” an extravagant production, with fancy lighting, colourful music and a huge tree in the middle of the set; gradually and symbolically changing with the seasons as the story is told.

Director, Simon Evans, aims to stray away from convention, smashing the fourth wall and neglecting the familiarity of this frequently told tale. He refers to The Dream as “The Waterloo Station of Shakespeare plays” in his notes and invites us to fall back in love with the play. Clearly the fact that it is done so often is not only considered, but relied upon for this production to hold its own. The rash changes in the script are intentionally brazen and often give the story a new lease of life. For example, Duke Theseus is portrayed as an accomplice in Lysander and Hermia’s quest for happiness, a particularly poignant interpretation. What is most apparent in Evans’ take on the play, is the relationship with the audience. They are part of it. Whether through referencing and talking directly to them, or dragging them up on stage to be part of the play, they are immersed in it whether they like it or not.

For a production of A Midsummer Nights Dream to have such simplicity in its set, props and costume, the acting must be exceptional. Fortunately, it is. The seven are fantastically energetic, joyfully flamboyant and hilariously entertaining throughout. Their task is not simple, engaging the audience for an entire Shakespeare play and simultaneously immersing them in the journey of the “actors” putting it on. However, they achieve this with glorious flair and robustness. The shining light in is Freddie Fox as Nick Bottom. His boundless energy, paired with his intelligent connection to the character is nothing short of sensational. His transformation into a donkey is a personal highlight, which Movement Director Ita O’Brien should also take a great deal of credit.

The staging is again simple but the four exits and entrances mean the scene changes are snappy and hold the audience’s attention successfully. The audience participation is suitably cringe worthy, handled casually by the cast which heightened the humour. There was a noticeable drop in pace during the second act, where it felt as though the audience had lost some of their engagement. However, (at risk of even slightly disrespecting Shakespeare!) this may be the fault of the play itself.

Slipping out of Shakespeare’s verse into modern day language is almost always grating. Therefore, the main triumph of this production is that it never is. The actors clearly know how to speak his verse expertly and it fundamentally wouldn’t work if this wasn’t the case. Overall, Go People Theatre and Glass Half Full Productions have created a fantastic production that focuses its energy on the clarity of the story. Running at one hour and fifty minutes, without an interval; it is sure to keep you laughing throughout. Evans does not bastardise A Midsummer Nights Dream in the slightest, if anything he glorifies it.

 

A Midsummer Nights Dream is playing at The Southwark Playhouse until 1 July 2016. For more information and tickets, see www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photo: Harry Grindrod