Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Clapham Omnibus

It’s Shakespeare, Jim, but not as we know it. Creation Theatre’s debut London show is an ‘immersive’ version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Having been told to go to the steps of a doctor’s surgery in a Clapham backstreet, and then presented with a briefcase by an eccentrically dressed man and left to it, we sheepishly set off, before being stopped by Hermia throwing clothes down to us from a low rooftop. What followed was a bonkers journey around Clapham, using the framing device of us being fairy accomplices on our way to the wedding.

Taking place in the street, in shop basements, in restaurants and pubs, we were sent from location to location to either witness scenes, some with actors, some recorded, or complete tasks ourselves, before meeting with other groups on Clapham Common before heading to the theatre. With a combination of original script, some modern scripted comic set pieces, and some deft improvisation, a dizzying array of content is squeezed in. With ten separate groups going round at the same time, the logistics are simply breath-taking. The planning must have been something to behold. This climaxes in a brilliantly choreographed physical tussle between Demetrius (Rob Hadden) and Lysander (Andy Owens), as they compete for the incredulous Helena’s (Natasha Rickman) affections, before Hermia (Lucy Pearson) turns up and throws her tuppence in as well. Then back at the theatre we are treated to a masterclass in ‘bad’ acting from the troop of Quince (Shelley Atkinson), Bottom (Rhodri Lewis) and Flute (Lewis Chandler). The bulk of the story is maintained, though the focus is mainly on the lovers and Puck (Colin Hurley), with only a brief cameo from Titania (Clare Humphrey), and less from Oberon (Richard Kidd).

The pace is high, and despite having to walk to numerous locations, the timing is spot on, and the actors are always in control, including some commanding improvisation, maintaining strong characters but conversing with us in a modern way. Particular mention should go to Flute, and Egeus (Giles Stoakley), who manage to seamlessly espouse five-hundred-year-old views while chatting about Sainsbury’s. A lot of thought has gone into how to centre the story on Clapham and this is also very effective. The comic energy from the three ‘actors’ is infectious and brings real humour, but in a more relatable way than perhaps the broader comedy you may find in other productions. The lovers combine two difficult jobs of finding real Shakespearean passion while sharing funny patter with audience members. Hurley’s Puck ties it all together as a secretive spymaster, ensuring that everyone is having fun but taking it just seriously enough to invest in taking part, as well as coming out and delivering the epilogue in a dazzling gold suit.

This is an incredibly fun production and director Zoe Seaton is to be wholeheartedly applauded. This may be dependent a little on weather and who is in your group – fortunately I was with a friendly one – but the choice of putting the audience in small groups means that you do not feel awkward in participating, as you might do in front of lots of people. If you are nervous about immersive theatre, as I often am, they make you feel very comfortable. It is also appropriate for children, and families would still enjoy it, particularly if you are looking to take them to their first Shakespeare, as the volume of Shakespearean language is manageable. Dream is a great choice as it emphasises fun, mystery and mischief, but you don’t have to know the play, Shakespeare or even theatre to enjoy this madcap trip. It’s a hundred miles an hour, and you will need to commit to a bit of exploration, but the execution is fantastic, and really, at the heart of it, you’ll have a great time.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing Clapham Omnibus until June 30.