A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known, best loved comedies – a difficult challenge for any youth theatre group to tackle on a vast West End stage. This isn’t any old youth group, however, this is Haymarket Academy, and its production is an intelligent, creative and entertaining take on the classic. It’s a breath of fresh air.
The four lovers are brought right up to date – dressed head to toe in TopShop and plugged into their iPods. It’s a bold artistic decision that is carried off with aplomb thanks to the four fantastic performers who skillfully capture the absurdity of young love. They succeed in making the text feel relevant and personal, despite its age. Abe Buckoke’s effortlessly cool Lysander is particularly entertaining, and his impressive physicality leads to a witty and athletic dance off with Chris Born’s frustrated Demetrius.
The production moves at an intoxicating speed – the pace never falters, and the audience are not allowed to stop and draw breath. The direction is stylish and accomplished, aided by a smart lighting design and timely bursts of uplifting, contemporary music.
The main strengths of this production lie in the ensemble acting – every member of the cast seems comfortable and assured, and is engaging and audible even on such a huge stage. The focus seems to be on telling the story and entertaining the audience rather than showcasing individuals. This is not to say that there aren’t standout performances – James Meteyard captures the sinister undertones of Oberon, Rebekka Choudhury is a hilariously unscary Lion, and Riaze Foster provides a show-stealing turn as the reluctant cross-dressing Flute.
The action is presided over and orchestrated by a giggling flock of fairies. Dressed as theatre ushers, they lead us to our seats and welcome us to the show before bursting into dance and generally causing mischief. Their dance routines are fantastically choreographed and executed with precision and talent, and their school-girl groupie reaction to Jamie Chandler’s dashing Puck is a highlight of the night. Chandler is a swaggering, suave presence and his performance is accomplished and entertaining – certainly a name to watch out for in the future.
To review this show as a youth theatre project would be to do it a disservice – A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a hugely enjoyable piece of theatre in its own right. Almost without exception, the young cast excel in verse speaking on a West End stage, and the result is just as entertaining, intelligent and relevant as any professional production.