Gleefully irreverent and joyfully anarchic, Filter’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream bursts onto the Lyric’s stage – literally. Hyemi Shin’s Lynbury Prize-winning set starts as a series of blank, paper-covered walls, and as the chaos thickens the cast break through various bits of the stage and leave gaping holes.
It’s not Shakespeare for the faint-hearted (the man to our left saved my companion from a flying crumpet during a particularly violent food-fight!), and nor does it venerate tradition for its own sake. However, the verse-speaking is wonderful, and director Sean Holmes manages to tread a fine line between the comedy and the more serious moments, which makes each shine more brightly. Puck’s (Ferdy Roberts) final speech is beautifully judged, bringing the mood gently down as the play ends.
What strikes me most about this production, though, aside from all the ad libbing meta-meta-theatre, is how funny it is. It’s surprisingly refreshing to go and see a Shakespeare comedy that makes you laugh out loud, repeatedly. A lot of the credit for this must go to Quince (Ed Gaughan) and Puck, who stage-manage the production, ably helped by actual Stage manager, Claire Bryan, who wanders on and off, tidying up around the cast. Roberts’ Puck wears a tool-belt stuffed with assorted hammers, pliers, bottle openers and penknives, and takes great delight in his mischief, getting a lot of laughs from his sighs and quizzical face.
In typical Filter style, the music is integral to the piece, performed live on-stage by ‘The Mechanicals’, featuring Gaughan on guitar alongside Chris Branch’s Flute on keys and Alan Pagan’s sweetly naïve Snug on drums. Completing the mechanicals (and The Mechanicals) is Mark Benton’s glorious Bottom. He sings, he tosses innuendos about the place as easily as flour in a food fight, he swaggers, but he never loses his underlying charm – he is much less of a bully than Bottom is often made out to be. His vocals add to the band, backed up by a do-wop chorus of the lovers with occasional additions from Jonathan Broadbent’s Oberon and Poppy Miller’s curiously lacklustre Titania – she lacks any sexual chemistry, even when wearing nothing but corset and lace.
The fourth wall is not so much broken as cheerfully demolished, mostly by Gaughan’s long-suffering Peter Quince, who takes it upon himself to explain to audience and cast what meta-theatre is and how it will be used in the play. Gaughan is at once actor, musician and stand-up, all of which he does with energy and charm. Jonathan Broadbent is brilliant as a petulant, asthmatic Oberon, although his lycra costume (complete with silver cape, winged trainers and big shiny ‘O’ on the front) and temper-tantrums do make it hard to see him as a serious or scary figure of authority. In Sean Holme’s ridiculously buoyant production, though, this ceases to matter as you get caught up in this whirlwind telling of Dream.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 17th March. For more information and tickets, see the Lyric Hammersmith website.