If you’re looking for a traditional production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, run for the hills, because Filter Theatre’s incarnation is anything but. I’d say expect the unexpected, but I don’t think that even really covers it. In my notes I’ve written several snappy labels for how I’d describe the show: polished chaos, superbly silly, wonderfully wacky. But I don’t think this particular production can be boiled down to just a tag line.
The show is genuinely unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It is almost as if Shakespeare had written A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a panto. We have the audience’s friend, who convinces unsuspecting theatregoers to participate, as well as the slop scene and impromptu songs. Now that’s not an insult, merely an observation – hell, even a compliment. Who doesn’t love a good panto? No-one, and that’s part of the appeal of the show. I could very easily take my five-year-old cousin or my 85-year-old granny, and they’d both find it differently but equally entertaining. There’s a food fight, nerf guns, paint being squirted, rock music – this show has got it all, and the kitchen sink.
If the show is nothing else, it’s hilarious. The mechanicals scenes, led brilliantly by Ed Gaughan, serve as an introduction to the play that sets the tone for the hilarity that ensues perfectly. They walk the line between stand-up and theatre, using the text as a light suggestion (and before all the die-hard Shakespeare fans start looking for their pitchforks, without revealing too much, it makes sense in the context). The lovers, however, speak with only the bard’s words and still manage to have the audience in fits.
Whilst you could walk away from this show thinking only of how ridiculous it is, to do so would be doing the show a disservice. Chris Branch and Tom Haines’s masterful sound engineering help to bring the magic in the play to life. Furthermore, the talent of the cast has to be appreciated, particularly Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon who is hysterical, especially in contrast to Ferdy Roberts’s Puck. It’s a genius combination and the two have fantastic chemistry. And I don’t even know what to say about John Lightbody, who was on the verge of having knickers thrown at him.
The creators of the show really succeed in creating an accessible yet bizarre version of Shakespeare. The show is fun, a little rude and keeps true to the heart of Shakespeare’s loved tale of mischief, magic and melodramatic lovers.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 19 March. For more information and tickets, see the Lyric Hammersmith website. Photo: Tristram Kenton