A midsummer night in Athens: love’s dreams and disputes, a magic portion and a royal wedding. In a single night in the fairies’ wood, reality and fantasies merge to separate and reunite. That is William Shakespeare’s renowned play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The wedding between Theseus of Athens (Herb Cuanalo) and the Amazonian queen Hippolyta (Tamarin McGinley) is the pivotal point of three different storylines; they influence, irritate and finally make amends with one another due to a magical flower, which enchants to love. Firstly, there are the four young lovers who are captured in a love triangle because Lysander (Jeremy Ang Jones) and Demetrius (Christopher York) both love Hermia (Lowri Izzard). While Helena (Laura Evelyn) suffers from her unrequited love for Demetrius, Hermia fights to escape her arranged marriage with him. Secondly, we have Oberon (Cuanalo), the king of the fairy realm in the woods, who seeks revenge upon his queen Titania (McGinley). However, the spirit Puck (Linda Marlowe), as his henchman, has his own game in mind by using magic. Thirdly, there is the theatre group among Peter Quince (Cuanalo), who attempt to rehearse a play for the royal wedding. When the pretentious Bottom (Christopher Hughes) is turned into an ass, he plays the role of his life by being the subject of desire from the enchanted Titania.

The multi award-winning ensemble company The Faction restages A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the characteristic setting of the Wilton’s Music Hall to create an immersive journey for the audience and to present an inventive approach on the classical play. Directed by Mark Leipacher, eight actors collaborate with the creative team to revive this play in a contemporary context moving away from its framed cultural heritage. The Faction exists for 10 years aiming for creative collaborations in a permanent ensemble company to reinvent classical plays for the twenty-first century.

The actors on stage shift their roles convincingly between being lovestruck runaways, animalistic fairy folk and unexperienced actors. The physicality of embodying different characters, the transitions on stage, and especially of the ensemble as a whole, is outstanding. Their connection to one another, deeply rooted in the collective process of the adaptation process, is the reason why this A Midsummer Night’s Dream is enchanting, entertaining and inspiring to connect with Shakespeare’s legacy through our contemporary lens. The movement sequences, directed by Richard James Neale, are intellectually playful approaches to connect the different storylines. One striking moment is the transformation of Bottom, where the ensemble, besides Hughes’ brilliant performance, becomes the ass using bodily animations.

The Faction’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream surprises as a physical approach to Shakespeare’s text which places, as their overall frame, the notion of competition next to sexuality: competition for love, competition for approval, competition for power. Evelyn’s Helena is brilliantly sarcastic and self-ironic who physically holds tight to Demetrius’s love. Jones’ lovestruck Lysander and York’s confused Demetrius battle on stage, joined by Izzard’s empowering Hermia. The acting quality overall is genuine and convincing, whereas York’s entertaining approach to Demetrius stands out. Cuanalo’s performance of the leading parties of the play confidently guides the audience through the different storylines. At his side is the representation of female power, McGinley, who triggers the battle of the sexes right at the beginning of the play. The role of Puck, nevertheless, is overshadowed by the strong appearance of the others and could more own its place on stage. Marlowe does not give herself and Shakespeare’s words enough credit to convincingly carry the audience through Puck’s twisted mind. The end of the show is the brilliantly bad performed play by Quince’s theatre group where the energy of Jones, Hughes and York top off the show with well-deserved laughter.

The Faction’s performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream succeeds in its ambitious attempt to re-connect with Shakespeare’s classical text in order to invite the audience to re-experience its legacy. It is an exciting journey aiming for entertainment as well as pursuing to tame the text by physical language to make it accessible, inventive and thought-provoking. The connectedness of the ensemble is thus able to communicate the core of the play to its audience: sexual desire, love filled with revenge and the urge to compete for power unmasking the need for each other’s approval and love. The atmosphere of Wilton’s Music Hall is a necessary part of this production as it thrives in the collective imagination of performer and audience to be part of the present moment of enchantment. The Faction’s collective work is a must-see for every Shakespeare fan alongside every Shakespeare virgin.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream played at Wilton’s Music Hall until 30 June 2018

Photo: The Other Richard