One of the best things about the Edinburgh Fringe is that it allows new creatives and performers to flex their muscles and share their work with others. One of the negatives about the Fringe is that there is little quality control.
I’m a self-confessed Shakespeare obsessive and love A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a play, so am keen to see this modern take inspired by the Bard’s best known-comedy. Achy Bits Productions are a young outfit with, at heart, a good concept. Using the forest setting of AMND they construct a new narrative of environmental activism alongside the fairy/mechanical/lovers plots. It’s a nice addition and could work well if some techniques are clarified.
Filmed on location in a forest, the set is a collection of trees, naturally fallen to create a raked stage of sorts. It’s a great organic setting and would be ideal for a traditional production of AMND. Through Bush Through Briar, however, has scenes set in a forest and others which would be better set in an office, as a significant portion of the plot centres on a construction company’s plans to raze the forest to build a theatre. The lovers’ plotline then becomes not about mistaken identity and love but about protesting against the building of the theatre. The characters of Titania and Oberon are also greatly reduced, which is a shame.
Writer Emily Stevens makes some unusual choices, with a mix of the traditional plot and new writing. The new writing is fine but the mix just doesn’t work. There doesn’t seem to be any pattern of when either is used and the hodge-podge effect it creates is jarring and unnatural.
The acting overall is fine, and at times Reilly Hilbert shows good instincts. The mechanicals sections even raise a smile from time to time. It is the combination of many odd decisions that let this piece down.
Physical theatre is employed in parts but it is spotty, inconsistent and immature. The cast multirole and use costume to differentiate between characters but it seems a little cliché- especially given that this production was filmed and are more opportunities to alter set/costume between takes than in live performance. Musical selections are hit and miss, with Fleetwood Mac in the Fairy sections working well but other songs being a bad fit.
There is a half-baked comedy dance (as is common with traditional productions of Shakespeare’s comedies) to close the piece but some actors give their all and others treat it as a joke. At least they look like they’re having a good time. Filming is a little inconsistent too, with sound dropping in and out and vintage-looking effects in places. We can even see actors who are supposed to be “off-stage” in some shots.
I never like to be negative about young companies, especially in trying circumstances, but as someone who also works with training theatre-makers, I feel I have a responsibility to help them improve. This production has some nice concepts, especially the take on the environmental impact of the construction and some strong acting in parts. In future work, I’d advise Achy Bits Productions to focus their attentions on one solid idea. Either take inspiration for a new storyline from an established piece and write something new or stick with the original – there’s a reason Dream is so popular, that’s because it’s a work of genius.
Keep at it, Achy Bits, there’s good stuff in there and I look forward to seeing the progress you make.
Through Bush Through Briar is available to watch online at Ed Fringe Player until 30 August 2021. For more information and tickets please see Edinburgh Fringe’s website.