“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains
Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend
More than cool reason ever comprehends.”
That’s it, it’s daylight savings time! The hour has been stolen from our clocks, firmly shutting the chapter on the cold, miserable winter. It is now completely permissible to become a little intoxicated by the fact that it must, of course, now get warmer, happier and that by law all of the beer gardens should open their doors immediately. (This may be a law that we have created in our heads, but we’re pretty sure we should all go and check it out by testing it). The optimism is palpable; our shorts are peeping out of the wardrobe at us and we are tossing up whether it is truly acceptable to wear sunglasses at the beginning of April, and whether they’ll make us look like Holly Golightly or Agent Smith. One thing for certain though, now that the days are getting longer and the nights are warming up, it is the perfect setting for Shakespeare’s glorious comedy, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been captivating audiences since the 16th century, and it is one of Shakespeare’s comedic acts of genius. This play is set in the forests of Athens, where Oberon and Puck play with the fates of lovers lost in the woods and a play troupe in the same manner a child would play with their food – for fun, and to test the boundaries placed in front of them.
This amazing play is hilarious and witty, and has literally stood the test of time for hundreds of years. But it’s been done time and time again. So how can you captivate the modern audience? This production, directed by Nick Bagnall, is fabulously witty, contemporary, modern and terrifying. This stems from the beautiful marriage of ideas from both Bagnall and the set designer, Ashley Martin-Davis. They wanted to create something beautiful, yet macabre. The stage is dark, with only spotlights, mirrors, podium and paper used to create the props needed. The fairy world is not portrayed as a land of merry beings that, “accidentally sometimes maybe,” toy with the lives of the mortals, but a deep, guttural, terrifying land where you are left at the mercy of the powers that be. The power of the staging is palpable, you truly feel how intimidating the forest is.
This bold move needed strong acting to uphold it, and boy oh boy did the actors deliver. The acting amplifies perfectly this apocalyptic and carnal retelling. The decision to have both Oberon and Thesus played by Garry Cooper, and Titania and Hippolyta played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster was brilliant in the very meaning of the word. Their performances beautifully foreshadowed the poor fate awaiting the young couples lost in the woods. The manner in which these characters were both able to be absolutely besotted with each other and then play the cruellest, vindictive games with each other was astounding. It made the play that much more tangible, and rang home the home truth that sometimes we can be truly horrible to the ones we love.
If you don’t think this is true, just think back to the last time you thought there were biscuits in the cupboard but someone else in the house had just left the wrapper there as a cruel, cruel joke. It’s true. You know it is.
Bottom, the key comedic character, is given a complete overhaul, and is able to be hilarious and horrifying within the same minute. Even whilst he is being this terrifying incarnation of Bottom, Dean Nolan is able to truly show the beautiful naivety of the character, and the true fear he feels whilst being toyed with. The puppeteer of his transformation, Puck, is commanded superbly by Cynthia Erivo. She manages to make Puck powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent and terrifying. Yet, she also plays being at the mercy of Oberon in a brilliant manner, making her a force to be reckoned with in the production.
The young lovers were cast perfectly as well. Helena, Lysander, Hermia and Demetrius (played by Emma Curtis, Tom Varey, Charlotte Hope and Matt Whitchurch respectively) were captivating in every way. They were able to spin from one infatuation to the next, from one emotion to the next with such enviable ease. Their depiction of the characters left you hanging on every word they said, it made the ancient script completely understandable and beautiful in a way that we never even thought possible. In fact, every actor and actress on the stage brought such depth to their characters that it was a crying shame that the show had to end.
This dark retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy creates an astounding piece of theatre which left us breathless. The dimensions shown with such simple staging were phenomenal, the acting was second to none, the music (provided by the performing troupe within the play who also portrayed the fairy spirits) was amazing. The feeling of the duality of the world, and the juxtaposition of truth and reality really showed a new side to this classic piece. So much so, that we feel it would be difficult to ever watch another production of this play. If you are wondering what you should do on one of these pre-Midsummer Nights, then you should definitely see this play. Allow yourself to be swept away for a while and told one of the stories of a lifetime, but in a way that will never let you look at the tale in the same way again.
Get tickets here.