Brighton Fringe 2009
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Venue: The Nightingale Theatre
Festival: Brighton Fringe
Shakepeare’s play takes a new twist as Act explores the darker side of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Chaos ensues as several mistaken identities, misunderstandings and magic evolve in a modern world we see these characters in. Lovers running away, a fairy king and queen arguing over a servant boy, actors rehearsing for a play and unrequited love are just some of the elements that are part of the action.
A simple setup of seating and staging greeted us as the audience walked in. An aisle down the middle of the chairs facing two stage blocks with a shimmering cloth over it gave the impression that a minimalist approach was the choice ACT went for. They were right to do so as we saw a very challenging approach to one of Shakespeare’s well known plays – the set was very easily adaptable, additional props either used by the actors for their characters or to indicate a change of scenery and dramatic lighting gave an edge to the text as well as freedom for the actors to experiment. The aisle and the main stage area was used extremely well as the journey progressed.
I have seen a few adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this has got to be the most experimental approach out of all of them – the context was modern, but there were many sub-groups represented through each of the characters relating to today’s culture. For example, Theseus in the original text is the king of Athens and Hippolyta is an amazon warrior queen whom he marries, but here, Theseus is (to quote the programme) ‘a mad boy king’ and Hippolyta is ‘his Mail-Order Bride’. Other groups represented here include ‘chavs’, ‘hoodies’ and drug addicts – all of which in their visual way give the play a much darker depth and brings it up to date so the audience could relate in some way. Even the flower that Oberon drops into Titania’s eye becomes a syringe to inject the ‘drug’ that is the flower’s potion. Titania also became a scarlet woman in terms of dress and behaviour!
But of course, the plot in itself we could also relate to. The lovers Hermia and Lysander forbidden to be together by Theseus and Egeus was nicely portrayed by Matt Eden and Rachel Young. Together they showed sensitivity and an intimacy that heightened the sexual chemistry between them when they ran away into the forest. Using the idea of the ‘chav’ and the girl from a respectable background added to the danger of being caught together, as you could immediately see why Egeus thought Demetrius was a more suitable choice for his daughter. But at the same time you wanted them to succeed. Again, Helena and Demetrius (played by Robert Knowles and Clare Burt) showed various depths to their relationship as Helena followed Demetrius like a love-sick puppy and he rather violently pushes her away. Clare Burt is definitely an actress to watch out for in the future though – she made her character stand out from the rest by making her really natural in her emotions and good use of her voice, plus she added a lovely comic touch of constantly devouring chocolate when she got upset.
But the dynamic changed between the lovers when the flower was added – it was almost uncomfortable to watch in one way as we all witnessed the two men fight over Helena in a drug induced state. We could see the clear change distinctly as they went from low to high in almost a few seconds (an acid trip reference possibly). The stage combat sequences in these moments were nicely choreographed, but a little rough around the edges. Despite this, a great team effort.
Puck played by Lavanya Boon was another great character to watch. From the start we saw an almost menacing quality to Puck as he terrorised a fairy at the beginning – it reminded me a little of Heath Ledger’s The Joker because of the madness and chaos created, but the audience still warmed to her as the performance progressed, as she showed she had a heart by wanting to please Oberon. The journey she took us on was entertaining and charming to watch as we saw the different stages she went through, but the end speech was especially good as she became the neutral actress reassuring us that it wasn’t real.
A special mention has to go to Paddy O’Keefe who took on three characters – Egeus, Starveling and Oberon! As Egeus, he made a great stern father, with Starveling he was gentle, and as Oberon he was regal and charming. There were times though when he could have made Oberon a lot more angry when Puck kept making mistakes. He’s a fiery character and has to match Titania (played by Fiona McGonigle) in terms of passion and sensitiveness, but occasionally it was too neutral – unable to tell if he was angry or in control. Apart from that, a great attempt at three contrasting characters.
This production certainly had its highlights, but there were things which could have been improved. Language, pace and diction were quite weak the majority of the time in the sense of not being able to understand what the actors were saying as well as some words needing to be lifted to round off the end of verses and sentances. The pace at times needed to be picked up to get the rhythm back on track. There are some gorgeous verses in this play and they were missed due to too many pauses in the wrong places and occasionally people were rushing the lines. Also there were too many times when the tone of voice became monotonous with no variety in it, so there were no indications of emotional change.
Reactions occasionally need to be worked on as well – for instance, Titania’s revulsion to Bottom (played by the hilarious Gareth Clark – a great comic in the making) when she’s given the antidote for the flower was too underplayed and needed to be bigger.
Despite all this, Act have made a valiant attempt at giving A Midsummer Night’s Dream a new lease of life and has a strong potential (with a bit more tidying and reworking) to become a dynamic piece of theatre.