Edinburgh Fringe 2016
For it’s 25th anniversary year, ‘Shakespeare For Breakfast’ treats us to a satirical ’90s deconstruction of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
Anyone who has been to Edinburgh Fringe more than once should know that ‘Shakespeare For Breakfast’ is a core institution. A group of young actors play a very modern and ridiculous take on a Shakespearean classic, mixing modern interpretation of the text with the original lines and cramming all the gaps with silliness and satire.
As usual, it is played in C Venues’ Studio 1 with seating on three sides and, as usual, it is sold out and takes a lot of work by the staff to get everyone sitting in the right places. Not easy when you have a cup of coffee and a croissant to handle too (us, not them). The 90s soundtrack quite clearly indicates where we’re going to go with this. Whilst not strictly being set 20-odd years ago (there’s some intentionally annoying hipster elements at play too), we clearly get the homage and I feel old.
The Lovers confuse me – Lysander and Hermia seem to be modern-day trendies whilst Demetrius and Helena do seem to be more rooted in the 90s. I don’t get why this is. There is one other thing I feel should be looked at a little more closely, and I have found this with most of the SfB shows I have seen for many years; most of the characters are either Public School twits or speak in how a middle-class person’s view of how someone from an urban area, usually not very intelligent, would speak. I would like to see them inspect this and go for something beyond safe archetypes.
The Lovers’ first scene is full of cleverly altered iambic pentameter full of modern references. The comedy is silly, which is no mean feat given that these four characters, as Shakespeare wrote them, often have a fairly thankless task in amusing the audience for much of the story. There are a lot of references to Pokémon Go, Hollywood celebrities and reality TV.
The Mechanicals are all funny but they seem to be a very strange mix. All appear to be totally out of place with each other. This is not a fault in the text or the performances, but in the actual source of the characters. All appear to be winners of unrelated competitions. This disparate collection jars slightly.
Oberon and Titania are fantastic. Daft, overblown and pantomime grotesques, they have the audience howling. A clever twist on Oberon’s name and sound effects from a woman in the audience are inspired. Puck is an archetype of a 90s obsessive, although the Walkman and style of dress give this aged reviewer more a sense of the late 80s.
The dual scene between Demetrius and Helena is a riot. You can barely hear the actors for the constant hooting of laughter coming from the audience. It’s slapstick, it’s modern, it’s a little bit naughty and it’s a joy to behold. Likewise, Puck’s method of bewitching the two men is very silly indeed and if the actors aren’t doing more than they were rehearsed to do, given their reactions (this is a positive in such an environment), they are fooling us very well indeed.
The Mechanicals finally get a chance to come alive when they start rehearsing the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe (and they use a member of the audience to play the wall). Bottom’s transformation into an ass is a clever piece of work. I shan’t spoil it by saying just what he turns into, but this ass is a pretty accurate and no more ridiculous one than the character it is lampooning.
Back with The Lovers again and there’s a whole scene put together mainly with trite 90s love song lyrics. It’s very funny (I think you might need to be of a certain age to get all the references) and it shows just how insipid and banal a lot of pop lyrics are. The movement and the dialogue is tight.
Given the way ‘Shakespeare For Breakfast’ is always performed, it was a foregone conclusion that The Mechanicals’ play at the end was going to be milked for all it was worth. Lion’s mauling of the mantle had me squealing with laughter. I feel I really want to pick out Noah Young’s performances. All three as Demetrius, Oberon and Flute are hysterically funny. There are no weak links in this show (I’ve never seen a poor performance from this company) but he has an awareness and timing all of his own.
Finishing a show with a song can often make the audience feel awkward. Not this time. It’s a happy and upbeat celebration which could have benefited from the whole cast singing every line as some of the solos were lost in the music playback.
This is one of the very best SfBs I’ve seen and it has a very strong cast. You would have to be without a sense of humour not to be almost crying with laughter at times. The few reservations I have are quite small and should not intrude in your enjoyment. ‘Shakespeare For Breakfast’ is a major part of Edinburgh Fringe and, therefore, this is a Must See.