Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Mayhem and madness in this 21st century adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Aquila Youth Theatre was originally set up in 2015 to bring youth theatre to the Fringe from its school base in leafy Berkshire. They’ve been every year bar those when Covid intervened and caused an unfortunate break. So it was no wonder I felt like I was in a massive school/family reunion as I stood in the queue for their last performance of Merry Wanderers. Everyone seemed to have someone in the show, or knew someone who had someone in it, or was related to someone who had someone in it……..you get the picture.
That’s the beauty of having a show with a cast over over 20 young actors – you’ve got a guaranteed full house at the weekend from the relatives alone. Just as well, then, that they were staging this cleverly scripted adaptation of one of the Bard’s crazier comedies in the capacious “Big” venue at theSpace’s Triplex theatre.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream offers up wonderful possibilities in terms of staging, movement, confusing the audience and, of course, over acting. And this fast moving, cleverly staged production left no stone unturned in its quest to tell a good tale and showcase the talents of the young cast ranging in age from 11 to 15, with the majority of this year’s crew at the younger end of that scale.
Now, remember the plot? Yep, it’s complex. However, this version has been cleverly teleported to today’s TikTok generation and, whilst sticking pretty resolutely to the Bard’s structure and themes with which most theatre-goers will be familiar, it’s all done with a 21st century feel.
Leo seeks solace in the woods after the loss of his brother by taking a camping trip with his best friend. Elsewhere in the forest Oberon and Titania are having a real ding dong over the soul of the deceased boy. Other groups of children then arrive in the woods, each for unrelated purposes. When the mischievous Puck and his band of Lost Boys rock up, mayhem and confusion swiftly follows with some unexpected and hilarious results. Then, just when you think the denouement will leave no-one living happily ever after (as the Bard originally scripted), Puck’s final twist ensures that, having faced his grief, Leo learns to embrace the love that has been right beside him all along.
The script uses modern language and sees the actors exploring issues including loss and the need to move on, victimhood, growing up, gender identity, sexuality, the tensions inherent in close friendship and, naturally, the dangers of too much screen time. And most of this was done with a surprising degree of subtlety and sensitivity given the age of the cast.
With such a large cast and such a complex plot involving many scene changes, it would have been very easy for this thing to have dragged. That it didn’t and was so obviously bursting with energy is a credit to all those involved. It’s maybe invidious to single out individuals from what was a universally strong troupe, but you couldn’t help but admire performances from Freddie Spry (an irrepressible Puck), Poppy Richards (a feisty Mouse, one of the Mechanicals), Khan Qadar (sensitive in the tricky part of Leo) and Alice Chalmers (suitably trenchant in her role as Tilly).
Costumes were many and varied and of a very high standard and the props were all simple and effective. There was also a very supportive soundscape, sensitive to the mood of the action on stage.
There was the odd gremlin here and there and a bit of corpsing on stage as we hit the denouement but that’s not to detract from a very well written and staged piece of youth theatre. This was the last show but the company perform regularly at the Fringe so I’d recommend you look out for them again in 2024. The cast might be a bit different but I suspect the quality of the entertainment will be undiminished.