FringeReview Scotland 2015
The Shakespearean classic gets a dusting down in the context of the 1920’s with some great charm and enthusiastic performances. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students provide a great introduction to the complexities and subtleties that follow the fall out of the ruling class of Athens and the ruling class of the Fairy world.
This is a simple telling of the story with all of the elements in their proper place. We have the stories of Helena who loves Demetrius who loves Hermia who loves Lysander, who loves Hermia back. Egeus, Hermia’s father, wishes Hermia to marry Demetrius and has asked the Duke, Theseus to rule. By an appointed time – the marriage of the Duke to Hippolyta – Hermia must agree to her father’s wishes or forfeit her life or her sex life. Hermia and Lysander decide to run away but are followed by Helena who loves Demetrius and Demetrius who does not love Helena but loves Hermia; then it gets complex. Meanwhile due to a dispute over a servant Oberon, King of the Fairies and Titania, Queen fall out with Oberon enlisting Puck to cause havoc. The havoc ensues with great comic effect – the Royal Artisans of Athens Alliance Amateur Drama Association (RAAAADA) – are mechanically on hand to provide us with both an ass and a less than asinine ending.
The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) students have been challenged to provide us with a 1920’s version of the Shakespearean classic comedy. A former student of mine who is beavering away in Ayr with helping to reinvigorate the Gaiety Theatre had talked of how he went to RCS productions because they were a great way of seeing classic theatre and generally were very good. I was intrigued to find out just how accurate he was.
I am happy to say that he has it more or less bang on. There is little need to talk of the quality of the writing but it may be worthwhile to ponder the interpretation. Director, Ali de Souza has chosen to set the piece in the 1920’s. Apart from the costumes and wonderful dance piece towards the end there seems to be little by way of referencing or illumination from such a choice. The themes of the time and of the piece may chime but the notes didn’t always translate to the audience.
Performances of this classic are often finely balanced upon the shoulders of Bottom and Puck. Here we have a tremendous comic in Laurie Scott. He has chosen to play Bottom as gormless and unaware of his own pomposity in equal measure and equal barnstorming effect. It works spectacularly well. I have seen few who can pull it off so well. Daniel Lien, as Puck, does bring a certain charm but I felt that he was always holding something back. In support we have some great work from the likes of Elizabeth Bouckley as Helena and Alex Kampfner as Peter Quince. I have the fortunate position of being able to be picky because the whole cast give a great performance. I was thoroughly engaged as a member of the audience with the clear ensemble feel between them all.
The set was functional and again I was lost as to where it fitted within the 1920’s concept. Theatre arts worked well and I do like a bit of leaves falling from the ceiling. The dance towards the end was great and well within the tradition of Shakespeare himself.
Overall this is more than an entry level performance for Shakespeare. It asks little of you by way of difficult concepts and confusing interpretations. It plays it “straight” with a cast revolving as they get to grips with other parts in two castings rather than two casts. What it does do is entertain and engage, reminding me why I love Shakespeare so much and making my former student’s words come to life before my very eyes.