Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Taking the storyline and working and weaving your own magic can only work when the story is one robust enough to take it. Shakespeare fits the bill. When a professional disabled company then take that storyline, weave their own magic within it we can either be overtaken by sickly saccharine or become enchanted by their performance. Welcome to enchantment.
This is a professional theatre company with trained disabled actors who have come to the Fringe as a multi award winning company. Through the Open Stages project at the RSC Side by Side present their take upon Midsummer Night’s Dream and what a dream it turned out to be.
Shakespeare, no matter who wrote them, is damned fine material. This is a script that has been developed with smatterings of Shakespearean dialogue when it fits the company and the direction. In the hands of Side by Side it is simply fantastic. There are times when the actors have used the words as a springboard. If anyone could give us a unique view on unrequited and forbidden love then it may well be a company of disabled people. But they go beyond this and give us a performance that delights the eyes and makes us feast with our hearts. At its heart is the story and the narrative which is then given to us visually, translated into words with which we are more familiar and delivered with aplomb where the Shakespearean dialogue fits.
I attended the performance with the cast of another company who were also performing at St Augustine’s. Young though they were I was initially irritated by their willingness to clap everything they saw. There was an initial feeling that they were being paternalistic, looking down on their fellow actors. But these fellow actors were their equal. They knew how to play to that gallery and did so wonderfully. If it worked once, repeat but never over play your hand. They were clearly seasoned performers. Let me give you an example. At one point the lollipop lady – who plays moon – has a lollipop fro crossing the road. On that lollipop there is a moon. It falls off. The cast handle this as mechanicals so well, I cannot report whether it was a mistake or it was meant to fall off and get a laugh. They clearly had panto training at one point!
As a community company some of the acting hit higher heights than others and I was enthralled in particular by Oberon/ Mark Slater – a man who’s deadpan expressions make Jack Dee look animated; Titania/Sarah Field – a woman who had the type of swagger from where I come from that would dry a washing; Peter/James Emtage – who’s command of his performances from the Director to a Fairie were wonderful; Declan/Toby Shaw who has the comic timing of a genius; Max/Paul Taylor – who played the old musical hall gag of keeping getting up to keep getting up perfectly; and Puck (Or is it PCUK) Ben Rees – who slipped a couple of times and then delivered the best final speech for Midsummer Night’s Dream I have ever seen. Animated and pointed at each and every turn the syllables meant something to him. It is not enough to hope that Shakespeare is spoken and understood; this was performed like he loved it.
A minor criticism that I did have and think it could do with sorting is the scene changes. They were cumbersome. I think we are sophisticated enough to have the whole set out in front of us and the art from another special needs project was good to look at. It was not sufficiently good that it had the WOW factor upon revealing it.
The use of music was both inventive and refreshing to see set pieces done with such creativity. I particularly loved the bath/bed sequence (am telling no more – go and see it and find out); the chase sequence in the woods; and the piece accompanying What can I do to make you love me? Special mention should also be made to the way that props became important that were not part of the story – stand forth Elliot’s teddy bear. Having the opportunity to bring depth to the piece can be unheard of in this genre. The way in which it was performed meant we got creativity and not pity. This was so far away from paternalism and helping folk through things that I could not have been happier.
As a performance piece this was a step beyond Midsummer Night’s Dream. Faithful though it is to the play we get a unique take upon it. It is because this is unique that I rated it so highly. As an example of its genre, for so many disabled actors this is an unusual company – they get to be creative rather than repetitive. Bottom/Max became a rat and not a donkey; the elopement in the mechanical’s play was to Edinburgh Castle; and the lion was escaped from Edinburgh Zoo. If I may be so bold as to steal an exchange from the show – Dream On was beautiful/Give over… Give over your time to go and be spellbound.