Life Could Be A Dream

Shakespeare was once something of a hot potato in Warwick Drama. Many people will remember the backlash surrounding submissions in 2008, when Macbeth was selected for the Arts Centre Studio ahead of the (supposedly) experimental Lost Senses. The events and debates that followed sent a message that Shakespeare was not welcome, at least not with open arms. Subsequent productions were either held outside the Studio (for instance, Twelfth Night in Leamington Parish Church), or took a more tangential approach. Bottom of the Pit, the Codpiece production, explored the inner demons of Bottom the Weaver without strict adherence to iambic pentameter.

Now, it seems, the tide has turned and Shakespeare is ‘in’ again. In WSAF week we’ll be treated to HAL V (Henry IV Parts I & II and Henry V all rolled into one), and then we have A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All the signs look good. It’s directed by Zoe ‘Bob’ Roberts, last seen giving a wickedly comic performance as Mrs. Pugh in the masterful Under Milk Wood. It has a great cast balancing relative newcomers like Amy Tobias with established talents like Kate Richards. And being a comedy based upon magic and confusion, it’s guaranteed to be inoffensive fun.

{{ quote A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains one of the best plays of this academic year }}

Firstly, the issue of the fairies, which in this dream are edgy sirens of nature, who growl and snarl their lines, skulk around the stage, and create pounding rhythms on the scenery. People have complained that they were too overtly scary and animalistic, but that’s the whole point. If they are not so different from the human world, there’s no reason why the Mechanicals should be scared by them. It is precisely because Titania is so bizarre and so surreal that Bottom is compelled to put his story into verse.

As far as the acts are concerned, most of the cast are quite excellent. The best of the bunch is Kate Richards as Titania, in a performance clearly inspired by Miranda Richardson’s Queen Mab from the TV miniseries Merlin. She completely ditches the clipped RP character from Dinner and ‘Tis Pity, to create a Queen of the Fairies who is both enticing and menacing, growling her lines with carnal lust and moving around the stage in a manner which is both graceful and frightening. Sam Maynard gives as good as her in the role of Bottom, matching impeccable comic timing with a sympathetic twist, allowing the audience to laugh both at him and with him depending on the scene.

Of the newcomers, Amy Tobias is brilliant as Hermia, the lover of Lysander, and gives a great physical performance during her scenes in the forest. Rather than simply playing on female hysteria, Roberts has her dragged along the length of the stage and then sat on by Demetrius, whom Matt Goad plays adeptly as a leather-clad bounder. Elsewhere Stewart Clarke gives a very competent performance as Lysander (even if his costume unduly resembles Mr. Bean) and Anna Burnell is generally pleasant as Helena.

Where this Dream starts to come unstuck is with the five Pucks. On paper, it’s a very interesting idea, having five actors play Puck to illustrate his multi-layered character. But for all the physicality that this brings, the cast never follow through with it. They never manage to tie it down to solid characterisations of individual traits, so for all of Soraya Nabipour’s insane cantering around, the audience are never quite sure who represents what aspect.

A further problem is the setting. Obviously, not every theatre production set in the 1950s has to look like Grease or West Side Story, with its leather jackets, quiffs and billowy skirts. Nevertheless, this Dream opens with ‘Sh-Boom (Life Could Be A Dream)’ – a great mid-50s doo-wop track complete with five-part harmonies – and then seems to ditch that dynamic for the scenes in Theseus’ court, in which the men wear archetypal suits and the women archetypal dresses.

These two faults aside, A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains one of the best plays of this academic year. Roberts’ direction is great, exhibiting a real understanding of comedy which has made her stage appearances immensely enjoyable. The Mechanicals’ play-within-a-play at the end is hysterically funny, as Maynard chews up the stage and Briony Rawle once again proves herself to be a great comic actress. It’s not as captivating as ‘Tis Pity, or as funny as Under Milk Wood, but the cast and crew have still done a wonderful job, taking one of the most over-performed plays in the world and producing something which is both original and thoroughly entertaining.


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