The Royal Shakespeare Company’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with a different, regional cast playing the Mechanicals and fairy train at each new location, is a truly bold move in theatre-making. This Play for the Nation, celebrating the work of Shakespeare 400 years after his death, is a brilliant dedication to a man who has shaped British theatre. The desire to make his work inspiring and accessible to all has certainly been achieved with the combined efforts of the RSC’s permanent cast and their collaboration with regional theatre companies. The nature of this touring play means that in every location, something different is brought to Shakespeare’s famous words; from Stratford-upon-Avon to the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, each new cast member is able to deliver their own interpretation of this much-loved play.
Shakespeare’s comedy is comprised of a complex web of plots. The play surrounds the events leading to the marriage of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta. From the confusion and pain of young love among two couples, and the rehearsals of the Mechanicals for their play, ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’, the fairy world always has a part in playing some mischief on its unsuspecting victims. Director Erica Whyman’s vision has set the play in 1940s war-torn Britain because, like Shakespeare’s Athens, this location signals a time of great change. Although conceptually interesting, and evident in the design of the bombed-out theatre and the costumes of those belonging to the Court, this envisioning of 1940s Britain is little more than an allusion. The subtle evocation of a dark time in British history is dulled by the blend of other cultural signifiers. India is referenced through Titania’s (Ayesha Dharker) rich, red dress, reminiscent of a sari, and the red drapes which hang from the ceiling similarly contribute to this more exotic atmosphere on stage. The suggestion of different time periods and cultures is further introduced through the costume of Puck: dressed in a smart black jacket with a top hat, Puck (Lucy Ellinson) darts about the stage as though he is part of a Charlie Chaplin film. Combined with his flamboyant movements as he prances up and down a staircase, Puck’s actions even suggest ideas of cabaret. Although interesting for the eye, this blending of cultures detracts from the more subtle stage work.
“Brilliant comedic moments were created off-script when Bottom used the familiar endearment ‘duck’”
The Lovelace Theatre Group seamlessly wove themselves into this RSC production, so much so that the lines between professional and amateur actors were blurred. Drawing on their Midlands roots instead of attempting to hide them, brilliant comedic moments were created off-script when Bottom (Becky Morris) used the familiar endearment ‘duck’ and Flute’s (Daniel Knight) northern accent perfectly complimented his camp mannerisms. Their success as a theatre group, both within the world of the play and in reality, truly comes together in the final act when they finally stage their play. Each actor is given a chance to shine, and the protracted deaths of Pyramus and Thisbe, perfectly timed by Morris and Knight, has the audience in stiches.
“Lucy Ellison’s petite and androgynous Puck completely commands the audience”
Under Puck’s love spell, the thrusting swagger of Demetrius (Chris Nayak) and Lysander (Jack Holden) as they compete for the love of Helena (Laura Riseborough) is a particularly captivating scene. Their movements are perfectly choreographed and both men are made to look like fools: Demetrius pings his braces and places his hand over his beating heart in a show of deep infatuation, and Lysander finds himself with his rucksack back to front after attempting to defend Helena. With such bluster and pomposity among the men on stage, Mercy Ojelade’s characterisation as the small but mighty Hermia really is ‘fierce’. Credit, however, must finally be given to the cast member who truly stole the show with her performance: Lucy Ellison’s petite and androgynous Puck completely commands the audience, so much so that it becomes unnecessary for her to ask that we clap during the epilogue. Clambering through the second row of seats during the second act, stealing a sweet from one audience member and offering the bag to another, she recognised and responded to her audience. Her darting, childlike movements and malleable facial expressions brought humour without even the need for Shakespeare’s words. Such a performance only helped to confirm that Whyman’s artistic venture is a huge, nationwide success.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is on at Theatre Royal, Nottingham until Saturday 7th May. For more information, see here.
Image Credit: Paul Stuart, taken from Theatre Royal webiste