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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Sam Ebner-Landy reviews Propeller Theatre Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Lowry

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As I began my journey towards the Lowry on a bitterly cold winter’s evening, I confess, heretical though this may be, that I was not filled with excitement at the prospect of revisiting William Shakespeare’s comedy of lovers, magic and mechanicals; A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Having seen Bristol Old Vic’s accomplished performance of the play in London, as recently as early February, the thought of witnessing another modern interpretation did not particularly whet my theatrical appetite. I went into Propeller’s wonderful adaptation of the 16th century text feeling tired, dispirited and altogether apprehensive. I left, however, feeling utterly enthralled by the veritable cooking pot of theatrical, comical and Shakespearian techniques that I bore witness to, during Propeller’s ingenious interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Propeller achieved a rarity within the world of Shakespeare. They managed to fully uphold the integrity of the Bard’s text, whilst altering and amending aspects of the aesthetic side of the performance, based on a clear understanding of how the play would have originally been received. The all-male theatre company concentrated on comedy and mysticism as key overriding themes, utilising a multitude of different theatrical techniques in order to fully bring out a combination of the two in the audience’s response. Elements of farce, physical theatre and Commedia dell’arte were used across almost the entire ensemble in order to effectively bring the Shakespearian comedy into the modern age. This was perhaps most pertinent in Jospeh Chance’s portrayal of Robin Goodfellow (the Puck). Chance used an exaggerated physicality, to great effect, as a means of highlighting the character’s mischief and the control he has over the quarrelling lovers. The modern theatrical style, more often associated with companies like Kneehigh or DV8, rather than Shakespeare, proved an inspired directorial decision; Edward Hall allowed his actors to seamlessly blend a number of techniques, so that the desired audience response could be furthered. This is also seen late on, during the mechanicals’ performance of “Pyramus and Thisbe”. In this climactic scene, famous for its riotous comedy, elements of farce and physical theatre were added in order to allow the mechanicals’ play to develop into an utter travesty, where Thisbe (Flute – played by Alasdair Craig) is seen throwing a momentous tantrum, his blonde wig flying across the panic-stricken stage as he beats his fellow actors with an effeminate scarf.

It seemed as though every aspect of this intelligent performance had been constructed with the highest level of attention to detail. Even in lighting, Ben Omerod took precautions in order to use light as a means of distinguishing the tales being told. Instances of dramatic state shifts meant that the barrier between the mortal and the mystical world could remain clear as the stories were being set in motion, before being blurred as the stories collide. Edward Hall’s direction was masterful; pre-existing subtexts came alive under his (and designer Michael Pavelka’s) control of staging, costume and set design. It is fair to say that I was stunned by this breathless performance, and though at times I found myself missing a number of the added references or struggling to keep up with the pacing, this was a truly excellent and well-acted interpretation of a powerfully funny Shakespearian masterpiece. You’re lucky if you got to see it.

4.5 out of 5 stars