Take an old Shakespearean favourite, move its location to the USA where Athens is Athens, Georgia and the woods in the bayous of Louisiana become enchanted. Add some of Dr John’s awesome jazz, throw in some voodoo magic and enter the world of Ruby in the Dust’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Orleans” at the Above the Arts Theatre.
In the bayous, the audience is welcomed by Dr John’s song ‘Marie Laveau’ and introduced to Titania (Silvana Maimone) the Queen of voodoo, as she performs her sacred rites, observed by the mischievous Puck (Sid Phoenix). Puck, a follower of King of the Fairies Oberon (David Monteith) who has fallen out with Titania over her changeling child Mothboy (Tristan Pegg) is looking forward to some sport this St John’s Eve.
In the city of Athens, the Duke Theseus (Lawrence O’Connor) is annoyed that his wedding preparations are interrupted by Egeus (Matthew Woodyatt) complaining that his daughter Hermia (Samantha Louise Clark) objects to marrying Demetrius (Ruari Cannon), the suave young man he has picked for her. Instead she’s given her heart to Lysander (Jonathan Ajayi). Demetrius himself is pursued by another, the tall Helena (E J Martin) loves him with all her heart. Hermia and Lysander vow to run away together into the bayous but they are betrayed by Helena. She informs Demetrius of their scheme and he sets off of after them, followed by the devoted Helena.
Also in the bayous, others are getting ready to celebrate the Duke’s wedding. Snout (Lowri Amies), Starveling (Sarah Ratheram) Flute (Matt Jopling) are trying to rehearse a play about Pyramus and Thisbe for the Duke, under the direction of Quince and bully Bottom (Matthew Woodyatt) who wishes to play all the parts in their show himself and has a tendency to ride roughshod over any dissent.
Three sets of folks with problems wandering in the bayou on Midsummer Night, a time when spiritual forces can pass through the thin veil between this world and the next. How much havoc can Puck – spurred on by his King – wreak on human, fairy and animal worlds this fine evening before the first rays of sunlight bring the long night to an end?
So, I never used to be a fan of messing with Shakespeare – the boy knew what he was writing and that should be good enough – however in the course of reviewing quite a few examples of the Bard’s work I have changed my opinion. Updating, changing, moving location, the plays are flexible enough to allow a lot of tinkering by a good production company, and ‘Ruby in the Dust with Director Linnie Reedman have done a pretty spot on job with ‘Dream’. The Louisiana/Georgia location, along with moving the fairy magic more towards the voodoo route – without scaring the kids (ie me) both work really well, as does adding some excellent early jazz numbers to the action, though I’m not sure that having the audience sitting either side of the stage area works all the time, particularly as there is a great big tree in the middle of the set which occasionally blocks sight of the actors. This is another one of those shows that I would love to see performed on a big stage, possibly even its spiritual home – The Globe – where it would work so well.
I do have a couple of other quibbles with the production. The main one being the ‘play within the play’. I have seen versions of ‘Dream’ where this was either missed out completely or small elements of it moved into the rehearsal scene in the woods. I can fully understand the reasoning behind its omission as it really adds nothing to the story itself and, personally I found it an irritant, breaking the lovely atmosphere between the reconciliation of the various parties and Puck’s final superb monologue. Obviously, this is my own opinion and others may disagree, but I would love to be able to ask Will S what he was thinking when he added this scene.
A quick word about Puck. With his wonderfully voodoo skull painted face, Puck starts of as quite a scary figure but thanks to some truly amazing acting from Sid Phoenix, he ended up being to my mind the most human character in the show. Even when observing the action from the side, Puck was fully immersed in whatever was going on and at times you felt you could see his mind working overtime to figure how he could have some fun with the lovestruck or just plain dumb humans in front of him. The rest of the cast worked really well and there was a wonderful intensity between Samantha Louise Clark, Ruari Cannon, Jonathan Ajayi, E J Martin as the two boys fought over the wrong woman in the forest, a scene that could easily be overplayed for laughs but hit the perfect note here.
All in all then, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream in New Orleans” was a great piece of theatre that, on the whole both my companion and I enjoyed very much. A lot of nice twists on an old favourite and a pretty good night at the theatre for this reviewer.
Review by Terry Eastham
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM IN NEW ORLEANS PRESENTED BY RUBY IN THE DUST
Featuring the Music of DR. JOHN
Set in the ‘Birthplace of Jazz’, the tale unfolds from the crumbling New Orleans jazz clubs and out into the Louisiana Bayous – bringing to life Shakespeare’s text amidst the dark imagination of the American Deep South.
Joining Silvana Maimone as Titania and David Monteith as Oberon will be Jonathan Ajayli as Lysander, Lowri Amies as Snout, Ruari Cannon as Demetrius, Samantha Louise Clark as as Hermia, Matt Jopling as Flute, E J Martin as Helena, Lawrence O’Connor as Quince and Theseus Tristan Pegg as Moth, Sid Phoenix as Puck, Sarah Rotheram as Starevlling and Matthew Woodyatt as Bottom.
Underscored with the inimitable sound of New Orleans Jazz and Blues, played live by the cast, it features the music of Dr. John, Louis Armstrong, Randy Newman and Professor Longhair, among others.
Musical Director, Joe Evans, is thrilled to have the approval of Dr. John to include his most famous songs in the show – played live by the cast of actor/musicians, with the addition of Disney’s permission to include Randy Newman’s Oscar nominated song “Down In New Orleans” (famously sung by Dr. John for the hit movie “The Princess and the Frog”).
Adapted and edited by Linnie Reedman it stays faithful to the original text, whilst exploring the rich culture of New Orleans and the surrounding influences of early twentieth century Voodoo. Oberon and Titania are portrayed as “The Night Tripper” and Voodoo Queen respectively, while the ‘Mechanicals’ form one of the earliest New Orleans jazz bands. ‘The play within a play’ evolves into a Mardis Gras stlye jam session. On Friday and Saturday evenings any musically minded audience members are also invited to bring their instrument to join in an after-show jam session with the cast.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM IN NEW ORLEANS
ARTS THEATRE (Upstairs)
6 – 7 Great Newport Street
London WC2H 7JB
August 4 to August 30
Tues – Sun 7:30pm
Tickets £25 Concs £22
Box office 0207 836 8463
Thursday 13th August 2015