Imagine an anarchic pantomime: rock gig/riot! Now you can imagine Filter and the Lyric’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream! It is enormous fun.
I have to be honest. I love Filter Theatre and its whole concept: inventive theatre with ingenious use of sound that enhances and stimulates our senses. I have probably seen over two dozen Dreams, all with their own unique twists and themes: I’ve seen hippies, robots and flappers all successfully fulfilling the Bard’s aim to entertain his audiences whilst showing us sides of our characters that perhaps we would prefer to remain hidden. But Filter always offers something more. Filter’s relationship with the Lyric, and particularly with its Artistic Director Sean Holmes who co-directs this production with Stef O’Driscoll, is a highly successful collaboration, reinterpreting a well-loved comedy to great effect.
Peter Quince (Ed Gaughan) plays the role of the show’s compere, stand-up or warm-up man. His Irish charm is welcoming and his warning that we are in for a ‘crushing disappointment’ proves true on one level (I will not divulge how or I will spoil the surprise) but there is little to disappoint overall.
He tells us that we are about to enter Athens with its ‘thriving homosexual culture’ and there is reference to Prince Philip, the ‘racist Greek of our time’, so the audience is laughing and ready to participate in the mayhem that is about to follow.
The stage is set so that the band of mechanicals is visible and all the fascinating sound effects are performed in front of us but they certainly don’t spoil the magical atmosphere, they enhance it. The audience is a part of the madness and we enjoy watching it develop before us. Bottom is not physically transformed but the soundscape turns him into an ass: coconut shells make the clip clop of his hooves. The fairies are brought to life by sound that the actors on stage respond to and so do we. The lovers, hiding from us in a pop up tent, are overheard by a mic being placed over them.
Love in idleness has an audible life of its own too. The way Filter incorporates sound into their productions is a joy to watch as well as hear.
Music is integrated well into this production. Peter Quince, Flute and Snug are joined by Bottom to form a band and all the actors accompany many of the numbers, crooning around mics to very corny and comic ‘lurve’ songs and rock numbers. Lysander (John Lightbody) was transformed from a quietly spoken, polite young man into a ‘love machine’ upon his reaction to the love potion.
Invalid Displayed Gallery
From Puck’s magnificent entrance, (played by Ferdy Roberts), breaking through walls to get to the stage at the start, to his demoralised clearing up at the end, he captures the audience’s hearts. He is a stage hand or handyman, working for Oberon but showing little respect for him. This can be fully understood as Oberon is depicted as a very inadequate Superman, compete with shiny, all-in-one suit and cape! Everything that could happen to Oberon (Jonathan Broadbent), happens. He falls down a trapdoor, flies, trips, is electrocuted and covered in flour. The dour Puck and puerile Oberon are a tour de force.
The staging is simple yet highly effective. Good use is made of paper walls, floors and ceilings. A rather seedy men’s toilet area becomes Titania’s bower but it is the antics of the characters and the sound effects that draw the eye and the ear. The audience is involved, wholly involved, from the start to the end, even participating in a huge food fight – who knew that a bread roll could be thrown so far? Quince had to call a ceasefire as the audience was not prepared to be beaten by those on stage!
As a lover of Shakespeare I can admit to some trepidation in going to see one of his comedies that sells itself as ‘wittily experimental’ but this is Filter and they know how to get the balance right.
Shakespeare’s words and his poetry are there, not all of the play, but enough to satisfy most of us and they are beautifully spoken. That is the joy of this production: it can be enjoyed by so many; it is accessible to all. Perhaps the romance is missing, as love is just sexual and hilarious, but then Shakespeare does give Puck the line ‘Lord what fools these mortals be!’ That is certainly seen to be true! There is little nobility in these characters. I did struggle to hear the lyrics in the songs so, for example, when Bottom/Pyramus sang after his death scene, it fell a little flat as we could not hear what he was singing. Interestingly, the Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play, usually the highlight of a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was eclipsed by the rest of the play that was so full of incident that you could hardly draw breath.
There is so much to comment upon but part of the fun of this production is the anarchic experience and the knowledge that you will be entertained by the innovative Filter Theatre Company. Well done to Filter and the Lyric!
Review by Valerie Cochrane
The Lyric and Filter’s riotous reinterpretation of one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays returns to the Lyric, after its critically acclaimed 2012 run. This classic tale of young lovers and warring fairies is given a unique and irreverent twist.
19 February – 19 March 2016