Transporting Shakespeare to a modern setting can often be a big risk, indeed moving any Elizabethan play to a contemporary setting can too easily come across as clumsy and awkward because the language is juxtaposed with the setting and leaves the audience feeling uncomfortable. Not so with this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which effortlessly transports us to a grungy festival full of pill-popping fairies and drunk lords. It shouldn’t work, but it really, really does and is made all the more effective by the cast’s effortless and flawless delivery of the text. Somehow, even though it is Shakespeare’s words, coming out of these youngsters’ mouths it seems perfectly normal.
The performance opens with the house band, Puck You, playing a selection of indie hits from around 10-15 years ago by the likes of The Maccabees, Paulo Nutini etc. The band, made up of cast members cunningly hidden under hoodies, is led by the excellent Samuel Henderson, who plays up to being an Arctic Monkeys-esque mardi front-man. The reverb is up high to give us a full ‘festival feel’ and, while they play, two glitter clad girls frollick in the performance space seemingly getting more and more intoxicated and not just on alcohol (we later learn these are Puck and Peaseblossom).
You see, this is where this performance comes into its own, think about the main themes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Confused relationships, hallucinations, drugs, bad performances… those themes fit so snugly into a festival that is just makes sense!
We quickly meet Theseus and Hippoltya, the hosts of the festival; Theseus (Dan Ciotkowski) comes across like a drunk David Tennant, playing effortlessly on any innuendo he can find in the text to tease his future wife, Hippolyta (Mollie Macpherson), who gives as good as she gets with her quick witted responses. When these two later become Titania and Oberon, Ciotkowski seems to shift from drunk to slightly malevolent as he plots to embarrass and humiliate his fairy wife.
Our young lovers come across as passionately in love, that is until Puck intervention when both Lysander (Alex Heath) and as Demetrius (Samuel Henderson) notch up the comedy and play their lust for Helena as a crazed farce, galloping around the stage and throwing themselves at each other to ‘battle’ for her love. With Hermia throwing herself at Helena and Helena pouting and bewildered in response, all four actors excel, demonstrating a good range of performances.
No performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is complete without mentioning the rude mechanicals and Julian Bailey-Jones easily steals the show with his Bottom. Proud, arrogant and completely ridiculous, he bounces around the stage, confident in his performance, smoothly manipulating the text to get the most comedy he can out of the character. Let’s just say that until you’ve seen Pyramus played wearing a superman outfit and carrying a lightsaber, you have never lived and I nearly found myself crying with laughter as the play within a play drew to a close.
The use of indie rock music to identify scene breaks, lighting drops for when Puck and Oberon freeze time and the clever use of the underground performance space made this a true delight to watch and I am disappointed that it is only running for three nights as it deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.
Revieww by Cat Lamin
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Dalmation Theatre – 18 th July 2016
Directed and produced by Bebe Barry