The most common reason why certain plays are seldom performed (no need to mention any names) is that, to be frank, they’re not as good as the plays that are put on more often. By that standard alone, A Midsummer Night’s Dream really must rank as one of the greatest works a theatre production company could undertake. As ever, one can never please everybody all the time, but the youthful vibrancy and enthusiasm this particular take from the Lazarus Theatre Company on a comedy classic provides gets increasingly palpable as the show progresses.
The play starts with characters in plain clothes, which struck me as slightly odd, not because I was expecting period costumes to go with the late sixteenth-century vocabulary and verse (I wasn’t, necessarily), but because Act I Scene I is still set in a palace. Theseus, Duke of Athens (Lanre Danmola) hears from one of the city’s citizens, Egeus (Zoe Campbell), who wishes his daughter Hermia (Elham Mahyoub) to marry Demetrius (Jonathon George). Hermia is having none of it, for she is in love with Lysander (Max Kinder).
This disagreement sees Oberon, King of the Fairies (also Lanre Danmola) instructing trusted ‘sprite’ (or ‘elf’, if you please) Puck (Tessa Carmody) spread some love around. In a stroke of genius casting, there isn’t much between George’s Demetrius and Kinder’s Lysander, so I’m with Puck in mistaking one for the other. Puck’s resulting action from the error sets up much of the humour for the rest of the show; certain further actions on Puck’s part later on ramp up the comedy all the more.
The production rattles through the play’s five acts at a brisk pace, so much so that at one point I wondered if the production was going to thunder through the whole thing without an interval. (As it turned out, there is one.) If the palace of Act I looks a tad bare, the palace of Act V is overkill – in a pleasing, and slightly anarchic, way. Somebody working on this production clearly has a penchant for paper confetti.
It’s a strong cast all round, though there’s a stand-out performance from Helena (Saskia Vaigncourt-Strallen), who, given an abundance of lines in Act III Scene II, portrays a wide range of human emotions – but mostly, admittedly, anger and disappointment. A touch of actor-musicianship from John Slade as Quince adds another layer to an already nuanced production. The ‘play within a play’, the bit a good number of A Midsummer Night’s Dream aficionados look forward to – with justification, to be fair – may not have been the most hilarious I’ve ever come across, but it was certainly very flamboyant and lyrical.
Could a first-timer follow the play’s proceedings if they came to this particular production? My answer is ‘yes, just about’. More pertinently, what could yet another production of this play bring to the table? For me, there’s something rather timeless about seeing Puck acting without checking and double-checking, leaping without looking beforehand. It actually seems more relevant today than ever: in a world of rolling news and social media, responses to a story are sometimes made without being in possession of all the correct information on the matter being commented on. The potential consequences could be disastrous.
Anyway, it’s a lot to take in with a running time of just under two hours including interval. It lacks subtlety, but the show is all the better for all the exaggerations. In a sentence, this is a slick production that utterly fails to disappoint.
Review by Chris Omaweng
On a Midsummer’s night, four young lovers find themselves entranced and entrapped in an enchanted forest where sprites lurk and fairies rule.
“I have had a most rare vision. I had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was…” Shakespeare’s best loved comedy comes to the stage in this all-new ensemble production. Through the use of text, music, movement, puppetry and song this production promises to be a fantastic first introduction to Shakespeare for any age.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Dates 15th – 26th May 2018