The third and final production in Lazarus Theatre’s residency at Greenwich Theatre (following on from Edward II and Lord of the Flies) is Shakespeare’s beloved comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Artistic director Ricky Dukes directs this play full of love and mystical hijinks, where the moon watches over everything and the fairies are out to cause havoc.
This being one of the most widely performed Shakespeare plays, you’re probably aware of the story: we’re in Athens, and Hermia is in love with Lysander. The only problem is, her father wants her to marry Demetrius – the object of Helena’s affections. In order to escape her fate, Hermia escapes with Lysander to the woods, pursued by Demetrius & Helena. While all this is going on, the Fairy King & Queen (Oberon & Titania) are locked in a battle of wits – with her showing little sign of relenting, he decides to fight dirty with Puck to get his way. This is where the group of actors assembled by Peter Quince comes in, as the most cocksure of them all (Nick Bottom) is given an ass’ head by Puck and Titania immediately falls in love with him, a love juice having been applied to her eyes. It is this “love-in-idleness” that manages to cause even more mischief as the night wears on…
It is a modern-dress production, with a suitably imposing beginning: drum rolls on a loop as you enter the auditorium, followed by the cast assembling onstage and singing what I presume is an English version of the Greek national anthem. It sets up the authoritarian state run by Theseus, and makes the threat to Hermia’s life (if she doesn’t submit to the system) feel all the more real. Her flight from the city is therefore necessary, if she’s to choose her own way in life. It makes for a dark start prior to the comedy finding its feet, in Lysander’s reluctance to share their plans with Helena and the meeting of the Mechanicals; then there is the introduction of the magical element of the play, as the stage is transformed into Oberon & Titania’s realm. Here the other fairies (Peasblossom, Mustardseed, Cobweb) are represented by light bulb ‘puppets’ – they flit around in the manner of fireflies, which is a charming visual. It also doesn’t commit a small cast to additional quick costume changes, thus keeping the show flowing at a reasonable pace.
The mischievous Puck (played by a sprightly Tessa Carmody) becomes fixated on filling the stage with multicoloured confetti – initially to make Titania’s bed, later on it’s just for the hell of it – which seems to make the middle of the stage out of bounds. This forces the lovers to tread around it in circuits, which is fine in some instances (though much of Hermia’s speech on discovering Lysander’s disappeared is missed as Elham Mahyoub runs round & round in circles without really stopping to let us occasionally hear what she’s saying), but seems to force an unnatural staticity to the confrontation between Hermia and the other lovers.
No version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is complete without its own take on the play within a play, Pyramus & Thisbe – and Lazarus Theatre’s does not disappoint! A fast-paced musical version is launched into, with admirable displays of commitment (and lung capacity!) from all involved. It’s interesting that the lovers end up getting swept up in this performance and are thus discovered by Theseus, Hippolyta and Egeus – it works rather well, both in practical terms for bringing Pyramus & Thisbe: The Musical to life, and also for the overall storytelling side of things. Beware: you will have “And you, oh Wall, oh sweet, oh lovely Wall” stuck in your head for hours…
Max Kinder (Lysander) and Jonathon George (Demetrius) are incredibly funny, bringing a lot of visual gags (and terrific facial expressions) to the party; Ingvild Lakou impresses in her dual roles of Hippolyta & Titania, bringing incredible stage presence to the latter role. Nick Bottom can be a difficult part to play, as there’s a fine line between simply showing his overconfidence and being very annoying – David Clayton gets it just right in this version, utilising his impeccable comic timing to great effect. It also helps that John Slade plays Quince as someone who also wants to get the last word in, as you see where Bottom’s frustrations stem from and they end up making a brilliantly antagonistic double act.
My verdict? A bold & multicoloured take on a well-loved classic, with comedy & music running through the entire piece – and an unforgettable Pyramus & Thisbe!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at Greenwich Theatre until 26 May 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.