Whilst there may have been countless productions of this particular Shakespeare play in the last two years alone, A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘s enduring popularity has made it The Faction’s latest target. The Bard’s well-loved comedy is the company’s 10th show since their formation in 2008 – you may remember their notable Much Ado About Nothing, which was performed in a purpose-built theatre within Selfridge’s (ReFashioned Theatre) in 2016. One of their long-standing commitments is to gender parity, making this a gender balanced production with the casting of a female Puck.
In order to escape a loveless engagement with Demetrius, Hermia runs away to the woods with her lover Lysander – though her unwanted fiancé pursues them, and is followed himself by Hermia’s friend Helena, who has always been in love with him. Also in this forest is a group of “rude mechanicals” who are rehearsing a play to be performed at the wedding celebrations of Athens’ duke Theseus and his Amazonian bride Hippolyta; their performance of Pyramus & Thisbe is due to be led by weaver Nick Bottom. Finally, Fairy King & Queen Oberon & Titania are at odds, with him seeking to teach her a lesson for disobedience towards him – with the help of Puck, a drug is administered to her eyes that will make her fall in love with the next thing she sees. In this case it’s Bottom, who now has an ass’ head (courtesy of Puck). The four young lovers, too, are afflicted by this “love-in-idleness”, making a tangled web of their affairs. With the morning approaching, will everything resolve itself?
The first thing to note about this production is the significant amount of doubling that must occur, using a cast of eight, which splits them quite neatly into the three separate plots. It’s quite usual to have the worlds of the fairies and mechanicals played by the same actors, as well as the respective leaders flipping between the Athenian Court and the mystical woodland world; interestingly the same actors also play the four lovers. This is a mark of great versatility on the actors’ part, allowing you to contemplate any possible parallels between the three plots – though what would be helpful is a slight change in appearance as they switch between roles. It needn’t be much: hair tied back, jacket over their shirt… Just something to ease the audience between characters.
What is most marked about this production is the physicality involved almost every step of the way; Mark Leipacher’s direction (and the cast’s unswerving commitment to it) brings this Dream to life in an innovative and playful fashion. The most wonderful example of this is ‘donkeyfying’ Bottom using the actors’ arms & fingers alone, changing as he moves around or when Bottom experiences different emotions…
The moon again takes centre stage for this production (it was something of a focal point for Lazarus Theatre’s version a couple of months ago), with Eleanor Field’s design of a large paper lantern-style moon dominating proceedings. Thanks to some thoughtful lighting design from Ben Jacobs, some different sections of the show are made clear by a change in colour, with a particularly nice touch of a purple glow as love-in-idleness is applied:
“Yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell. It fell upon a little western flower, before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound. And maidens call it “love-in-idleness”.”
Laura Evelyn is fun as an almost perpetually perky Helena, demonstrating her resilience in the face of unrequited love, and not making her into a whining source of self-pity – Evelyn is also entertaining as Snug, being unable to roar like a lion, instead chuckling away in embarrassment. Lowri Izzard is a pragmatic Hermia, and later more than lives up to Helena’s description (“And though she be but little, she is fierce.”), causing Demetrius some serious groin pain, and easily overpowering him & Lysander as they seek to protect Helena.
One of the funniest turns of the night comes from Christopher York in the roles of both Demetrius & Snout. York plays up the latter’s scaredy cat status, making him incredibly jittery when the lion is introduced to Pyramus & Thisbe (“I don’t want to die!”), and is especially good value once Demetrius & Lysander start competing for Helena’s affections. Christopher Hughes is an absolute hoot as Nick Bottom, excellently capturing his arrogance and enjoyment of praise & attention; Hughes leads a thoroughly ridiculous version of Pyramus & Thisbe with typical Bottom bluster, not even content to die in one fell swoop.
My verdict? A wonderfully innovative take on the classic comedy, with incredible physicality employed to assist the storytelling – some terrific performances make this very memorable indeed.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream ran at Wilton’s Music Hall until 30 June 2018.