One of the most remarkable things about the ongoing situation in which we find ourselves is how swiftly the arts responded; many individuals were out of work pretty much overnight, with no reassurance over their financial state, but all the same they were quickly into actions – keeping themselves busy and entertaining the rest of us stuck at home. William Shakespeare has fared rather well in all this, with old productions streaming, The Show Must Go Online coming together at the end of March, and also being reimagined for The Stay Inn. A version of perennial favourite A Midsummer Night’s Dream was put together by Made At Home Productions that took the ‘lockdown’ into consideration, renaming the play Midsummer Night Stream.
The context of the play is laid out in the form of a tabloid gossip column, teasing details of Theseus & Hippolyta’s wedding and sharing Hermia’s single status, before jumping to a group video chat between the Mechanicals; though this scene normally takes place later on in the play, it feels quite apt to put it earlier on in this case – and it definitely helps to set the tone for the ensuing events. It’s interesting to see a completely separate Theseus & Hippolyta and Oberon & Titania, as more often than not the same pair of actors play both couples to reference the shadow nature of the fairy world – there was possibly a practical element here (especially considering Theseus & Hippolyta’s tiny co-star!), though it is nice to see them all as separate beings and the Fairy King & Queen being able to truly oversee the mortals’ actions.
Rather than all staying in their separate screens, as some of the actors are living together their characters were able to join together at specific moments; it worked excellently for Puck applying the ass ears to Bottom, for example, and Oberon & Titania reconciling face-to-face (rather than screen-to-screen) was rather poetic. Actors moving to either a different place in the room or switching rooms completely gave the production scope and showed imagination in lieu of the usual set that goes with a theatre production.
The show had an unexpected intimacy to it, whilst also reminding you of the feeling of being in a theatre. Solo moments were particularly effective, giving the impression that the character was talking to you and you alone; my favourite piece of ingenuity, however, came in the form of the Love-in-Idleness application – rather than try to ‘apply’ it to other characters through the screen, it was as if our own eyes were being anointed. This brought us further into the world of the story and gave a real sense of connection between cast and audience.
There were wonderful performances all round, from a cast who were clearly committed to the format. Will Thompson-Brant stood out as Helena, displaying loyalty and bravery in a sensitive performance. I also enjoyed Joanna Brown’s turn as Bottom, imbuing the character with confidence & cockiness whilst being entertaining and remaining likeable – it’s always interesting to see if a balance like that can be struck. Sid Phoenix was marvellous as Puck, laidback & cool in the face of increasingly chaotic behaviour presenting itself around him – though unable to contain himself at his good work in getting Titania and Bottom together.
This is another fine example of the creativity that can be achieved in restricted circumstances, embracing the new normal to create a world that’s both fantastical and relatable.
Midsummer Night Stream was broadcast on 11 April 2020 – it is available to view on YouTube. You can make a donation to The Stay Inn via PayPal. The Importance of BCC’ing Earnest will stream from 2 May 2020.