Midsummer Mechanicals 2022

Melody Brown and Kerry Frampton in Midsummer Mechanicals at Shakespeare's Globe (credit Manuel Harlan)
Midsummer Mechanicals
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

After their runaway success Pyramus & Thisbe, the Midsummer Mechanicals returned to tread the boards once more, this time as part of the Duke’s anniversary celebrations. Though it wasn’t plain sailing the first time round, what with Bottom suddenly acquiring a donkey’s head, they’re set for a few more challenges in this follow-up – and they might even have to break some rules to allow the show to go on at all…

If the terms ‘family show’ or ‘pantomime’ strike fear into your heart (whether you’re a parent or not), you really don’t need to worry. Each performance takes a relaxed approach, so the two-hour (including interval) running time is not so daunting – this means that anyone is free to step out or move about if they need to, and there’s also no expectation for there to be total silence during the performance. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse isn’t the ideal location for free movement (it’s hard enough to allow people past you when you’re not trying to concentrate on what’s going on onstage), but this is definitely the most sensible approach when the majority of your audience has unpredictable needs & impulses.

The first half of the show is the wayward acting troupe’s preparation for their play, steadily whittling down which of their number are actually available to perform… The company chat with the audience as they enter, working out who to go to for alcohol & snacks – and co-opting a few willing helpers to make sure everything’s shipshape and ready to go. With regular updates about the impending arrival of the guests of honour, there’s just about time for the audience to learn a short song and a few actions & sound effects – and the remaining actors to run through some of the play. And it turns out that Bottom’s inspiration for the piece is a little closer to home than he’d previously thought…

The relaxed setting helps to produce a convivial atmosphere, with lots of giggling and shouting out of suggestions (plus the kids picked up the song far quicker than the adults in the room). It isn’t Shakespeare-heavy, but there’s obviously the odd line or two scattered throughout the show – and some of the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream filters through as well.

The combination of the material and the environment means that this is an excellent way to introduce children both to theatre and Shakespeare in particular; I hope this can become a regular fixture, either repeating this production (as the audience interaction must make each performance feel quite fresh) or coming up with further exploits for Nick Bottom & co. so families can follow them year after year, gradually learning more about the Bard’s work as well as having an excellent time.

The company of four are absolutely brilliant, and remarkably adept at dealing with even the most rambunctious of children. Between them they have all bases covered: from Jamal Franklin’s nervy & risk-averse Quince and Sam Glen’s overly self-assured & newly grandiose Flute, to Kerry Frampton’s confident & jovial Nick Bottom and Melody Brown’s down-to-earth & practical Patience Snout. Frampton is particularly enjoyable made up to be a bit of a Mark Rylance lookalike (thanks to excellent design from Rose Revitt), but it’s Brown who ends up stealing the show; her dry remarks garner a lot of laughs, and Patience’s involvement in the play is a good way of bringing a feminist angle, whilst also teaching children about theatre in the early modern period. Educational and entertaining: just what’s needed in a summer holidays family show.

Sam Glen and Jamal Franklin in Midsummer Mechanicals at Shakespeare's Globe (credit Manuel Harlan)
Midsummer Mechanicals
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

My verdict? The ideal show to introduce kids to theatre and Shakespeare in particular – deserves to become a regular fixture in the school holidays.

Rating: 5*

Midsummer Mechanicals ran in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 21 August 2022.

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