By Tori Erskine
Tori Erskine heads to Storyhouse to watch A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photos by Mark Carline and Tori Erskine.
After going to see dreary adaptations of King Lear a few years ago, I finally felt like I was ready to take on the world of Shakespearean theatre again. I was welcomed back into this world by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was certainly the best way to do so.
The play has multiple plots, it presents the wedding of Theseus to Hippolyta, as well as telling the story of two young couples who one night are placed under a spell which leads to an extremely chaotic, but heart-warming tale.
The opening scene is set at a party, which sets the tone for a lively production. This adaptation of the play modernises Shakespeare’s story, whilst the language still stays true to the Shakespearean period.
It can be quite risky modernising a Shakespeare classic, as you wonder if anyone can do it justice in the same way that Baz Luhrmann did in the 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. However, Alex Clifton (director) most definitely did, throughout the play you could see the modern twists to the story, my particular highlight was the use of Metallica and Star Wars t-shirts.
The opening scene set the dress code, as the ladies were dressed in gorgeous evening gowns, even the fairies’ netted dresses could have been plucked from a Vogue spread. However, the outfits did not just contribute to the play’s aesthetic appeal, they also have a metaphoric value, as the story goes on and the lovers end up in turmoil so does their dresses, with their outfits tattered like the relationships.
The use of the play’s props are simplistic but effective, as rubber gloves are used to signify the fairies’ magic, and the fourth wall is broken when Bottom’s ‘Missing’ posters are thrown into the audience, helping the audience member feel like they are involved with the plot.
The performance was somewhat of a physical masterpiece with the actors oozing charisma not only from their words and diction, but with their movement and actions. Physical comedy such as this can often devolve into pantomime slapstick, however Alex Clifton’s direction was controlled and pure.
This was all held together by the unsung hero of the production – percussionist Josh Savage. Being the only musician present throughout the whole show it was his sole job to set the mood and add to the production. This resulted in a very unorthodox soundtrack, but only showcased how versatile a performer Josh Savage is.
From the calm serenity of the woodland grove, to the jarring lover’s quarrel, he was able to provide an interesting soundtrack which took A Midsummer Night’s Dream to another level.
Naturally when I watched King Lear all those years ago, I wasn’t expecting a bundle of laughs. Shakespeare is undeniably brilliant at producing different genres, and the thing that stood out the most about A Midsummer Night’s Dream was how funny it was.
The chemistry between Helena (Emily Johnstone) and Demetrius (Fred Lancaster) in their ‘will-they-won’t they’ relationship captivates the audience, as you almost feel invested in their feelings towards each other, not to mention the pair’s comedic dialogue in their initial love/hate story.
The play’s comedy highlight is undoubtedly during the play at the wedding scene whem Bottom (Adam Keast) and Flute (Alex McGonagle) perform the tale of two tragic lovers, their comedic timing and dialogue leaves the audience crying with laughter – in a good way.
Despite the number of plots going on in one production, the stories are entwined perfectly together so that the story is easily understood, even if you’re not familiar with the tale. Not to mention, the actors work wonderfully together and each stand out in their own unique way.
The grand finale sees Puck perform a punk/rock number. I highly doubt that this was included in the play when it was written in the 1590s, but again it adds to the uniqueness of this edgy production. The beauty of Shakespeare is that the plays can be adapted and performed to suit different kinds of audiences, but it takes a good cast and director to do so, which this production undoubtedly fulfilled.
In the words of Shakespeare, “It is a sweet comedy.”