Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Southwark Playhouse


"Is anyone here a purist?"

Have you ever had a recurring dream? Or Dream, as in A Midsummer Night's...? This marks production number 5 that I've seen this year, 6 if you're inclined to include Russell T Davies' TV adaptation from last week, but it is to this Shakespearean stalwart, albeit in a deconstructed take, that Go People and Glass Half Full have turned for their latest production.

We enter the Southwark Playhouse's Large space with no set, no costumes and a group of 7 unprepared actors with no obvious plan aside from to somehow perform this play with 17 characters. But we soon come to see that this is the most carefully constructed of omnishambles here, the text co-opts Act I, Scene ii - the Rude Mechanicals' first - to sort out its roll-call, before doubling back to deliver Act I, Scene i, and then pauses to allow the 'director' to run a Q&A session with the session about whether we miss Egeus or not.

And thus the scene is set for an anarchic swipe of thespian excess, audience participation, and a certain measure of theatrical magic. The text may have been filleted, the light and sound design might be non-existent, Lysander might actually hate Demetrius but totally for real cos he stole his thunder, but as the play progresses, so too does our relationship with the group. It might seem a little twee to talk about theatre of the imagination but director Simon Evans really does conjure up some gorgeous moments here as we're asked to just, well, believe.

The production may run out of steam just a little towards the end as it devotes a disproportionate amount of time to the stage shenanigans around Pyramus and Thisbe but Freddie Fox gives us a cracking Bottom (as well as Demetrius), made funnier by the pomposity of his actor character adopting the role with an extraordinary pronounced physicality, and Freddie Hutchins sparks well off him as Lysander/Flute, his rival in so many ways. 

And even among the chaos, there's room for the revelatory too. A quietly magnificent take on Titania and Oberon comes from Maddy Hill and Ludovic Hughes, the reshaped power dynamic of their relationship fascinatingly drawn, their emotional intensity completely mesmerising - her debut at the Globe in Cymbeline later this summer has now rocketed to the top of my list of things I'm very excited about (as have his biceps).

I'd definitely recommend avoiding the front row if you're not much a fan of audience interaction but I'd happily recommend booking a ticket to this Dream, even if you've seen as many (or more) as I have. Its spirits are high, its humour is sure and even if I'm not sure Tinkerbell is the same kind of fairy as this lot, if you believe in it just enough, who knows what wonders you might eventually find in the stars.

Running time: 110 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Harry Grindrod
Booking until 1st July

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